La Selva Biological Station


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Published: April 19th 2014
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La Selva Biological Station is one of the leading research and teaching centres in the tropics. Basically if you want to learn about tropical rain forests this is the place to be. It was originally set up in 1954 by Dr Leslie Holdridge as a farm that experimented on the best techniques to improve mixed plantations for nature conservation. The Organisation for Tropical Studies bought it in 1968 and from then on it was declared a private biological reserve and study centre.

We arrive in the humid sweltering heat of the afternoon and meet our guide for the day, Raimer. We are literally two steps into the reserve when he finds us a two toed sloth up high in the trees. Raimer tells us that sloths only come down to the ground once or twice a week and that the reason they move so slowly is to conserve energy - they only eat leaves so have to take it easy. They can however swim pretty fast! Well who knew - sloths swim! Their only predator is the eagle - and of course the stupidity of humans can mess things up for them too!

Just around the next corner we go into 'awwwww' overdrive as Raimer trains his scope on a three toed sloth mother and baby. The mum is laying flat out on her back on a branch way up high in a tree with one arm stretched above her head. Her baby is laying face down on her tummy and is having a look around. He is just so cute. Sloths are surprisingly furry for an animal that lives in such a hot country and this is why they prefer to hidden away in the shade.

We see a huge green iguana sunning himself up in a tree. What a strange looking creature it is, more like a dinosaur than anything else.

Raimer tells us that Costa Rica is known as the biodiversity capital of the world and with good reason too. It has around 10% of all known species in the world and of these half can be found in La Selva Reserve!

We see a common black hawk fly by and then watch a black checkered wood pecker poking its head in and out of a hole in a dead tree trunk. Later we see another one making its way up the outside of the trunk tapping away to try and find insects to eat.

Hanging from one tree we see a large mango shaped fruit. Apparently they are usually fiund in pairs and are colloqually known as 'horse balls'! Only parrots can eat them so if anyone offers you horse balls its best to decline under ALL circumstances.

I spot some beautiful large flat white fungi and on one is a massive millipede. Crossing the path ahead we spot a familly of peccaries or wild pigs. These are the pigs Eric had smelled but not been able to find for me. Further along the trail we saw some more close up snuffling about in the forest floor with their snouts. With them is another black curraso (the huge black bird from the turkey family with the yellow knobbly bit on its beak that we'd been lucky enough to see at Tortuguero. We also spot a tree creeper.

We find out from Raimer about the difference between primary and secondry rain forest. Primary forest is very dense and only 3% of sunlight is able to get through the canopy, sub canopy and reach the understory near the forst floor. Therefore only palms, which are able to bend their leaves and stems to the light, are able to survive. In secondry forest the canopy is not so dense and so a greater variety of understory plants are able to survive. We also find out about apophyte plants. These are plants that live on trees, getting water from the bark and creep up the trunk and branches to get higher up where more sunlight penetrates the forest canopy. All this is done without harming the trees. Examples of apophytes are the elephant ear and vines.

I spot a little red and black poison dart frog. We find out it is the females who lay the eggs and the males take them up the trees to hatch into tadpoles and then morph into lit frogs.

Raimer is on the hunt for bats who use leaves as kind of tents to hang upside down in. He tells us there are 116 species of bats ffound in Costa Rica! ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN!! We only have 14 species in the UK! Biodiversity capital of the world! Walkng past some of the student and researcher accommodation we spot a roost of bats under the eaves of one of the houses. They are the same long nosed bats Eric had shown me. A little way down the next path Raimer finds a tent bat insde a leaf and further on a bundle of five white bats (yes white!) whose Latin name is ectophilia alba. ThehThey look like cut little white furbies.


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