Intelligence helping Costa Rican hummingbirds

This video says about itself:

7 February 2018

New experiments show that dominant male Long-billed Hermits have better spatial memories and sing more consistent songs than less successful males, according to research published in the journal Scientific Reports.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA today:

It’s Brains Over Brawn for Male Long-billed Hermits Seeking Mates

In the glitzy world of hummingbirds, one species seems to profit more from mental prowess than physical flamboyance. For male Long-billed Hermits in Costa Rica, having a good spatial memory is a key factor in winning prime display spots. See the full story here.


Panamanian lizards, new study

This video says about itself:

On this episode of Breaking Trail, Coyote and the crew are in search of the mysterious Water Anole!

Deep in the rainforests of Costa Rica lives a very specialized reptile, the elusive Water Anole. These Anoles are not only beautiful with their cryptic patterns and brilliantly striped dewlaps but they also have the unique ability to live right on the surface of waterfalls!

In fact that’s the only place these lizards live and this reality makes them extremely difficult to track down since the waterfalls of the Osa Peninsula can be so remote and treacherous…but of course, and it goes without saying, this small little detail isn’t going to stop the Brave Wilderness crew who have their minds set on getting a much closer look at one of these rare rainforest “dragons”. Now the only question is, will Coyote actually be able to catch one? Get ready for our most exciting rainforest adventure yet!

From Arizona State University in the USA:

Why are there so many types of lizards?

Study sheds light on biodiversity of Anole lizard family trees

February 23, 2018

Summary: Researchers have sequenced the complete genetic code — the genome — of several vertebrate species from Panama. They found that changes in genes involved in the interbrain (the site of the pineal gland and other endocrine glands), for color vision, hormones and the colorful dewlap that males bob to attract females, may contribute to the formation of boundaries between species. Genes regulating limb development also evolved especially quickly.

Lizards have special superpowers. While birds can regrow feathers and mammals can regrow skin, lizards can regenerate entire structures such as their tails. Despite these differences, all have evolved from the same ancestor as lizards.

Spreading through the Americas, one lizard group, the anoles, evolved like Darwin’s finches, adapting to different islands and different habitats on the mainland. Today there are more than 400 species.

Constructing a family tree for three lizard species collected in Panama at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and a fourth from the southeastern U.S., scientists at Arizona State University compared lizard genomes — their entire DNA code — to those of other animals.

The researchers discovered that changes in genes involved in the interbrain (the site of the pineal gland and other endocrine glands), for color vision, hormones and the colorful dewlap that males bob to attract females, may contribute to the formation of boundaries between species. Genes regulating limb development also evolved especially quickly.

“While some reptiles such as tortoises changed remarkably little over millions of years, anole lizards evolved quickly, generating a diversity of shapes and behaviors”, said Kenro Kusumi, corresponding author and professor at ASU School of Life Sciences. “Now that sequencing entire genomes is cheaper and easier, we discovered molecular genetic evidence for rapid evolution that may account for striking differences between bodies of animals living in different environments.”

Kusumi’s lab, working with colleagues at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix, is especially interested in how reptiles’ genomes shape their ability to regenerate and to develop a diversity of body forms.

“This is the first time the complete genetic code — the genome — of any vertebrate species from Panama has been sequenced and analyzed”, said Oris Sanjur, co-author and Associate Director for Science Administration at STRI. “Information from these three species is an important contribution to our understanding of biodiversity and the evolution of new species.”

Scientists estimate that there are 40 species of anolid lizards living in Panama, compared to only one in the U.S. A team from ASU collected three species with permission from the Ministry of the Environment, MiAmbiente: the Central American giant anole, Anolis frenatus, lives high on tree trunks; the grass anole, A. auratus, perches on bushes or on grassy vegetation and the slender anole, A. apletophallus, found only in Panama, hangs out lower on tree trunks or on the ground.

Researchers at ASU’s School of Life Sciences lined up the DNA sequences of the lizards with the DNA sequences of 31 other animals: the lobe-finned fish and the four-legged animal groups that evolved from them. They also took a careful look at genes that code for proteins: more than 22,000 genes in the green anole, A. carolinensis, versus approximately 20,000 identified each in A. auratus and A. frenatus and 13,000 in A. apletophallus.

One obvious explanation for a faster rate of evolution is the anole lizards’ faster rate of reproduction. Anoles typically mate in their first year of life, while other reptiles take much longer to reach sexual maturity. They also breed with many other individuals so mutations that make it difficult for individuals to survive are eliminated fairly quickly.

The first and only other anole lizard to be sequenced previously was the green anole, A. carolinensis, the only anole species resident in the U.S. In that study from MIT, the A. carolinensis genome held evidence of more recent evolution and the loss of ancient repeated elements in the part of the DNA that does not code for proteins. In this sense, it was important to sequence the three Panamanian species, because the U.S. species may not be the most representative of the diverse anole group.

“For 15 years, an impressive amount of time and money poured into discovering the genomes of mammals, motivated by our drive to understand human evolution and to look for cures for disease. Even though the squamate reptiles include more than 10,000 species — almost double the number of mammal species — a single genome was not enough to understand the variability within this group”, said the first author of the report, Marc Tollis, a post-doctoral fellow at ASU.

“By comparing these four anole lizard genomes, we’re beginning to understand how one of the most diverse groups of vertebrates regenerate, develop and diversify”, he added.

New parasitoid wasp species discovered in Costa Rica

The new parasitoid wasp species, Dendrocerus scutellaris. Credit: Carolyn Trietsch

From ScienceDaily:

New parasitoid wasp likely uses unique saw-like spines to break out of its host body

January 31, 2018

Summary: A newly discovered parasitoid wasp species from Costa Rica might be only slightly larger than a sesame seed, yet it has quite vicious ways when it comes to its life as an insect developing inside the body of another. Most likely, it uses its unique saw-like row of spines on its back to cut its way out of its host.

About the size of a sesame seed, a new species of wasp from Costa Rica, named Dendrocerus scutellaris, has elaborate branched antennae that could be used for finding mates. Or hosts.

The new insect is described by PhD candidate Carolyn Trietsch, Dr. István Mikó and Dr. Andrew Deans of the Frost Entomological Museum at Penn State, USA, together with Dr. David Notton of the Natural History Museum in London, UK. Their study is published in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal.

The wasp is a parasitoid, meaning that its larvae feed on a live host insect. There are two types of parasitoids: ectoparasitoids, which lay their eggs on or near the host, so that the hatchling larvae can attach to and feed on the insect from the outside; and endoparasitoids, which lay their eggs directly inside the host, so that the larvae can eat them from the inside out.

Unfortunately, to puzzle out the new wasp’s lifestyle, the researchers could only rely on specimens collected back in 1985, which had spent the past few decades stored in the collections of the Natural History Museum of London before being loaned to the Frost Museum at Penn State for research.

What can you learn about a wasp’s lifestyle from specimens that are over 30 years old? Even though the new species has never been observed in the wild, researchers managed to learn a lot by looking at the wasps’ morphology, concluding that the species is likely an endoparasitoid.

The larva of an endoparasitoid wasp needs a safe place to develop and mature, so when it is done feeding on its host, it may stay inside the host’s body where it can develop undisturbed. Once it is fully grown, the adult wasp either chews or pushes its way out, killing the host if it isn’t already dead.

Unlike its close relatives, the new species does not have pointed mandibles for chewing. Instead, it has a series of spines along its back. While the wasp is emerging, it may rub these spines against the host and use them like a saw to cut open the body. Once emerged, it flies off to mate and continue the cycle.

“While their lives may sound gruesome, parasitoid wasps are harmless to humans and can even be helpful,” explain the scientists. “Depending on the host they parasitize, parasitoids can benefit agriculture by controlling pest insects like aphids that damage crops.”

It is currently unknown what the new species feeds upon, but naming the species and bringing it to attention is the first step in learning more about it.

Costa Rican sea turtles studied with drones

This video says about itself:

25 April 2017

While conducting a drone survey in front of Playa Cabuyal on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, we encountered a male East Pacific green turtle. Surprisingly, we were also able to identify that this was a male turtle as made evident by the size of its tail.

From Duke University in the USA:

Drones confirm importance of Costa Rican waters for sea turtles

Study is first to use drones to count sea turtles in waters near nesting habitat

January 16, 2018

Summary: A new drone-enabled population survey — the first ever on sea turtles — shows that larger-than-anticipated numbers of turtles aggregate in waters off Costa Rica’s Ostional National Wildlife Refuge. Scientists estimate turtle densities may reach up to 2,086 animals per square kilometer. The study underscores the importance of the Ostional habitat; it also confirms that drones are a reliable tool for surveying sea turtle abundance.

Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs during mass-nesting events at Ostional National Wildlife Refuge on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, making it one of the most important nesting beaches in the world.

Now aerial drones are giving scientists deeper insights into just how important the beach and its nearshore waters are.

Using a fixed-wing drone to conduct aerial surveys of olive ridley sea turtles in waters off Ostional during four days in August 2015, scientists from Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) estimate turtle densities there may reach as high as 2,086 animals per square kilometer during peak nesting season.

“These are extraordinary numbers, much higher than any of us anticipated,” said Seth Sykora-Bodie, a PhD student at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who co-led the study with Vanessa Bézy, a PhD candidate at UNC-CH.

“Our findings confirm drones can be used as a powerful tool to study sea turtle abundance at sea, and reveal incredible densities of turtles in Ostional’s nearshore habitat,” said Bézy. “The development of this methodology provides vital new insights for future conservation and research.”

Equipping the drone with a high-resolution digital camera with near-infrared vision and flying it just 90 meters above the ocean expanded the field of view and significantly increased image clarity, allowing the researchers to detect many turtles swimming just below the water’s surface. Observers relying only on visual sightings made from boats could easily miss these submerged animals because of their angle of view and the clarity of the water, Sykora-Bodie said.

The researchers published their peer-reviewed paper Dec. 18 in Scientific Reports. It is the first study to use unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones, to estimate the abundance of sea turtle populations.

Traditionally, scientists have collected this type of abundance data using mark-and-recapture studies, in-water surveys, and censuses of turtles observed on nesting beaches. These methods can be costly and time-consuming, incur potential risks to both the observers and the animals, and increase the likelihood that turtles may be missed or double-counted.

The new pilot study shows that using camera-equipped drones provides a safe, cost-effective and scientifically robust alternative.

“Because of the clarity of the images we can collect, and the greater flexibility we have in where, when and how we collect them, this approach provides us with better data for understanding population status and trends, which can then be used to inform management decisions and develop conservation measures tailored to individual populations, locations and time frames”, Sykora-Bodie said.

Olive ridleys are classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. One of the chief threats they face is being accidentally caught and killed by hooks and other fishing gear used by longline and trawl fisheries.

To conduct the newly published study, researchers from Duke’s Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Labflew an eBee senseFly fixed-wing drone equipped with a near-infrared camera over a three-kilometer stretch of nearshore water twice daily — morning and evening — on four consecutive days during a mass-nesting event, or arribada, in August 2015. By analyzing the captured images, they identified 684 confirmed turtle sightings and 409 probable sightings.

Using methods that scientists regularly employ for estimating the population abundance of marine species based on surface sightings in traditional surveys, Sykora-Bodie and his colleagues then calculated a low-end daily estimate of up to 1,299 turtles per square kilometer in the surveyed area, and a high-end estimate of up to 2,086 turtles. Long-term surveys, coupled with further research on olive ridleys’ dive profile — how deep they dive, and how long they remain under water — will be needed to refine these estimates.

Male sea turtles are disappearing and not just in Australia. Researchers found that 97 to 100 percent of hatchlings in southeast Florida have been female since 2002. They are the first to show why and how moisture conditions inside the nest in addition to heat affect the development and sex ratios of turtle embryos, using a novel technique they developed to estimate sex ratios with a male-specific, transcriptional molecular marker Sox9: here.

Costa Rica jungle video

This video says about itself:

30 December 2016

In the jungles of Costa Rica, you’re surrounded by three masters of disguise.

Can you spot them in this 360 film? This video has 360 spatial sound – so turn up the volume and try to zero in on the animals.

Planet Earth II is a BBC Studios Natural History Unit production, co-produced with BBC America, ZDF, Tencent and France Télévisions.

In the mid-1990s, 1,000 truckloads of orange peels and orange pulp were purposefully unloaded onto a barren pasture in a Costa Rican national park. Today, that area is covered in lush, vine-laden forest: here.

Seven endangered bird species

This video says about itself:

Bare-necked Umbrellabird. Monteverde, Costa Rica. 2011.

From BirdLife:

7 stunning forest birds we could soon lose forever

By Alex Dale, 14 Nov 2016

Deforestation, either to meet global demand for timber, or so land can be converted for agricultural use, is one of the biggest threats to bird biodiversity across the world. Over 60% of all bird species worldwide require forest habitats, and BirdLife estimates that figure includes some 76% of globally-threatened bird species.

BirdLife and its Partners are fighting to protect the world’s most endangered forests. You can read more about our work, and how you can help, by visiting our Emerald Forest campaign page.

If action isn’t taken, we could soon lose some of the world’s rarest and most beautiful birds forever. Below are just a handful of the vibrant, diverse species whose continued survival is threatened by the loss of their forest habitats.

Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Cephalopterus glabricollis

Where is it found?

Middle to upper levels of forests on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

How many are left?


This curious-looking cotinga, one of Central America’s largest perching birds, has an equally curious mating display to match. When the time comes, the males form small groups and perch together to perform their unusual displays. First, they inflate a thin wattle that hangs from the bright red bald patch on their necks like a balloon. Then they lean forward and release a booming noise that sounds like a drum being hit, which resonates through the forest. Unfortunately, habitat loss, due to the expansion of cattle-ranches and logging, could see the already-scarce populations of Umbrellabird fold altogether.

Marvellous Spatuletail, Loddigesia mirabilis

This video says about itself:

Marvelous Spatuletail

The most beautiful hummingbird, endemic to Peru with a population and territory in the Valley of Uctubamba, rainforest, cloudy and very dense secondary forest in northern Peru, at an altitude of 2000 to 2900 meters above sea level, male from14 to 15 centimeter, females 9 to 10 centimeters long.

The BirdLife article continues:

Where is it found?

On the forest edges of a valley in remote northern Peru

How many are left?


This hummingbird’s puffed-up name in no way oversells the flamboyant tail feathers of the male – which consists of long, criss-crossing strands which flare out into brilliant violet-blue discs. These feathers are so cumbersome that the male can only stay airborne for a few seconds, but that’s long enough for it to perform its mesmerising courtship display, where it waves its tail around like a pair of racquets.

Unfortunately, the conspicuous dance makes males an easy target for hunters with slingshots, which may explain the uneven 5:1 female/male sex ratio. The main threat it faces however is the destruction of its habitat for marijuana and coffee cash-crops, although conservation work is underway to plant and manage new habitats so this showy species can continue to strut its stuff.

Rufous-headed Hornbill, Rhabdotorrhinus waldeni

Rufous-headed hornbill

Where is it found?

Historically endemic to the islands of Panay, Negros and Guimaras in the Philippines, although now only Panay holds a viable population.

How many are left?


Chronic deforestation has brought this spectacular hornbill to the brink; it is now believed extinct in Guimaras and functionally extinct in Negros, leaving the remaining population clinging to existence to the island of Panay, which now has just 6% forest cover. The Rufous-headed Hornbill is also threatened by hunting, and because the bird is slow to reproduce and requires large trees to nest in, it is struggling to survive these twin threats. Conservation efforts, including nest-wardening schemes, offer hope for the future, and the hope is captive-reared individuals can be reintroduced to Negros in the future.

Cerulean Paradise-flycatcher, Eutrichomyias rowleyi

Caerulean paradise flycatcher lateral view, photo Jon Riley

Where is it found?

Montane forest on the island of Sangihe, Indonesia

How many are left?


Cerulean Paradise-flycatcher? Cerulean Paradise-EYECATCHER, more like. Alas, we couldn’t find a photo that truly shows off its vivid blue plumage in all its glory, as it’s one of the rarest and most reclusive birds going. Indeed, it was once believed extinct and known with certainty only from a single specimen collected in 1873, until a small population was discovered in the south of the island in 1998. Its range is extremely small and the loss of forest to agriculture and non-native plant species continue to cast doubts on the species’ future. There is now a small bird tourism industry on the island, and the hope is that this will incentivise locals to conserve what forest remains.

Spix’s Macaw, Cyanopsitta spixii

This 30 June 2016 video is called Blue-Feathered Spix’s Macaw Spotted in Wild for First Time in 15 Years.

Where is it found?

Well. Until one was discovered and filmed in Bahia, Brazil on 18th June, it was widely believed to be extinct in the wild, persisting only as captive populations in Qatar and Tenerife.

How many are left?


The plight of this charismatic small blue macaw entered mainstream consciousness in 2011 with the children’s film Rio, in which the last remaining male Spix’s, Blu, is sent to Brazil to mate with the last remaining female, Jewel. The sequel, Rio 2, reveals there are actually other Spix’s hidden deep within the rainforest, but this is a notion that seems fanciful even following this summer’s stunning discovery. The individual filmed is likely an escapee from captivity, as the area it was discovered in is well-known to conservationists and any skulking Spix’s colonies would have surely been discovered by now. However, observing this lone bird’s behaviour could provide insight into the challenges that lie ahead in reintroducing this species back into the wild.

Madagascan Fish-Eagle, Haliaeetus vociferoides

This video is about a Madagascan Fish-Eagle.

Where is it found?

Dry, deciduous forests and mangroves across the northwest coast of Madagascar.

How many are left?


Even some of the largest and most powerful birds on the planet aren’t immune to the devastating effects of deforestation. This bulky bird of prey likes to set up camp on large trees adjacent to inland waterbodies. The on-going development of these wetland areas into rice paddles is resulting in the ,c loss of important nesting and foraging habitat. It’s also threatened by other factors, such as trapping, shooting and getting accidentally tangled in fishing nets. Conservation action, including captive-rearing programmes and improving local law enforcement, are helping to stabilise numbers of this rare raptor.

Seven-coloured Tanager, Tangara fastuosa

This is a seven-coloured tanager video.

Where is it found?

Small, fragmented remnants of the Atlantic rainforest in Eastern Brazil

How many are left?


This exceptional tanager seemingly faces as many threats as it has colours on its plumage; its vivid colours inevitably make it a target for the international trade industry, but it’s also facing huge, widescale habitat loss. Just two percent of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest remains standing as a result of logging and conversion into sugarcane plantations. The remaining Seven-coloured Tanager populations are now fragmented and few. And with the new roads being built in the area providing ever-easier access for poachers, the Seven-coloured Tanager is still in seven shades of trouble.

Birding, new world record

Arjan Dwarshuis in Costa Rica

This photo from Costa Rica shows, in the middle, Arjan Dwarshuis, the new birding world record holder.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Dutchman breaks world birding record

Today, 13:17

Dutch Arjan Dwarshuis (30) broke the world bird watching record. He thus beat the record set last year. Then a US American spotted 6042 birds in one year. Arjan photographed yesterday bird number 6119: the Buffy-crowned Wood Partridge.

This video says about itself:

31 December 2015

Buffy-crowned wood partridge (Dendrortyx leucophrys) family in the highlands of Costa Rica, San Gerardo de Dota, 2600 mts.

The NOS article continues:

He is very proud, he says from a rainforest in Costa Rica. “I am here with three of my best friends. They travel along for a few days. They were there yesterday when I broke the world record. That was fantastic.”


For decades avid birders have been trying to break each others’ records. Participants go a year looking for as many different species as possible.

Arjan started on 1 January with bird watching. In the Netherlands he found 161 species and then he went abroad. Especially South America is full of different species of birds. In Brazil he spotted 552.


Since the beginning of his journey Arjan keeps track of where he spots the birds. The results he publishes on a website. Other birders also note on that website what animals they have seen.

“I try to document as much as possible with pictures and sound recordings. And there is always a local expert with me checking that I actually see all the birds.”


Spotting the birds is not just for fun. Arjan does what he does to draw attention to species that are threatened in their very existence. He gets money from sponsors, which goes to BirdLife International.

Arjan has reached his goal, but he is not going to come back to the Netherlands now already. He has one month and half time to get an even higher record still.