Costa Rica - August 2014 - Aguas Zarcas - Reptiles

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chrish
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Costa Rica - August 2014 - Aguas Zarcas - Reptiles

Post by chrish » January 13th, 2015, 12:21 pm

This is a continuation of my trip to Costa Rica from August.
I know some of us get tired of trying to get through a 200 photo mega post, so I will break this trip up into
Aguas Zarcas Area - Frogs
Aguas Zarcas Area - Reptiles (this post)
Caño Negro Area (maybe separate frogs and reptiles again - coming soon?)
Sarapiqui Area

Although recording frogs were a particular focus of mine, it wasn't all frogs. There were lizards as well,...

Ameiva festiva were common in the grounds of where we stayed (and everywhere else) -

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Where we stayed we were along a nice creek.

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The rocks along the creek were festooned with Plumed Basilisks (Basiliscus plumifrons) of various ages and sexes -

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We saw surprisingly few anoles based on my other experiences in the neotropics. We did find this big Neotropical Green Anole (Anolis biporcatus) sleeping on a palm frond one night -

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There were, of course, the standard lizards of any neotropical hotel grounds....

Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) -

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and IndoPacific Geckos (Hemidactylus frenatus) -

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I know some of you are thinking "Hurry up and get to the snakes!", so here they are. We didn't see a lot of snakes but that is mostly attributable to not really spending a lot of time focused on them. We did some roadhunting around the area and found some DORs, including this Allen's Coralsnake (Micrurus alleni) -

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and a DOR Red-backed Coffee Snake (Ninia sebae)

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a DOR Scorpion-eating Snake (Stenorrhina freminvillei)

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But the most interesting roadkill snake wasn't found on the road at all. We were driving around north of the town of Aguas Zarcas in the agricultural areas looking at birds when we came across a Black Vulture on the road. I always check when I see a vulture on the road in the neotropics as they often lead to interesting DOR sightings....but there was nothing on the road. I pulled over and got out and looked in the grass beside the road and still saw nothing. I could certainly smell something dead, but I couldn't see any roadkill :?

Then I expanded my search a bit and spied this -

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walking over a little closer revealed a good sized dead Ecuadorian Milksnake (an unfortunate common name) (Lampropeltis micropholis) hung over the barbed wire -

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I moved it off the fence and posed it in a bit more "lifelike" pose. It was very rank and the smell I had to endure as I bent over this snake still makes me gag.

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On a side rant, this snake points out the stupidity of recognizing the montane populations of Central American milks as a different subspecies. This snake would be formerly have been regarded as belonging to the subspecies L.t. stuarti because it wasn't black even though it was over 4 feet long. It was from the foothills of a mountain. If I went up that mountain higher (literally 15 minutes drive) into the cloud forest, I would come across a different "subspecies" of milksnake (gaigeae) and yet if I keep going down the other side of the mountain, I get this subspecies again? That makes no sense. Regardless of how you feel about the value/existence of subspecies, L.t. gaigeae isn't one! The snakes simply get darker as you go up the mountains and it gets cooler. They deserve no more taxonomic recognition than black Thamnophis sirtalis or Vipera berus.

Not every snake we saw was dead though. Walking the trails into the forest at near our hotel produced a few live snakes. In fact, one night I managed to screw up getting shots of two different snakes in less than 15 minutes :x !

The first was as I crossed a little creek that ran under a small foot bridge under the trail. I looked down into the water and saw this slender eel-like shape. I looked at it for a few seconds before it sunk in that it was, in fact, a snake. I decided the best approach was to snap a quick "documentation shot" before jumping down and making a grab.

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Now, I wasn't sure what it was, but I knew what it wasn't and I knew it wasn't venomous. I realized if I jumped down after it while it was in the open shallow water, it could get away if I missed with my first grab. So I watched it for a second until it crawled under the pile of leaves you see its head going under. I figured the leaves would give me a second to get down there and get in position for a grab. I quickly jumped down and grabbed the whole pile of leaves in two hands and lifted them up out of the water scanning the water below as I lifted to ensure I hadn't missed the snake. It was not in the water below. So I carefully sorted through the leaves in my hands and.....nothing! I have no idea where this snake went or how it eluded me. I had never taken my eyes off it other than went it swam under this pile of leaves in 2 inches of water. The snake turned out to be a species I have missed repeatedly throughout its range, the Orange-bellied Swampsnake (Tretatorhinus nigroluteus) so I was glad I had taken the time to get the documentation shot.

I was a bit miffed at missing this snake. I searched for a long time around the area and down the stream and other streams and never saw it or another individual. :( So somewhat dejectedly, I walked further on down the trail. At one point on the trail, I peered around the edge of a tree buttress and spied the distinctive pattern of a coralsnake hunting in the leaves. I had no hook or anything to corral it, but since it was "trapped" in between the feet of two buttresses, I knew I could get a stick and manipulate it without it getting away. But having been burned by the Tretatorhinus just a few minutes before, I once again decided on a documentation shot before I disturbed it. The snake had obviously been disturbed by my light and was slowly and calmly crawling underneath those leaves to get out of the light.

Micrurus alleni -

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So I put down my stuff, keeping my eye on the last part of its tail as it crawled under the leaves. I reached around behind and grabbed a short stick and gently lifted up the leaf litter.....and nothing! I then carefully cleared out the litter in the buttress starting at the edge and moving towards the apex where the snake had gone and found.....nothing. Only when I got to the apex did I see that there was a crevice in the apex under the leaves which went down deep into the ground. AARRRGHH! I was zero for two on snakes tonight. But at least I grabbed the documentation shot before I lost it......I guess? At the time, that was small consolation.

I didn't miss every snake I saw walking in the forest at night. I was also looking carefully up into the bushes and trees along the trail because that is a good way to find snakes sleeping at night. They can be hard to see sometimes as they often have light green or yellow-green bellies, but one night I managed to somehow pick out one's subtle shades among the foilage ;) -

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I did bring it down and try to get a posed shot of it, but it was decidedly uncooperative and I didn't want to harass it just for a photo, so you'll have to do with an pre-grab, slightly OOF, in situ shot.

Salmon-bellied Racer (Mastigodryas melanolomus)

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That was it for the reptiles I documented near Aguas Zarcas, except for a snake I saw as I sat and ate breakfast on this upper deck one morning. I normally brought my camera and my binoculars when we sat out on this deck for breakfast because the potential for birds or herps appearing on the forest edge was pretty good.

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One morning I looked over and saw movement in the trees right about face level across the creek. I looked over with my binoculars and finally spotted the cause of the motion - a big Tropical Chicken Snake (Spilotes pullatus) crawling through the trees looking for an unwary bird. I reached over for my camera....and found I had left it in the room. Oh well, we just watched it crawl through the trees for a few minutes and then it headed back into the forest out of sight.

For the next installment, we explore the amazing marshy grasslands and swamps of the Caño Negro region up on the Nicaraguan border. Stay tuned!

Chris

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Phil
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Location: Lafayette, LA

Re: Costa Rica - August 2014 - Aguas Zarcas - Reptiles

Post by Phil » January 17th, 2015, 4:45 pm

Well done! Sorry about all of the DORs, though. I know how discouraging it can be to see a beautiful species smashed on the road.

-Phil

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Cole Grover
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Re: Costa Rica - August 2014 - Aguas Zarcas - Reptiles

Post by Cole Grover » February 11th, 2015, 9:23 am

Again, bad-ass post. Great series, overall. The Basiliscus are sweet, and I obviously enjoy the dead milk. I agree that triangulum has been too heavily subspeciated in the past, but gaigeae shares the body form and genetics of the South American group (micropholis and andesiana) more than that of the neighboring stuarti/Central American forms.

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