Day and night nature walks, Uvita, Costa Rica

Whenever I go into an ecosystem that I'm less familiar with, I always find it enjoyable to tag along with a naturalist who can share his or her knowledge with you. Sometimes you don't have a pro botanist, herpetologist, ornithologist, or whomever in your back pocket, but when you do, the area you're walking through becomes that much more interesting!

While at Envision Festival, which is a large gathering that descends upon Uvita, CostaRica every year, I made sure I carved out time to do a couple nature walks. The first was a plant walk done with one of the festival organizers, Sarah Wu, and the latter one was a night walk, which I did just a kilometer away from the grounds at Rancho la Merced


Daytime medicinal plant walk

Genipa americana is known as "guaitil" or the "tattoo fruit" in Costa Rica and throughout Central American because its dark blue dye is used to paint body tattoos and pottery.  

Genipa americana is known as "guaitil" or the "tattoo fruit" in Costa Rica and throughout Central American because its dark blue dye is used to paint body tattoos and pottery.  

Terminalia catappa or beech almond tree. Its leaves are an astringent that is particularly effective for traveler's diarhea, particularly when combined with a bitter like Neurolaena lobata, fondly known as jackass bitters.

Terminalia catappa or beech almond tree. Its leaves are an astringent that is particularly effective for traveler's diarhea, particularly when combined with a bitter like Neurolaena lobata, fondly known as jackass bitters.

Pardon the harsh lighting here, but I know some of you will be familiar with this plant, Mimosa pudica, which is also aptly known as the Sensitive plant. It was helpful to see how these plants grow in the wild—often coming in shortly after an area is deforested, 

Pardon the harsh lighting here, but I know some of you will be familiar with this plant, Mimosa pudica, which is also aptly known as the Sensitive plant. It was helpful to see how these plants grow in the wild—often coming in shortly after an area is deforested, 

Mimosa pudica folds up its leaves as soon as it's touched. The species name "pudica" literally means shy.  It can act as a mild sedative, but the dosage will depend on the person. 

Mimosa pudica folds up its leaves as soon as it's touched. The species name "pudica" literally means shy.  It can act as a mild sedative, but the dosage will depend on the person. 

This was a particular herb of interest, known as chanca piedra, stone breaker or gale of the wind. It's scientific name is Phyllanthus niruri, and as its common name of "stone breaker" may suggest, it's particularly effective for kidney stones or renal colic. All parts of the plant are used, and its particularly important in Ayurvedic teachings. 

This was a particular herb of interest, known as chanca piedra, stone breaker or gale of the wind. It's scientific name is Phyllanthus niruri, and as its common name of "stone breaker" may suggest, it's particularly effective for kidney stones or renal colic. All parts of the plant are used, and its particularly important in Ayurvedic teachings. 

Phyllanthus nituri will often also be found along roadsides and disturbed areas. Many early moving plants will come in to grab the light, do some nitrogen-fixing in the soil— before they are shaded out by larger trees.

Phyllanthus nituri will often also be found along roadsides and disturbed areas. Many early moving plants will come in to grab the light, do some nitrogen-fixing in the soil— before they are shaded out by larger trees.

Momordica charantia or bitter melon is a naturalized species originating in India. It is particularly good for stimulating digestion, high blood sugar, and particularly good for removing parasites. The actual fruit of the plant is popular in both Indian and Chinese cuisine, and is often served with a cooling food, like yogurt, particularly in India, to offset the bitter flavor.

Momordica charantia or bitter melon is a naturalized species originating in India. It is particularly good for stimulating digestion, high blood sugar, and particularly good for removing parasites. The actual fruit of the plant is popular in both Indian and Chinese cuisine, and is often served with a cooling food, like yogurt, particularly in India, to offset the bitter flavor.

Sarah shared that this compound leaf was from a Senna tree, and is particularly good as a laxative. 

Sarah shared that this compound leaf was from a Senna tree, and is particularly good as a laxative. 

Wedelia paludosa, which has many common names and a couple different scientific names, is in the Aster family and is a bitter green commonly found in a number of traditional diets. The bitter leaves are often best to be used before one eats. 

Wedelia paludosa, which has many common names and a couple different scientific names, is in the Aster family and is a bitter green commonly found in a number of traditional diets. The bitter leaves are often best to be used before one eats. 


Night walk at La Rancho Merced

The characteristics of Costa Rica change over the course of the day. The same path you may have walked in the daytime becomes completely changed—and yet unchanged. You begin to rely on different senses, like smell and touch. While walking by this tree, there was a faint sweet scent. Once we got nearer, it was clear that it was a lemon tree. 

The characteristics of Costa Rica change over the course of the day. The same path you may have walked in the daytime becomes completely changed—and yet unchanged. You begin to rely on different senses, like smell and touch. While walking by this tree, there was a faint sweet scent. Once we got nearer, it was clear that it was a lemon tree. 

Put on a headlamp and you'll begin to see thousands of eyes shining back at you, which are from the myriad spiders hunting at night. 

Put on a headlamp and you'll begin to see thousands of eyes shining back at you, which are from the myriad spiders hunting at night. 

I believe my guide said these were "Savia" leaves, but I have not been able to identify a scientific name for this species. What was particularly interesting is that when you rolled these leaves, they dyed your fingers red. 

I believe my guide said these were "Savia" leaves, but I have not been able to identify a scientific name for this species. What was particularly interesting is that when you rolled these leaves, they dyed your fingers red. 

A juvenile cricket sits atop a leaf on the trail. 

A juvenile cricket sits atop a leaf on the trail. 

"Walking figs". Figs are often classified as "walking", "strangling" and "climbing"...This did, very much seem to be "walking" through the forest.

"Walking figs". Figs are often classified as "walking", "strangling" and "climbing"...This did, very much seem to be "walking" through the forest.

I was thrilled to find these green lacewing eggs (order: Neuroptera) on a philodendron leaf in the forest. Lacewings lay their eggs on individual sticky stalks, to protect them from predators. 

I was thrilled to find these green lacewing eggs (order: Neuroptera) on a philodendron leaf in the forest. Lacewings lay their eggs on individual sticky stalks, to protect them from predators. 

Blaberus giganteus or giant cave cockroach was spotted high up in a tree. I'd guess it was at least 3" long—maybe more. It was quite visible, even though we were about 20 feet down from the tree where it was sitting. 

Blaberus giganteus or giant cave cockroach was spotted high up in a tree. I'd guess it was at least 3" long—maybe more. It was quite visible, even though we were about 20 feet down from the tree where it was sitting. 

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Believe it or not, I used to raise a cousin of this fearsome looking creature, which looks like a scorpion-spider mash-up. These are called "tailless whipsorpions" (Paraphrynus laevifrons).  The Amblypygi, also known as whip spiders, are nocturnal, which means they are night hunters. 

Believe it or not, I used to raise a cousin of this fearsome looking creature, which looks like a scorpion-spider mash-up. These are called "tailless whipsorpions" (Paraphrynus laevifrons).  The Amblypygi, also known as whip spiders, are nocturnal, which means they are night hunters. 

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This is a nighthawk, which we eventually flushed from its resting place. These birds often don't move, as they rely on particularly good camouflage, but as soon as you blink your eye, they fly silently away. 

This is a nighthawk, which we eventually flushed from its resting place. These birds often don't move, as they rely on particularly good camouflage, but as soon as you blink your eye, they fly silently away. 

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