Thursday, March 31, 2011

Epilachna abrupta

Plant-feeding ladybird beetles are not something that many people know about. We have a couple of species in the United States (the Mexican bean beetle and the squash beetle) but they are usually not associated with ladybirds in most people's mind. In the tropics, however, there are a lot more species and many of them are quite large. These pictures are of Epilachna abrupta a species that I believe feeds on the same solanaceous plant it is resting on here. I have no idea which species it is (I'm not much of a botanist) but the leaves are nearly a foot long. The plant itself is over 6 feet tall and fairly stout spines project from the midrib (visible in the second picture). These beetles are nearly half an inch long.

I found them by the side of the road while climbing up (east) into the cloud forest out of San Jose, Costa Rica last May. A soft rain was falling but the couple of mating pairs that I found seemed not to be bothered underneath the large green leaves.

The color pattern of the species is variable. Robert Gordon's revision of the species of the Western Hemisphere illustrates both this form and one with a dark band across the middle of the elytra. Too bad there weren't any larvae around. I expect that they would be quite impressive. The Epilachna larvae that I have seen are covered with branching spines. The landscape shot is from the same cloud forest.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stolas lebasii

Thanks to Ted MaCrae's post ( on February 25 (and Lech Borowiec's excellent cassidine interactive manual) I have been able to place a name on this beautiful tortoise beetle I ran across last spring in Costa Rica. It is Stolas lebasii. I have seen it a few times in Central America in forested areas and it always manages to make me stop and marvel at its deep metallic green color and bright spots.

For a leaf beetle it is quite large, almost half an inch long. When you look at a live one in its natural habitat it always seems much bigger. I found this individual on a forested path in the Wilson Botanical Area near the Panamanian border. As you can see there were a lot of bromeliads and other epiphytes hanging from moss-covered trees along the trail. Various tree ferns were also abundant.

It was a quiet damp place with the distant warbling of tropical birds and the occasional buzzing of forest insects. In such a place one could spend years and still not see every species that lives there. For travelers to southern Costa Rica wishing to see monkeys, sloths and various tropical birds all together in a package, the Osa Peninsula may be a better place to visit. If, however, one wishes to see the inspiring diversity of a montane forest, the Wilson Botanical Area is hard to beat.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Brown-Throated Sloth

The brown-throated sloth (Bradypus variegatus) is one of the most unusual creatures I have ever seen. It is a 3-toed sloth that occurs from Honduras south into the Amazon rain forest. Steve, Michael and I ran into a couple of them last spring while visiting the Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica. We were not expecting to see one - in fact we had insects and birds on the mind instead. Fortunately Steve has sharp eyes and we got a great look at this one pictured. It looks like it's playing peek-a-boo.

My search image for insects and birds relies primarily on movement (unless I'm looking for something at close range). I expect that this might be the case for other predators as well (yes I suspect that all entomologists are predators in some sense). That's why sloths can be so hard to see. They hardly move at all. All this individual did during a period of maybe 20 minutes was raise and lower one of its arms. They must be pretty common, though, in certain parts of Central America if we could come across two in less than 12 hours. This individual was right by the main road on the peninsula. And I must say that the road is ideal for seeing wildlife. It isn't paved and is only two lanes wide with forest canopy extending over the top for much of its length. Patient photographers and birders can often be seen off to the side waiting for a good shot or siting.

The down-side of the peninsula is that its hard to find reasonably priced lodging. We ended up hoping to find a side road where we could put out a small tent, but without any luck. In the end we had to pay much more than we could really afford at an ecolodge (several hundred dollars for one night). But the scenery was impressive and the beach was just a bit of a hike away.