Authored by Stephen Spear
In early December, 20 Orianne Society members joined Orianne staff to participate in the first Places You’ve Never Herped event outside the United States. The location was the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, referred to by National Geographic as one of the most biologically-intense places on earth. The Osa is also a region I knew well from my work searching for, and eventually tracking, Black-headed Bushmasters. The Osa can be a difficult place to explore—it’s difficult to access, and it is very easy to get lost in the forest there. Luckily, the Piro Research Station, operated by Osa Conservation, provided the perfect location for searching for herps on the Osa. It has a great deal of biological diversity, as there are beaches, wetlands, rivers and forest nearby. It is relatively remote (requiring a one-hour ride on a very bumpy gravel road and crossing rivers). Yet despite this, it had excellent infrastructure with clearly marked trails, comfortable accommodations and excellent meals cooked for us.
The first night, everyone arrived for dinner and then we were off into the forest. Most of us had just rode for nine hours in a bus from San Jose and then the aforementioned bumpy taxi ride, but you don’t want to pass up a night in the tropical rain forest, as that is when the most things are active. And this night did not disappoint. On the road, we were immediately seeing Cane Toads, Smoky Jungle Frogs and Red-eyed Treefrogs. We walked into the swamp and were serenaded by multiple species of treefrogs, saw swimming mud turtles, and encountered our first Terciopelo (Fer-de-lance) of the trip. Walking from the swamp towards the river, a large Mussurana crossed our path. This snake behaves very similar to our Indigo Snakes, as it is a snake-eater and will routinely take down venomous Terciopelos. Like Indigos, it also has a very calm disposition. Upon reaching the river, a Tree Boa was spotted up in a tree. And walking back to the station along the river yielded a number of glass frogs. Not bad for a first night, and well worth staying up until 2:00 am after a long travel day!
Another highlight of the trip (for many, probably THE highlight) was helping to release hatchling Olive Ridley sea turtles back into the ocean. Osa Conservation has a sea turtle conservation program, and one of its components is a hatchery in which they place sea turtle eggs from nests that probably wouldn’t survive on their own. Our time at the station coincided with many of these eggs hatching, and so they needed to be released from the hatchery but still be allowed to crawl back along the beach so that they would imprint on the area. One of the groups that got up early for one release session also saw a nesting Green Sea Turtle.
All told, over three days and four nights, we collectively found 58 species of reptile and amphibians representing every major group found in Costa Rica. That included a Caecilian, the least known type of amphibian and generally very secretive.
I’ve given you a taste of what the trip was like, but we are so excited about this trip that we will feature it in our next Indigo Magazine, complete with more stories and photos from the trip. Pura Vida!