“This is not a Spring Break trip to Costa Rica, it is a herpetology class trip to Costa Rica that happens to be over Spring Break.” So said Jonathan Losos to a room full of eager students, many of whom had chosen to take Herpetology in part because of the adventure that awaited them. As first year Ph.D. students in the Losos lab, we were as excited as anyone for the opportunity to see some of Costa Rica’s rich biological diversity. Plus the well-publicized stereotype of how young people spend Spring Break has never really appealed to us. We’d rather be in the nighttime forest with a headlamp.
The trip started with a day and a half at Veragua Rainforest. We saw tons of frogs and a handful of snakes, but anoles were hard to come by except for a few individuals along shallow, slow-moving streams (A. humilis, A. limifrons, and A. oxylophus). One of our most exciting finds of the trip was along one of these streams – an A. pentaprion hugging a narrow stem at eye level. It was shocking to see this lizard so close to the ground as it is often found high in the canopy and has even been observed gliding between perches. While many mainland anoles don’t fall clearly into the classic ecomorph categories, this lizard, with its small legs, long body and head, and slow but sneaky evasive behavior, is very reminiscent of West Indian twig anoles (and he’s got a gorgeous dewlap too! see photo at end of post).
From Veragua we moved to La Selva Biological Station where we spent five action-packed days exploring the forest and documenting the herpetofauna. Anolis humilis, A. limifrons, and A. lemurinus were widely abundant, and A. oxylophus was also easy to find throughout the day along shallow streams. Having heard that class trips in previous years had always seen the green tree anole, A. biporcatus, we craned our necks and sent our attention skyward in hopes of adding this lizard to our list. This beautiful species is one of the larger anoles present in Costa Rica, and we were determined to find one. One night, a small group of people returning to camp from a hike spotted one sleeping on a leaf about five meters above the ground. To draw the attention of other night hikers who would be passing by later (ourselves included), the group constructed an elaborate sign on the path out of leaves and branches, including a large arrow pointing to the tree with said anole. When we came across this weird crop circle-like design, we quickly ruled out that aliens had invaded the forest and instead concluded that we could follow the arrow to a green anole! We didn’t spot the anole that night but found it in the same tree the next day, the last day of our trip. In total, we saw every anole known to inhabit La Selva except for A. capito and A. carpenteri. The dearth of the pug-nosed anole, A. capito, is surprising since it used to be amongst the most common anole species in certain parts of La Selva (Guyer and Donnelly, 2005).
We had an absolute blast and would go back in a heartbeat. Fortunately, several students made a video documenting the trip that we can re-watch when we yearn to be back in the forest. Lastly, we’d like to thank our professors Jonathan Losos and Jim Hanken aka Dr. Deet, teaching fellows Mara Laslow and Ambika Kamath, expert guide Hector Zumbado-Ulate, and all the staff at Veragua and La Selva who made our experience truly great!
- Nick Herrmann and Sofia Prado-Irwin
Dewlaps, clockwise from top left: A. oxylophus, A. humilis, A. biporcatus (female), A. pentaprion
Guyer, Craig and Maureen A. Donnelly. Amphibians and reptiles of La Selva, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean Slope: a comprehensive guide. Univ of California Press, 2005.