La Paz – Battling Butterflies and Snoozing Snakes

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Butterfly stampede

After our visit with the birds, we walked over to the butterfly house. If an enclosure for birds is called an aviary, why wouldn’t a coop for butterflies be called a lepidopterary? The dictionary stays mute on the subject. Anyway, we took the stairs overlooking the platyrrhiniary or simiiformiary on the way to the lepidopterary. I mean, ‘monkey house’ just sounds so politically incorrect, don’t you agree? ‘Monkey Pass’ on the other hand is a little awkward and doesn’t accurately reflect the Spanish phrase ‘Paseo de los Monos’, monkey walk. The name is supposed to refer to the constant criss crossing of monkeys through their habitat – with humans passing beneath them. Except when we were there and everyone was pretty much asleep. Lazy bums.

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We entered again through a door-plus-curtain arrangement, which opens into a two level enclosed space that just plain blows your mind.

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One is surrounded by butterflies, fluttering hither and thither in such a multitude, as I had never seen before, while others were crowding the feeding dishes and hanging nectar feeders.

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Butterfly over papaya

Butterfly wings flutter very rapidly, but every now and then you catch an image. Here’s an almost ventral and a dorsal view of a set of Morpho helenor wings.

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If you have the patience for an amateurish video clip, I can offer you a brief view into the hectic atmosphere of the butterfly enclosure. I have to admit, It never occurred to me to hold the phone in landscape mode, so sorry.

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And then we have the bespoke fashion accessory for the stylish gentleman this season, The Morpho.

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It appears that this specimen survived any number of encounters with bird’s beaks or similar predators. The sombrero accessories were creating a nice display, but I think, one should go slow on overdoing the butterfly bling, right? Less is more with iridescent accessories.

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Do you see the fly-by morpho?
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Parental supervision advised 🙂

And as you leave the butterfly observatory, please don’t step on the wildlife. Thank you!

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Let’s do a juxtaposition of dark and light, of softly curled probosces sucking nectar against the image of hollow scimitar teeth, dispensing death. Off to the snake house, ah, pardon me, the serpent’s lair we go!

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The very beautiful, only ever so slightly venemous Green Vinesnake.

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Not fatal to humans, noe doesn’t that sound encouraging! But their bite still causes some unpleasant reactions, which I didn’t know, when I encountered one in my own hedge four years ago. I thought it was utterly harmless. Fortunately it endurd my intrusion quite patiently. I got lucky!

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The next three critters in my line up are snakes, you really, really don’t want to encounter. The first one is a very stout fellow, only 50 – 80 cm or 20 to 30 in long, it’s common name is something like ‘jumping pit viper’. Gives you an idea? These Atropoides nummifer mexicanus are both day and night active, so keep your eyes on the ground, muchachos. I saw the tail end first, marveling at its armor-like appearance. That is one tough cookie!

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The front end in the next window over wasn’t any more welcoming. It mounted an attack, as soon as it saw me. Such a peaceful little thing and Do I Ever Like Plate-Glass. The Central American name for this jolly fellow is ‘Mano de Piedra’, Stonehand. That is a great name and it reminds me of characters in the Wild West books, I read as a child. Such a name would also work well in a Spaghetti Western, I think. Aside from literary allusions, the name refers to the way this viper kills. It first mounts a blitz attack, then holds fast and chews and bits repeatedly into the victim to distribute a sufficient amount of venom. Its venom isn’t very potent, so it has to assure that the victim receives a goodly subcutaneous dose. Since in Cost Rican agricultural activities, a hand (holding a machete) usually leads the way, it’s these hands, which are bitten most often. You can imagine the rest.

Our next viper is much prettier, but also a bit more deadly. It’s a Bothriechis schlegelii, an Eyelash Viper. A night-active tree dweller, who uses its strong prehensile tail to dangle from the tree tops and hunt birds. It is said that this snake learns to return yearly to specific trees, in concert with the passing of migratory birds. They also practice to strike at prey accurately. Eyelash vipers come in many amazing color variations and can even be bright yellow. The yellow ones like to hunt in banana plantation. Makes you wonder, how smart they really are …

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I’m a little doubtful about the identification as an eyelash viper, because I couldn’t see the horned scales above the eyes, which are supposed to stick out like eyelashes. But whatever its name, it looked great curled up like this.

The following snake, however, is the main attraction, the show stopper, the guy that get’s top billing across the country, Bothrops asper, El Terciopelo, the velvet-skined-one. There are other snakes that put fear into people’s eyes, like the bushmaster, but the terciopelo, or fer-de-lance, as the foreigners say, is the prime candidate for the desperate struggle of human over nature, because they live pretty much everywhere, except at very high elevations. This particular specimen must have had a meal recently, judging by its swollen midsection. It’s also in molt, which makes it look a little messy.

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Terciopelo can move with lightning speed. They are a bit ornery and may turn against you, reversing toward you, even after they first seem to flee. Since they like to lift their heads quite far off the ground, they may bite humans in the upper leg and torso. I read that the little darlings can eject venom from their fangs in a stream, covering a distance of two meters or six feet. Actually, they aren’t all that little. Your average terciopelo female grows to 1.6 m or 5 feet, but can reach 2.5 m or 8 feet. Males are thankfully much smaller. The location for some Mayan settlements, like Nim Li Punit, built in Belize during the classic period, may have been chosen for the abundance of terciopelo in the surrounding jungle, which provided a natural defensive circle around the town.

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” …. Es abundante en Costa Rica ….” Oy vey!

2 thoughts on “La Paz – Battling Butterflies and Snoozing Snakes

  1. Snakes and butterflies are fascinating to me. Actually all animals, but these 2 a little more. Thank you so much for sharing your pictures and words with us. It means a lot to me so I think others may feel the same.

    Like

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