A Tropical Trip

Heyo all, recently I had the opportunity to visit Costa Rica, specifically Puntarenas Province on the Pacific Coast. I spent 12 days there, and while hunting for invertebrates was not the goal of the trip, I definitely made the most of the opportunities to explore what ecosystems and habitats I could!

Herein I present a photo journey through my trip. Coming from the hot and dry Mojave Desert, to explore a tropical rainforest, where invertebrate, plant, and fungi (and much else besides) populations are very dense and diverse, was a life-long dream realized!

Note: I will add in names as I get identifications. Find me on iNaturalist and follow me to get updated when I upload my observations from the trip (including some stuff not shown here).

Second note: all reptile/amphibian pictures are at the bottom of this post.

Wasp feeding on smashed mango in Jaco, a city on the Pacific Coast. These wasps were common at fallen fruit and in open spaces.
Also in Jaco. Interestingly, ants, the usual first responders to fallen fruit, were superseded by their flying kin at these bonanzas (though that did not stop me from getting some wonderfully fiery Solenopsis bites later on). I count four species in this shot.
Miros Mountain. As a millipede keeper, seeing these 3″/7.62 cm Chelodesmidae for the first time had me over the moon. These were very common amongst leaf litter, irrespective of light level. I tried to see what they were feeding on as keeping these sorts of polydesmids in captivity successfully seems highly dependent on providing the proper food, but did not have much luck.
Central America also has dragons! Dragon millipedes, that is. These Paradoxosomatidae were fairly common under large stones and pieces of concrete, even in disturbed areas, and give the Asian Desmoxytes a run for their money in both color and size, being about 1.5″/3.81 cm in length.
Paradoxosomatidae that I (jokingly) dub “White Dragons.” Considering the state of millipede taxonomy, and the difficulty of identifying species from photos, this may be the closest identification I get. I only saw two of these, and they were just a tad smaller than the black-red Paradoxosomatidae above. I am pretty sure they are a different species but who knows?
Beetle found under a piece of concrete. It reminds me of a stockier Coniontis.
These beetles would fly onto leaves, tease your camera out, and then fly off just before the shutter clicked.
Firefly larva? One evening while hiking back down the mountain, I was surprised to see familiar winking lights hovering in the air…fireflies. The last time I saw fireflies was years ago in Alabama, so to see them again was a treat. They are strangely exciting creatures in the unknowns of a foreign country.
Ectobiid roach! This gorgeous bugger was hanging out on this enormous leaf in broad daylight. It was fast, so presumably such a trick was not too dangerous. I only ever saw these on living plants off the ground by 4+ feet, so they are probably arboreal.
More ectobiids, probably nymphs of the species above. There were a few of these on a bamboo-and-wood bridge over a little creek. Very fast and camera shy, these were difficult to photograph.
Terrestrial planarian (flatworm) under a rock. Sort of a nondescript specimen, I didn’t see any of the famously colorful species known from the tropics unfortunately. I wasn’t in the jungle when it was pouring however, which is from what I understand usually when such animals come to the surface…
When you’re expecting “new” and “exotic” species and run into good ol’ Peucetia sp. you can only laugh as your expectations get subverted by a familiar, but still amazing, genus, ha ha!
Nephila? Female and male. These were everywhere along one trail.
Jumping spiders were everywhere, some quite large, some quite small, like this specimen, which was probably not much more than 10mm.
This spider, presumably some kind of orbweaver, dropped out of the trees and onto my party like some arachnid pirate with an upturned bicorne cap. It walked the plank back into the undergrowth without harm.
“Avast, ye scurvy bipeds!”
When you notice a hole in the wall with a mat of webbing, what do you do?
I was not hopeful to lure this specimen out of its hole in broad daylight, but it was either hungry or super defensive (or both) because then bam, tarantula! Psalmopeus maybe? Leg span was maybe 4″/10.16 cm.
Tarantula tarsi and setae are strangely alluring to photograph.
A little spider making its home in the crook of a leaf. In the jungle, I had to learn to check leaves far more closely for what might be living on them, which is not something I have to do as much in the deserts or chaparrals of California.
Dung beetle found on some horse scat at night. This specimen was about an inch/2.54 cm in length. The following pictures are from my phone…
Miros Mountain. Unidentified Flying Phasmid (UFP) observed at night.
This approximately 1″/2.54 cm roach was found scurrying across the trail at night.
Gazing out from the ruins of a resort that was left half-finished on the slopes of Miros Mountain.
Colorful Lycosidae, of which there were many in leaf litter and under logs.
Inside the darkness of the resort ruins, stranger things stalk the walls…
Just look at those spinnerets!
Those with me shouted “Executioner wasp!” as soon as we saw this. All I know is that a 2″/5.08 cm wasp is quite intimidating.
Those who don’t know me will think I included this photo because of the bats. The correct answer is that there is some sort of arachnid to the left of the bats that is infinitely more interesting…
The bats had taken over the darkest rooms of the resort ruins.
One of the final species from Miros Mountain, Archimandrita! High up on the wall in one of the bat rooms, this was the best picture I could get.
Switching from mountains to tidepools, these zoanthids were found in only one pool, though there were hundreds, if not well over a thousand, polyps, some quite near the surface as seen here. There was also a green species in a nearby pools, which I am kicking myself for not trying to photograph (they were in deeper water). Urchins, several species of fish, anemones, barnacles, sea slugs, and berserk amounts of Grapsus grapsus (Sally Lightfoot crabs) were also present. At times the rocks looked like they were running away, there were so many crabs. Thousands of Coenobita compressus hermit crabs ruled the wrack line of the beaches.
I wonder if these are the only photos of zoas not under blue actinic lights…
Back to the mountains, this time on an island. My family went on a tourist trap tour to one “Isla Tortuga” for snorkeling and the like. Jumping into the murky water was not…comfortable at first (I had two major fears as a child: arachnophobia and sharks/stingrays, the latter of which has turned into an uneasiness with the ocean), but after settling in it was a huge treat to get to see Diadema (longspine urchins) and blue sponges for the first time in the wild (kicking myself for not bringing my waterproof camera for the swim). Unfortunately, though there were a number of fish, the coral population of this part of the Pacific appears to have been almost completely wiped out. I only saw one sickly SPS specimen.
But anyway! There were also a few hiking trails on the island, and under logs and rocks along the trail I found Gecarcinus lateralis, which was another bucket list species. All were more than several hundred yards from the beach, sometimes near freshwater streams, but usually far away from any consistent water source. I even found some near the island’s mountain summit, over 2000 feet above sea level! I speculate in captivity this species might not need any saltwater outside of reproduction. That said, they look so much nicer in the wild…
One of the first rocks I flipped on Isla Tortuga checked another arachnid order off my bucket list. Amblypygi! Probably Phrynus, this juvenile had maybe a 3″/7.62 cm whipspan. This is a phone picture; at the time my hands were dirty from rolling logs.
Gazing up the coast.
At the time I did not realize there was a storm brewing, though the clouds are clearly ominous in this picture. The storm would illuminate the boat ride back to where I was staying with brilliant flashes of lightning (and soak me and my family with several inches of rain).
There were several of these 3/4-1″/2-2.54 cm polydesmids under logs and rocks on the island. I also saw a small round millipede that looked vaguely like a Spirostreptidae on a dead tree branch. Unfortunately I did not get a good photo of it; in fact, while trying to manipulate the stick to get a shot of it, it fell down into the undergrowth (lesson learned).
Sea arch and sea caves on the peninsula tip across from the island. What creatures lurk inside, I wonder?
An adult Phrynus! Some background: after finding the juvenile at the start of the hike, concerned as the trail was ending and I wanted to see another one to get some better photos. Heading down the final slope, I prayed that I would fine at least one more amblypygid. Bending down, I flipped a rock on the side of the trail, and there is this big, gorgeous, chill Phrynus. Whatever you believe, I was thanking God!
I will add a note here: bug spray, bring it. I counted 22 mosquito bites on my legs and feet after this hike (not counting lingering fire ant bites from Miros Mountain). What is odd is that this was only on Isla Tortuga; for the rest of the time in Costa Rica I did not get a single mosquito bite, though I did kill a handful of specimens that tried to bite me or family.
The nice thing about the equator is that bugs just show up. Case in point, so many interesting species interrupted meals, like this little golden beetle.
I pulled this Camponotus sericeiventris queen from the shoreline where it was trapped by the water tension of the wet sand. Approaching an inch/2.54 cm long, iridescent green, fast, and with massive jaws, I will admit it set me on edge. The eyes were reminiscent of a shark to me.
After a helter-skelter photoshoot it was removed to a safer location. Identified by ponerinecat.
In the backyard of the building I was staying in, Atta daily went to town on the clover growing in the lawn. I was so stoked to see these famous ants go about their work, but I didn’t realize they used clover for their farming. These were easily the most common ants I saw over the entire trip.
This Camponotus sp. that was near the Atta was not having a good time, missing an antenna and looking poisoned. Identified by ponerinecat.I counted five or six ant species in the backyard alone, including this photogenic little Camponotus sp. Identified by ponerinecat.
This large mosquito was waving its rear legs (the one with the white tips) in circles slowly.
There were crabs under nearly every piece of cover around the building. Unfortunately, due to their speed the only specimens I could photograph were the injured ones, such as this specimen that looked like it had been stepped on or poisoned.
These orbweavers were all over the backyard, and posed me a real photography challenge to say the least.
This jumping spider was being abducted by aliens, hence the green, hypnotic eyes.
An Archimandrita adult that appeared at breakfast one morning. Not an unpleasant interruption…at least, not for me.
One of the few slugs I saw on the trip, though this one looks oddly similar to some European Limacus I’ve seen. Invasive?
A mass of Eciton sp., Army Ants, thankfully not in the backyard where I was staying. I missed an opportunity to photograph a huge, bright yellow major, gah! Identified by ponerinecat.
Off the beaten track of Costa Rica tours there is this place called Rainmaker Conservation Park, a private wildlife refuge that has hiking trails, swimming holes, and suspension bridges galore. Mercifully, it is one of the least touristy tourist places you can go. I took over 500 photos in a few hours here.
One of the first insects at Rainmaker, an assassin bug hanging out on a leaf.
I was intrigued by these burrows I kept seeing along the trail, and tried to lure whatever was inside out. Soon these grinning faces appeared.
I found this huge, dead drone (Atta?) on a suspension bridge. From all the queens and drones I saw, it must have been nuptial flight time for a lot of species.
Remember that Camponotus sericeiventris queen I found on the shore? I found workers alongside four more queens. These massive ants were not only fast but aggressive too. Far be it from me to touch the suspension bridges with anything other than my feet! Identified by ponerinecat.
Psuedomyrmex! I have searched for these for a while now in California, and whaddya know, they aren’t that hard to find at Rainmaker. I found at least one colony inside a fence post, and then several workers running along this root avoiding larger ants of another species. Identified by ponerinecat.
These Camponotus sp. kept the pseudomyrmecines on their toes. Identified by ponerinecat.
Pseudomyrmex queen! Identified by ponerinecat.
Only after looking at this photo upon my return home did I realize this ant has eight legs, which would explain a lot.
Another beetle species that liked to tease out the camera then fly away just before you get a good shot.
Tortoise beetle. It was incredible to see how many creatures lived on plant leaves.
…or died on plant leaves.
…or were already dead on plant leaves. This well-camoflauged/armored larva (caterpillar? Beetle larva?) appeared quite dead on this leaf. There is a much higher density of life in the jungle, but by the same token that means there is a much higher mortality rate I suppose.
A freshwater crab found under a stone near a stream. It was maybe 1.5″/3.71 cm across.
I only saw three isopod species over the entire trip, this being one found under a rotting piece of wood. I am unsure if this is an adult or a mancae.
This isopod was found on the underside of a living, Selaginella-covered leaf. The arboreal isopods I’m familiar with are quite spiky, but this cryptic species seems to rely on camouflage and speed.
One of three katydids I saw (I heard plenty more).
The final katydid I saw on the trip. It was quite interesting as I was looking at a hemipteran, and then happened to glance at a leaf and there this katydid was. Their crypsis is impressive.
Stability amidst chaos. This overgrown log is also a great example of the boggling plant diversity of the jungle. If I had been paying closer attention to the number of plant species I saw it very well might have been close to or more than the number of invertebrates.
Seeing vigorous plant specimens in their natural habitat also makes keeping them in terrariums lose its luster.
Tree snails were quite common pretty much everywhere in the jungle, seeming to especially favor still-living leaves that were overgrown with mosses or clubmosses.
Glow worm lines under a rock overhang?
One of many diverse planthoppers.
Nyssodesmus? These 3″/7.62 cm millipedes were common on rotting wood.
Another species of large polydesmid that were active during the day.
A roach nymph of some kind found on a fence. It was such a light green that the natural light and then my flash kept washing out the shot. Fast too, it would not stay still.
Another spotted jumper like the one found at Miros Mountain.
This massive spider was in a bromeliad about five feet below a suspension bridge. Phoneutria?
This spider guarded its wooden post with careful vigilance as I departed Rainmaker in a rainstorm…
At Ballena National Marine Park, the humidity and sand made handling the camera treacherous as I rolled logs and rocks. However, when leaving the park my hands had dried enough to snap some long distance photographs of Cardiosoma crassum. A few other tourists wanted to know what I was photographing; they were unimpressed. Identified by orchidloveXTM.
A hemipteran feeding on flower-juices.
A green shield hemipteran.
Another jumping spider. I saw five or six different species of salticids alone over the course of the trip.
The colors on this hemipteran were jaw-dropping. I believe it was freshly molted.
Towards the end of the trip I was looking, not without some franticness, for a final new place to visit. While out for a drive I spotted a turnout.
A river was flowing nearby, and a little footpath went down into a bit of jungle before dying in the shrubbery. It revealed another interesting species of chelodesmid, and a lot of them at that.
I count five millipedes in the photo.
The plants with the thin leaves are all touch-me-nots (Mimosa pudica). Touching one in a store is cool; waving your foot over a whole clump of them and watching the plants virtually disappear in front of your eyes is fantastic.
Fishing spider near a river. These were common on the rocks, ostensibly feeding on flying insects and the like attracted by the water. They did not move unless disturbed.
A little ways on from the river turnout I stopped at an area that had been cleared, probably for development, but at that time still sat vacant. Blister beetles(?) like this one were common aerial visitors.
Under many chainsawed logs that still sat in the field were more “dragon” Paradoxosomatidae, both adults and the whiteish juveniles.
Also under some of the logs were these roaches, which were always found singly.
A snail that wasn’t in a tree, surprisingly. After seeing pictures of Megalobumiulus in the Ecuadorian Amazon, my expectations for tropical snails envisioned large specimens everywhere. Reality, of course, tends to be smaller: this specimen was less than an inch/2.54 cm long.
Opportunistic shrubs had already started to fill in the field, and on these a variety of creatures could be found. I saw several of these gorgeous planthoppers but only managed to photograph one.
Another hopper, this time of grass, enjoying the view.
The tall plant in the foreground is being worked on by an army of Atta. Note the leaves reduced to mere skeletons of their former leafy glory.
I am not sure what these Crematogaster were doing, grouping together on the top of a leaf in broad daylight, but they seemed quite content in any case. Impressive abdomen! Identified by ponerinecat.
The promised herp photos. These tiny frogs were common near the river where I saw the fishing spiders, touch-me-nots, and chelodesmids, leaping away quickly whenever one would approach.
A stately green iguana. These were everywhere along the coast. They were not particularly bold despite being around people frequently.
The basilisks were much less fearful of people, if not completely unwary.
Dendrobates auratus! I saw two or three of these over the course of the trip, and it was always as they were jumping powerfully away, hence the poor photo.
I have no idea what happened to this specimen’s back left leg; it was jumping fine, and I didn’t notice its odd look until reviewing the photo for this post.
A wary gecko on a tree trunk. The camouflage on many of the lizards I saw was incredible; I remember bending closer to look at a tree root and then bam, a lizard of some kind swishing off it and away; I had been starting right at it!
I was saddened not to see any snakes on the trip, but the lizards definitely did their best to make up for it. This beautiful specimen was alongside the trail, trying to avoid detection as best it could.

Thus ends the photojournal. Some lessons I learned:
The amount of water present in jungles means that flipping rocks and logs with a camera in hand is a much different proposition than doing the same in drier climes. Frequently my hands swere o wet or muddy that I was unable to handle my camera without dirtying it.
I had read in Piotr Naskrecki’s excellent book, The Smaller Majority, that photographing in rainforests is a unique challenge because of how difficult it is to protect cameras and other equipment from the water, and he was more than right.

A team of two – a photographer and a flipper – might be ideal for this kind of environment to get the best shots and find the most invertebrates. Or maybe I just needed to get a rag to wipe my hands on…
In any case, rain is a major danger to any electrical equipment, and a waterproof bag is an absolute necessity. My phone, which is housed in a snug-fitting OtterBox case that is largely water-proof, got water trapped in between the screen and the plastic screen protector twice, which shows how pervasive moisture is in this environment.

A second lesson I learned is that checking foliage, especially the underside of leaves, is not only a good idea, it is really a necessity for finding a lot of rainforest fauna. I’ve never seen so many creatures hanging out on leaves and tree trunks, especially not coming from an area where yuccas, rabbit brush, and pines are the most common plants.

Finally, a very simple thing is to make sure to use the flash. It gets quite dark under the dense rainforest canopy, and not using it is likely to be very damaging to any photography efforts. Trying to wrangle the unwieldy pop-up flash of my Nikon CoolPix S9900 for macro shots was a frustrating experience at times, but not having to rely on inconsistent natural light made it worth it (at least with my camera). A quality diffuser would be a good idea.

Till next time, Arthroverts out!