Saturday, July 18, 2015

Bulletin 228 - Costa Rica #8 - mammals

This is my first trip since Alaska in 2010, that I had enough different mammals to make their own bulletin. A few I had already seen, but a couple were fantastic. 

As you know, I like squirrels as often they are the only mammals seen because they are diurnal. The Variegated Squirrel (Sciurus variegatus) at 24" is the largest squirrel in Costa Rica. I have photographed it in Panama last year as well. It comes in several different body colors, red, black, white or a mixture. The tail is salt and pepper.

Variegated Squirrel
The Red-tailed Squirrel (Sciurus granatensis) is smaller at 17" is red bodied with a red tail. This was a new species for me to photograph.

Red-tailed Squirrel
The White-nosed Coati (Nasua narica) is a 42" member of the raccoon family. I had seen this animal in Panama as well, but I saw 3 or 4 in Costa Rica. This one was on the side of the road. He has a bald spot on his tail where he might have gotten to close to a predator. 

White-nosed Coati
The Collared Peccary (Pecari tajacu) is a 36" mammal related to pigs, that is familiar to many of us in the USA as it occurs in south Texas. It is gray with a white collar. They were common at La Selva and used to people. They would walk around the cabins and it was funny to watch them when it rained. They would all gather under the eaves of the cabins to stay dry.

Collared Peccary
The Mantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata) is the largest primate in Costa Rica. I had also been treated to a troop of them in Panama. This time they were higher in the forest and they moved rapidly across the trail.

Mantled Howler Monkey
The next 2 mammals are sloths. Sloths are mammals confined to the New World. There are 6 species still alive, but many huge ground sloths went extinct with the arrival on humans in the New World. Some were as large as elephants! See wikipedia for a complete account, it is amazing.

The surviving sloths are actually in 2 families (2-toed and 3-toed). One of each is in Costa Rica. Although they are superficially similar, I thought a person would have to count toes to differentiate them, but their faces are distinctive and diagnostic. Also all of them have 3 claws on the rear foot, it is only the forefoot where they differ! Some have called for them to be renamed as 2 or 3 fingered sloths.

Here is the Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth (Bradypus variegatus). His face is distinctive and he looks like he is smiling. This was my first photo of this species. The greenish cast on his fur is an algae species that is unique to this animal. There is also a sloth moth that feeds on the algae! Note the bare black stripe down his back. This is a display patch males use to warn other males of their territory. Also his nose is black.

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth

Here is another photo where one can see the three claws on the forefoot.

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth
The Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) I had already photographed in Panama last year and I almost didn't take a photo of this one as it was high in a tree and I had to take my camera off the tripod and look straight up. However, I was sure glad I did as you can see. There is a baby sleeping on the mothers stomach! Notice the white fur completely around the face and the large 'pig snout'. 

Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth with baby
Finally, the absolute highlight of my trip was a Cougar (aka Puma, Mountain Lion) (Puma concolor). They are the 4th largest cat in the world. This is a common predator from Alaska to southern South America but it is extremely secretive and seldom seen. This was my first ever sighting as well as for my guide!  At La Selva, on my second day birding, one was spotted close to a path and we hurried there to see it. It was about 60 feet away and just lay there for a couple of hours! Perhaps 100 people there that day got to see it. It is rare to see even at La Selva as the scientists say they spot one 3-4 times per year and mostly just running across a trail, not posing for photos. My guide and I watched him for 20 minutes. I should have taken some video as he was yawning and stretching etc, but I was so excited I didn't even think of that. What a magnificent animal!



In addition I saw another raccoon family mammal called a Cacomistle and also a Dice's Rabbit. Both were life mammals, but we found them at night and I wasn't able to get any photos.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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