Nocturnal Safari in El Valle
In January we organized a nocturnal safari at El Valle de Antón with Serpentario Maravillas Tropicales (https://www.facebook.com/serpentario.maravillastropicales, cellphone: 6569-2676), we were specially prepared with our macro lenses to photograph the nocturnal wildlife like frogs, spiders, insects and hopefully snakes. Our experince at night is that most of the animals allow a very close approach. The cost of the safari is US$45 per person which includes a 3 hour guided tour with Mario Urriola, an experienced biologist, naturalist and conservationist, local to El Valle. He knows very well where to look for animals, how to catch and handle snakes, and will be patient if you want to take time to photograph the subjects.
We walked a trail known as El Berral (Watercress plantation) which starts a stream crossing where watercress is grown. Here we started hearing and observing various species of frogs, they were very cooperative, allowing all these fantastic macro shots made by our photographers Miguel "Siu" and Julio Gonzalez. The main attraction were the frogs, since we were missing photos of this order of vertebrates (Anura) but our target was to photograph everything that crossed our path. The walk took 2.5 hours to another stream crossing where we found a Stream Anole and Frog-eating Spiders. Then took a half hour to return to the start. We didn't walk a long distance because we stopped a lot to make pictures.
Warszewitsch's Frog or Brilliant Forest Frog (Lithobates warszewitschii) is a species of frog found in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. They are medium sized frogs: males grow to 52 mm (2.0 in) and females to 63 mm (2.5 in) in snout–vent length. The snout is pointed. Some have brown backs and others such as this have bright green backs. They also have a light lip line. Its natural habitats are humid lowland, montane and gallery forests where it is found near streams, but it can also be found far from streams. It can survive even in small forest patches. Some populations seem to have suffered from chytridiomycosis but more recently recovered. It is also affected by habitat loss.
The Panama Cross-banded Treefrog or Pug-nosed Treefrog (Smilisca sila) is a species of frog found in the humid Pacific lowlands of southwestern Costa Rica to eastern Panama and in the Caribbean lowlands of Panama and northern Colombia. Males grow to 45 mm (1.8 in) and females to 62 mm (2.4 in) in snout–vent length. They are gray, tan or reddish brown in dorsal colouration, with tuberculate skin. White or green flecks as well as darker blotches and markings may be present. These were the most abundant frog in our exploration, as the pictures show.
In the leaf-litter we saw a couple of frogs identified by Mario as Slim-fingered Rain Frogs also known as Isla Bonita Robber Frog (Craugastor crassidigitus). It is found in Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, and possibly Nicaragua. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, subtropical or tropical moist montane forests, arable land, pastureland, plantations, and heavily degraded former forest. It varies between approximately 20.2 mm (0.8 in) and 44.7 mm (1.76 in) among its four populations in Panama. Panamanian populations can be grey, grayish brown, light or dark brown, pinkish brown, orangish brown, and reddish brown.
Cascade Glass Frog or White-spotted Glass Frog (Cochranella albomaculata, syn. Sachatamia albomaculata) is a species of frog found in Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Panama. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, subtropical or tropical moist montane forests, and rivers. Adult males reach 29 mm (1.1 in) in size, while the females reach 32 mm.(1.25 in) Ground coloration is bluish green, with many light yellow to silver spots on low bumps on the dorsal surfaces. There is a white stripe on the upper lip and along the margins of the lower limbs. Ventrally, these frogs are translucent, and their digestive system is visible. The bones are green, and are visible when viewed from the dorsal side. Eyes are large, with gray-gold irises and black reticula, and the pupils are horizontal.
Green Sipo, Green Racer, Green Whipsnake or Ranera Verde (Chironius exoletus). Adults are uniformly greenish dorsally. The juveniles are brownish and faintly marked with light crossbands. It is found in Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana and Paraguay. It is a diurnal, heliophilic and terrestrial to arboreal inhabitant of primary and secondary evergreen forests, silvopastures, cultivated fields and roads. At night, sleeps on bushes or trees up to 5 meters (16 ft) above the ground, usually in the vicinity of water bodies. During warm days, it actively forages on the forest floor or on low vegetation, where it preys on amphibians, particularly treefrogs, lizards and birds. Defense mechanisms for this alert and lively snake include threat displays, swift escape and striking. However, it lacks venom glands and is harmless to humans. This species lays 4–12 eggs per clutch.
Stream Anole (Anolis lionotus) a semiaquatic species, utilizing the borders of streams in heavy forest.
Gaige’s Anole (Anolis gaigei)
Stick Bug (Phasmatodea)
Leaf-mimicking Katydid (Cellidophylla albimacula)
Wolf spiders are members of the family Lycosidae. They are robust and agile hunters with excellent eyesight. They live mostly solitary and hunt alone. Some are opportunistic hunters pouncing upon prey as they find it or even chasing it over short distances. Some will wait for passing prey.
One of the most spectacular moments of the night was finding a spider identified by Mario as Frog-eating Spider, scientific name unknown, probably a member of the Wandering Spiders family (Ctenidae). The spider was eating a Warszewitsch's Frog (Lithobates warszewitschii), which you might see differs in back coloration to the one shown above.
Giant Water Bug (Belostomatidae) is a family of freshwater hemipteran insects. They are the largest insects in the order Hemiptera, and occur worldwide. They are typically encountered in freshwater streams and ponds. Most species are relatively large, typically at least 2 cm (0.75 in) long, although smaller species also exist. Belostomids are aggressive predators which stalk, capture, and feed on aquatic invertebrates, snails, crustaceans, fish, and amphibians. They often lie motionless at the bottom of the body of water, attached to various objects, where they wait for prey to come near. Their bite is considered one of the most painful that can be inflicted by any insect.
After mating, the female deposits eggs on the males back until the whole back is covered. The male takes care of the eggs and leaves them on his back until they are ready to hatch. One of the different types of brooding techniques that the male can use is surface brooding. This is where the male brings his back with the eggs to the surface of the water (as shown in the picture) exposing him and the eggs to predation. The eggs will not hatch if left on their own.
Hummingbird incubating in her nest.
Velvet Ant (Hoplomutilla xanthocerata) a nocturnal member of the Mutillidae, a family of more than 3,000 species of wasps whose wingless females resemble large, hairy ants (but males have wings). Their bright colors serve as aposematic signals. They are known for their extremely painful stings.
Longhorn Beetle (Cerambycidae)
Moth's larva (Caterpillar) (Automeris sp.)
Earwigs make up the insect order Dermaptera and are found throughout the Americas, Africa, Eurasia, Australia and New Zealand. Earwigs have characteristic cerci, a pair of pincers on their abdomen, and membranous wings folded underneath short forewings. Earwigs rarely use their flying ability, are mostly nocturnal and often hide in small, moist crevices during the day, and are active at night, feeding on a wide variety of insects and plants.
Even thou we were focused on small subjects for our macro lenses, we were able hear or observe sloth, opossum, kinkajou and a mottled owl. At the end of the tour we were extremely happy with the photographic results, and cannot wait to do another safari in this location full of interesting wildlife. We are pretty sure we will repeat this adventure later this year, and reccomend any person interested in knowing the nocturnal fauna of Panama in a safe way to book a tour with Mario; you won't be dissapointed.