Leaf Cutter Ants Working in the Rain
I'm up early for our first tour into Tortuguero National Park. Each boat has its own naturalist guide to help identify and spot the vast array of wildlife that lives here. Tortuguero National Park consists of a series of man-made canals that winds through and connects a series of rivers and landmasses. The canals were originally constructed to float logs from the forest to Limon for export during the 50's and 60's during the heavy logging period in Costa Rica that preceeded the ecological movement.
Thick green tropical vegetation borders the canals seeming to protect its inhabitants from the rest of the world. The sounds of distant Chestnut-mandibled Toucans (Ramphastos swainsonii) and Montezuma Oropendulas (Psarocolius montezuma) echo from deep within the forest and sweet delicious aromas waft from somewhere in the forest you will never be able to walk.
We travel along the Rio Penitencia (see map) to find plenty of Anhingas (Anhinga anhinga), Yellow Crowned Night Herons (Nyctanassa violacea), Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias), Little Blue Herons (Egretta caerulea) and Bare-throated Tiger Herons (Tigrisoma mexicanum). We are fortunate to find the Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) scampering around in a tree not too far above us and later we find the more common White-faced Capuchin Monkey (Cebus capucinus) and Howler Monkeys (Alouatta palliata) Their little faces and hands are so human like. Sometimes they look right into your eyes -- I wonder what they think of us?
We also encounter green iguanas (Iguana iguana) and green basilisk lizards (Basiliscus basiliscus) cleverly camouflaged in the pendant vegetation.
Our afternoon tour is along the Gabian trail at the Tortuguero Park headquarters. Instantly upon emerging into the canopy of the Wet Tropical Rainforest, I realize that insect repellent is not an option. The mosquitoes attack any unprotected flesh and even bite through your clothes. With insect repellent, they just seem to swarm at a more comfortable distance. The casual walk takes about 1.5 hours at a very leisurely pace.
Leaf cutter ants (Atta spp.) can be found hard at work on the forest floor if its not raining. It's really neat to stop and watch these guys work. There are actually four different species of ants that live and work together in the colony. There are workers who cut and carry the leaves to the nest, soldiers who guard the nest, inspectors who make sure the leaves are clean and suitable for cutting and the queen, the one and only per colony, who reproduces. If it starts to rain, they drop their leaves and run home. You can often find abandoned leaves in the trail left in a perfect line. They just throw up their legs and say "Forget this! We're not paid enough to work in the rain, we're Outta Here!"