Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Deforestation in Costa Rica 1/15/10 Part 2


After lunch, my mom and I were given a tour of a local farm. We started by climbing up a steep hill through the uncut jungle. When we came out of the undergrowth, I noticed that the farm had been cleared of their lush trees and plants. In replace of the once rich forest were grazing cattle feeding on grass.


I was disheartened by this sight because I knew the critical role rainforests play in our environment. Rainforests purify our water and air. They also prevent flooding and erosion. When the trees are removed, the delicate rainforest is disrupted and much of the wildlife loose their homes.

With the loss of trees, the nutrient-poor soil is quickly washed away. The storage of nutrients in rainforests is different than in temperate forests. Temperate forests have nutrient rich soil from the decomposition of organic matter, but rainforests store most of the nutrients in its vegetation. When rainforests are slashed and burned for agriculture, all the nutrients that were stored in the vegetation is lost. Without the protection of trees, the nutrient-poor soil of the rainforest is washed away. Agriculture will eventually fail in the depleted soil.  The land is then not good for much except cattle raising. The once rich rainforest with flourishing fauna, wildlife, and butterflies is then replaced with hills of grass. 

Rainforests are a place of beauty and wonder that need our attention as they are being destroyed. Causes of rainforest destruction are agriculture, logging, wood and timber for fires, road and house construction, and land for cattle to graze. We can make a difference by eating less fast food beef, buying local meat and produce, and recycling paper products. We can also support reforestation projects who are replanting a diversity of native plants needed by wildlife.

kids saving the rainforest 

One example of a reforestation project is Kids Saving the Rainforest, located in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. It was founded by two school children who realized the importance and beauty of rainforests. With the help of other children and volunteers, they are working on reforestation projects and the rehabilitation of animals who are injured or abandoned. They have saved and released 30 animals so far and have planted over 5,000 trees to reforest and expand monkey corridors.

Segments of this article written by Elizabeth Mann was also used on Happy Chickens Lay Healthy Eggs blog.

One of the books I found helpful during my research was Tropical Rainforest by Arnold Newman published in 1990.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hummingbirds of Costa Rica 1/15/10 Part 1

hummingbird croped

At around 6:00 am in Costa Rica the hummingbirds would begin appearing for their morning nectar. The sun was just beginning to rise and spread its rays out to cover the mountain side.

videoing hummingbirds

To capture my experience, I gathered my tripod, HD camera, and journal. Each different hummingbird announced its arrival with the loud humming sound created by the rapid beating of its wings. The hummingbirds continued coming for approximately an hour.

Hummingbird croped 2

The large bright red flowers of Etlingera elatior seemed to pull hummingbirds out of the skies. The sweet nectar was simply irresistible! The various hummingbirds first hovered above the flower for inspection and then suddenly dove in beak first. As the hummingbirds tongue probed the flower for nectar, its tail bobbed up and down creating a comical sight.

beak 1 beak 2

Above are two different beak lengths I observed. Both the short and long beaked hummingbirds drank nectar from the Etlingera elatior flowers. Notice also how both beaks are slightly curved instead of exactly straight. During my research of hummingbirds I learned that hummingbirds not only drink nectar, but also eat insects for protein. They need plenty of energy to fuel their energetic bodies! Building nests and raising young is a lot of work.

hummingbird eggs

Watching hummingbirds and later seeing a tiny hummingbird nest with eggs inside were the highlight of my day. The tiny nest had been carefully crafted with bits of lichen, plant bits, and the soft bedding that lined the nest was hair! The question is was the hair from a human, horse, or cattle?

Angel's Trumpet Flower hat

The next interesting flower I saw is called Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia suaveolens). I can understand why it received the name because its size is very large and the flower is funnel shaped. Using it as a trumpet is not suggested because it is poisonous! The giant flower does make a nice hat though. The flowers were also very attractive to the bees. They buzzed around the flowers then landed to begin the journey to gather nectar.

My morning in Costa Rica was filled with delightful sounds and wonders that I can not begin to describe. As I watched the hummingbirds, I also listened to the sounds of Macaws in the distance and smelled the fragrance of flowers in the air. This article would not be complete without giving God the glory for His beautiful creation He allowed me to experience!

Psalm 19:1 The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Biofuels from Jatropha in Costa Rica 1/14/10 Part 4

jatropha Joshua

On our way back from the river, Joshua Hughes showed us some of his Jatropha plants. The species of Jatropha that produces biofuels is Jatropha Curcas. Jatropha can be planted from either seeds or cuttings. We brought plant cuttings back from Costa Rica and planted them in our own back yard. They grew to over 4 feet in about 9 months.


The picture above is the fruit that develops on Jatropha Curcas. The source of the fuel comes from pressing the seeds that are inside the fruit. The fruit is not edible and is ignored by grazing cattle. In Costa Rica it is used as fence posts because of that reason.

Elizabeth at ARA

To learn about one process of turning Jatropha seeds into a Biofuel, I went on a exclusive private tour of Applied Research Associates (ARA) in Panama City, Florida. I visited ARA while my father, John Mann, was there for a meeting. My father is the Division Manager at the ARA Orlando, FL office.

Lab Photos Aug07 004 SM  IMG_5055

The picture to the left is an experimental stage of a processor for creating bio crude oil. The process is called Catalytic Hydrothermolysis, meaning that it uses high heat and pressure to convert oil into a hydrocarbon fuel. The process can use oil from many different plants including Jatropha, Camelina, Castor, peanuts, and soy. The bio crude is much like the crude oil extracted from the ground, except that it is made from renewable resources and it does not contain pollutants. ARA has refined this oil into jet fuel and it has passed Air Force testing to verify that it meets jet fuel specifications.

On the right, I am standing next to Dr Lixiong Li, the inventor of the process. Dr Li also invented a machine called Sterile Water for Injection Generation System (SWIFI). It is a portable unit used to purify water for Intravenous (IV) fluids. In the picture, we are standing in front of the machine and I’m holding one of the IV bags.


The picture on the left shows containers of jet fuel. The container furthest to the left was jet fuel made from soybean oil. The center sample was made from Jatropha. The container on the right was developed from fossil fuels. The samples made from soy and Jatropha are clear because they do not contain pollutants. The sample made from fossil fuel has a yellowish color.

The chemist in the photo to the right is Devin Walker. Devin is holding a sample of bio crude that was produced from ARA’s process. After a sample is produced, it has to go through additional processing steps to refine it into a fuel. ARA has produced jet fuel, naval distillate, and diesel fuel.

Special Thanks to John Mann (my father) who contributed information for this article. I also want to thank Dr Lixiong Li, Church Grimes, and Devin Walker for giving me an informative tour of the ARA Biofuel laboratory.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Riding the Rivers in Costa Rica, January 14, 2010, Part 3


In my Tuga  swimwear and hat, I began my journey to a local river in Costa Rica. The walk took 25 minutes down a dirt path through the jungles. Along the way, I got to meet children from the village and give them miniature stuffed animals.

In Costa Rica, the average temperature year around is about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The UV rays are so intense that you can burn in less than 20 minutes. While I was in Costa Rica, I wore long sleeves and long pants the whole times to protect my white skin! My only protection in the water was my Tuga swimwear which is  50+ UPF of blocking 97.5% of UV rays. Tuga has the highest quality of UV protective products for children and adults. I arrived home as white as when I left, but my mom who wasn’t wearing Tuga protection, arrived home with sunburns! 

My Blue Morpho 16th Birthday Dance

To celebrate my 16th birthday, which is the day of this posting February 12th, 2010, I have posted my Blue Morpho dance. The day I performed was actually the day I filmed the rarest Blue Morpho (Morpho amathonte) on January 16, 2010. I had spent five days climbing through the waterfalls in the jungles with my cameras. I was armed with dogs to scare away poisonous snakes and a whistle for my call of 911. I was eventually awarded for my efforts by successfully filming several videos of the Blue Morpho. These videos were the inspiration for my Blue Morpho Birthday Dance. At the end of the dance below, is my first Blue Morpho footage.

Elizabeth’s Travel Tips: The sun in Costa Rica is very intense so having UV protection is important. I wear Tuga products which can be purchased at .

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Insects of Costa Rica, January 14, 2010, Part 2

 stink bug

In Costa Rica are an amazing variety of colorful insects. The bug above is a species of Flag Footed bugs. The reason for its name is easy to understand. On its legs are brightly colored extensions which look much like flags!


I noticed that several of the Flag Footed bugs would gather on the flowers of Passiflora edulis. It seemed that they were sucking juices out of the large flowers.

flag footed bug bug 1

The Passion fruit plant above hosted many different insects. These two strange insects I saw climbing among the leaves.

clustered caterpillars

I also saw huge clusters of caterpillars which belong to the Dione juno butterfly. They worked together to quickly consume leaves.

Perennial Peanut

This tiny yellow flower is called a Perennial Peanut (Arachis pintoi). It is used in Costa Rica as a ground cover in agricultural areas.

Sulphur butterfly

The Perennial Peanut flowers attracted several small butterflies to feed.

bristled caterpillar 

This strange caterpillar has fascinating bristles, but touching them is not advised! Many caterpillars of Costa Rica can inflict a painful sting so it is best just to observe and not touch.

Cracker butterfly

This Gray Cracker butterfly (Hamadryas februa) has amazing patterns on its wings which become camouflaged when it rests on trees.

leaf bug 

This small leaf mimicking insect was only about 4 cm in length. It did not have any antennae, but did have two small pink eyes. Its color and shape provides great camouflage among leaves. This insect is interesting, but is nothing compared to the next giant bug I saw!


This is a giant leaf mimicking Katydid! It was resting peacefully up in a tree, until Carlos brought it down for everyone to see. Katydids are mostly nocturnal, but their presence becomes known when they start singing in the evening. The shape, color, and even texture of their bodies blends in with leaves. I learned from experience that Katydids are capable of flying. Hiding near a Katydid’s body are large wings that can become extended and lift its large body. It was quite a surprise for me to see a large Katydid fly!


I even got to hold this giant Katydid! You have to grab it at just the right spot because they can bite. As I held it, the Katydid jabbed its sharp legs into my fingers! It was not thrilled with being held.

Katydid head

Most Katydids are herbivorous (eats plants). As I observed this Katydid, I noticed a pair of flexible mandibles moving near its mouth. Mandibles are a device used to grasp and cut food like a knife. They looked like tiny fingers as they moved around the Katydid’s mouth.   I also noticed the Katydid using its mandibles like a cleaning utensil. It would put one of its legs near its mouth and wipe its mandibles over the leg.

Stayed tuned for my next posting which will include my journey to the river. Not a tranquil river, but a wild one which I will be swimming in!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Walking in the Jungles of Costa Rica, January 14, 2010, Part 1


The beauty of Costa Rica rain forests is astounding. Even with months of reading books and research about rain forests, I was not prepared for what I would see. The mountains, clear blue skies, sounds of wildlife, and lush trees nearly brought tears to my eyes. Experiencing Costa Rica was a dream come true for me.

small postman

The sunrise caused the morning wildlife to stir. When the loud cicadas stopped their nighttime singing, they were replaced by screeching Scarlet Macaws and chirping birds. With the heat increasing, butterflies soon began to take flight. One of the first butterflies I saw was the Small Postman butterfly (above).


The dragonflies and damselflies in Costa Rica are decorated with variety of colors. From stripes to the colors of purple, pink, and red these winged insects are enough to capture the attention of any nature lover. One difference between dragonflies and damselflies is that dragonflies rest with their wings open while damselflies rest with their wings closed.  (The insect above is a damselfly Hetaerina occisa).


Watching what you grab hold of and where you place your feet is important in rain forests! I observed many different trees that had sharp spikes along their branches. I’m glad I didn’t bump into the tree above! These spikes probably serve as a protection against plant eating animals and larvae as well. From experience, I know that caterpillars can cause major damage to plants.

chrysalis with holes

In the wild, plant eaters are kept controlled by parasites, diseases, and even weather. During my morning explorations, I found a large pupa with several holes in it. The mysterious holes had caused death to the pupa. My sense of curiosity came into play, as I slipped on my gloves to take a closer look.


This pupa had held a winged insect before parasitoids infected it. This chrysalis most likely had held a developing butterfly, not a moth. Moths make silken cocoons unlike butterflies. I labeled the chrysalis above to show where the parts of the butterfly would have developed.


So what caused the death of this chrysalis? I inspected some nearby leaves and soon found a suspect. A tiny wasp like insect was resting on the underside of a nearby leaf. Its body was the exact size of the holes on the chrysalis! I decided for the completion of my studies to perform a dissection and see where the tiny wasp came from.


After I gained enough courage, I carefully opened the dead chrysalis. Inside was an unpleasant sight! The soupy butterfly remains were feeding tiny wiggling creatures. The larva inside had protection, food, and a place to complete their own life cycle.


This close up view shows the larva that now live inside the pupa.

This discovery is unpleasant, but it shows the interdependence in nature. These parasites help plants by controlling caterpillars that feed on their leaves. The delicate balance between predators and prey is amazing. One creature going extinct can severely alter this balance in nature. Humans play an important role in the preservation of our environment. Living sustainably and using our local resources wisely will help preserve rain forests and wildlife for generations to come.

Elizabeth’s Travel Tips: Be cautious touching any plant or insect in the wild. I brought leather work gloves with me.