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Stop Bugging Me

Posted by on September 4, 2017

Well…not really haha. I just needed a catchy title and I felt that was rather fitting seeing as I am sitting here typing this right now from Peru!!!

Yep…you read right! I cannot believe that my bug internship is over! My 10 weeks has really flown. Well, in fact, my whole time in Costa Rica has whizzed by…all 3 months of it! And what a ride it’s been so far. I’m kinda sad but also excited to embark on the next adventure too. And to think I almost wanted to quit half way through my internship when in actual fact, I would have been gutted if I did when really, it’s mainly all boiled down to getting along with very different people and realising cultural differences perhaps but altogether, it’s been an experience I needed to have and oh boy, have I learnt a lot!

So what’s been happening here since my last blog? Well, let me fill you in…

I really got into the swing of my tours and my knowledge on bugs and nature has grown tenfold. I even got another 4 5* reviews on TripAdvisor too! How amazing! I have absolutely loved teaching people (and hopefully changed a few perceptions) all about the bugs and butterflies of Costa Rica and ended up confidently presenting to a room full of people about scorpion’s, tarantulas, tarantula hawk wasps, Golden orb weaving spiders, millipedes, centipedes, katydids, stick insects, cockroaches, the 3 and 4 stages of metamorphosis, the machacha bug (or peanut headed bug), assassin bugs, Bess Beetles, Iron Clad Beetles, Dung beetles, the Hercules beetles and various species of butterflies and their lifecycles! I learnt all about the order of insects as well as what families they belong to. I know one thing for sure…I intend to carry on with my studies and keep learning more about Entomology once I am settled back in the UK again.

I’ve really loved meeting all sorts of tourists from all over the world and hearing them ask if I am indeed a Biologist and calling me the ‘bug lady from England’ :)

I shall miss coming home to discover a green spiny lizard trapped in the sink, being hit on the head by flying dung beetles while trying to prepare dinner, finding scorpion’s hiding in our clothes and behind our cosmetic bottles, being woken up at the crack of dawn by howler monkies (hmm sort off haha), seeing the cappuchin monkies in the trees playing a game of ‘let’s see who we can knock off the branches first’ to hearing the peculiar sounds that the Keel Billed Toucans make (which sounds like a bunch of ribbitting frogs believe it or not!), to finding cocoons and weird, fat parasitized caterpillars and getting perversely excited when one of the other interns grins and says ‘Let’s cut it open and see what’s inside!’ “Errrrr…..YESSSSS. I’ll get the dissection kit!” I’d screech. I guess this just proves I have the mind-set of a scientist…to have the want to see what happens, ‘why does it do this, what happens if’…It really has been SO refreshing to be around like-minded people, all bug nerd scientists together haha.

Oh and we’ve even had a new intern start during the past 2 weeks – a chap called Nick. Nick is a 25 yr old Zoologist from the UK and coincidently, he lives in the same town I used to in Surrey of all places! What a teenie world hey!

I’ll miss working in the laboratory, collecting caterpillars and their eggs, catching huge gross crickets for our arachnid feeding nights, gardening and weeding, making beautiful bouquets each day for the butterflies and generally doing my bit to help the team with whatever’s been needed.

The bug hunter

Just call me Helen the bug hunter haha! Omg, my eyes have certainly sharpened to spotting things I tell thee! I guess that’s normal in the life of a naturalist 😉

In our training manual, there was a line that read ‘If you find a praying mantis, you win life!’ Of course, it left all us interns scratching our heads but we figured to see a praying mantis here must be a rare thing?

So get this, I was just taking a lovely couple round on a tour. We’d passed through garden 1 and I was just taking them over to garden 2.

Flash HeartAs soon as we walked in, something right next to one of my bouquets caught my eye…Christ knows how but I’d spotted a Praying Mantis of all things!!

“Woah!! Look, there’s a praying mantis! I’ve just won life. I’ve not seen one in Costa Rica yet and there he is!” I screamed the garden down haha, poor people! They didn’t look half as excited as me either haha. “Would you mind if I go and grab a bucket and catch him?” “Um..no, sure. Go for it!” The couple raised an eyebrow and let me carry on hah.

I ran all the way back to Reception and shouted to Anna,”Anna, grab a bucket. I’ve just found a praying mantis and I’m mid tour. Can you come and help me get it?” “Oooh wow! Yeh sure”. Anna came and met me in garden 2 and helped me to grab it so I could carry on touring. What a find!

After my tour, one of the bosses (David) had taken a photo of it and shown Bryna (the other boss). “Bryna’s so pleased, she’s making you a mango and strawberry pie”. “Oh wow, yummy! Thank you” I was so happy! Anna and I named our praying mantis ‘Flash Heart’, a randy character from The Black Adder series!black beauty

strawberry and mango pieA few days later, I took myself off out for a chicken dinner one night and again, something caught my eye. I’d seen a female black bark scorpion! I so wasn’t leaving without it haha.

“Excuse me, do you have a bucket or something I can put this in?” I had asked a nearby shopkeeper for something I could catch and keep my scorpion in. Eventually, through the language barrier, I was handed a small coke bottle. We’d cut the top off so I could scoop my scorpion up and then I turned the top upside down so that it sat in the bottle acting as a lid almost. So yep, I’d added a praying mantis and a female bark scorpion to our displays at work hehe :)

Feed me!

So once a week, all of us interns are tasked with feeding the arachnids, something Anna and I loved doing together. The arachnid feeding nights are so much fun! Once it’s dark, Anna, Nick and I would through each of the gardens and catch gross, plump crickets in our little buckets and nets. But it is fun walking through the gardens at night with our headlamps on. The gardens become a completely different place at night, especially the 4th garden which looks like something straight off the set of one of the Jurassic Park movies.

gross fat cricket“There’s one” Anna would scream “ARGHHH! Helen, it’s HUGE!” Anna and I would team up and help each other to ‘Doink’ the gross beasties into the open net or bucket and you had to be quick or else they’d start climbing up out your bucket with a vengeance eekk!

I remember Devin (the last intern) probably hated hearing Anna and I both screaming like little girls down his lug hole when a humongous cricket missed our net and dived straight for our faces haha “ARRGGHHH!” I don’t know why, but none of us liked the crickets here! They are so creepy looking and get seriously MASSIVE. Although, not as gross as the Jerusalem Cricket…go and google that guy and pray you never encounter one ewwww!

We did also have a moth wall which we could resort to if we were too chicken shit to catch crickets some nights. It’s basically a wall with a bright, powerful orange light that could be left on and in the morning, the wall will be covered in less scary flying critters that we could just pick off and throw into buckets.

The scorpion’s could be rather fussy eaters but they were fun to watch while dining! They would grab the insect with one pincer…almost checking it out before committing to chowing down, they’d then grab another part of the creepy crawly with the other pincer and then up came the tail and ‘POW’, they’d pierce the bug with it’s stinger (and sometimes twice depending on how much the critter is wriggling haha!). Anna and I will imagine the scorpion is whispering to the cricket ‘Sleep….Sleep. Don’t fight it’ hahah.

And the Tarantulas would either eat or not eat a cricket. When they were hungry though, you’d so know about it! They’d pretty much pounce on the prey and immediately bite down with their fangs and pump their victims full of venom ready to drink it all up like a cricket smoothie…nom nom.

Special feeding night

So my last feeding night was pretty darn special and one that I certainly won’t forget! I decided to take my GoPro with me for the usual ‘cricket hunt’ through the gardens and we were all pretending to be in a David Attenborough documentary recording the whole thing hahah.

“And here we have, the giant, plumpous cricketous!” I’d say, trying to imitate David Attenborough at work whilst recording and zooming in on a fat cricket with the GoPro. “Anna, our of our expert team is about to demonstrate how we catch this mini beast”. “Thank you David. ARRRGHHHHH!” Anna would scream as she went in with her bucket under the leaf the cricket was sitting on and the lid above it ready to catch him in a claw like fashion haha.

It started to get harder when you had more than one cricket in your bucket cos they’d all try and climb out at the same time, gross!

Once we’d all gone round the gardens collecting as many beasties as we could, we’d then walk back over to the nature centre to feed our hungry exhibits.

We’d use tweezers (but think…extra long ones!), to pick up the crickets and dangle them in front of the scorpions/tarantulas. “Wait, wait. Let me put the theme tune to Jaws on!” I loved putting this music on! It was as though it played out to our suspense (and probably to the poor crickets fear hehe) while we ‘seduced’ the diner to tuck in on our fresh catch.

“Hey guys. I think the scorpions are fighting?!” Nick called us over to check it out. “Do we need to break them up?” Anna and I rushed over to see what was going on. “No way…I think they’re mating, woah!” I excitedly gasped. “Like, no one gets to see this, this is rare as!”. I then grabbed my GoPro and filmed it and of course, this also had to have some kind of background music too so I put on some salsa music for them as we watched hahah. Because if you didn’t know, when the males mate with the females, they have to almost ‘dance’ for them! Males will come face to face with the ladies and clamp down on her pincers and ‘salsa’ with them! It’s truly fascinating to watch. Our male scorpion looked like a pro as he pulled his lady from side to side and back and fourth over the rocks on the floor of their enclosure (or should I say on their dance floor hehe). We eventually got bored as we’d realised this could go on for hours so we left them to it.

Now I’d remembered, a week ago, spotting an orange-kneed tarantula living in a hole in the ground under our reception area! I’d told everyone about it and even tried catching her on my own but she was too quick and immediately retreated back down into her safe haven. I’d said to Anna “We have to catch her tonight, I am so determined!” So…I’d suggested to Anna, ‘let’s go for it and become be the heros’ haha.

Anna and I walked over to reception. “Omg, there she is! Do you see her?” I almost shouted to Anna in which she immediately shhh’d me haha. “Quiet Helen, you’ll scare her back down!” Laughing, I suggested we made a plan. I could see Anna was just as determined as me :)

First attempt, we sucked haha! Crouching down near to the entrance of her man-made burrow, we waited and we waited. Anna dangled some string near the entrance while I had a small bucket poised, ready and waiting above the hole. I guess we were just going to try and entice her out and quickly slam the bucket down on top of her but it didn’t work, our Orange-kneed lady was too fast and too clever for that. We needed bait!

“Let’s entice her out with a katydid or cricket” Anna remarked. “Yes, we can tie string around one and catch her that way” I’d excitedly respond. So off we went. The first katydid managed to wriggle out of the rope and we’d tied it so many times that she was eventually oozing black gunk and was pretty much a gonna. But the concept was working! Each time we dangled the mangled katydid, the tarantula would poke a few legs out letting us know she was clearly hungry.

But it was getting late and we were getting really tired. We both agreed that maybe we should just come back and try again the next night. Sighing and admitting defeat, we headed back to the nature centre. We were gutted.

“Hey Nick, we need to feed the Golden Orbs too remember”. I ushered Nick to look up to where our large orbs were hanging suspended in their nets. “Yeh, of course”. Nick did the honours of lobbing a few fat crickets up to our spider ladies and then, out the corner of my eye, I spotted a MASSIVE cricket just chilling out on top of the cockroach enclosure. “OMG, look at the size of that! We could use that to entice the orange-kneed out. I don’t wanna give up, she’s just hanging out in reception, she’s right there!”. Suddenly, I had a boost of energy and immediately dashed off to get Anna. “Yes, let’s do it!” Annas response just made me more determined.

We both helped each other to tie string around the cricket and almost skipped over to the Reception area with our 6 legged friend dangling, unaware his hours were numbered! We’d decided Anna could do the enticing while I had the responsibility of the catch! ‘Don’t mess this up Helen’ I’d be repeating over and over in my head.

“Ok, here goes”. Take 2…Anna dangled the cricket over the entrance of the burrow and immediately, 3 hairy legs poked out. Our lady was clearly very hungry. It took a few goes of trying to draw the tarantula out far enough for me to have the room to place a bucket over her and far enough that she couldn’t ‘run’ back down the hole. Eventually, we had a clear shot, Anna drew the tarantula out and away from the hole. “Perfect” I’d whispered but then, unexpected, the tarantula’s spidey senses must have kicked in because she turned to run back to her burrow WITH the cricket in her fangs. “Nooooo” We both were realising this could go very wrong and she was too fast for me to trap. “Ughhh dammit!” We were both cussing at this point. The tarantula had run back down the hole with her tasty meal. Anna was pretty much playing a tug of war with her until the cricket detached from the string…we’d lost…again!

For a few moments, we could see a cricket leg poking out from the burrow while the rest of it was being slowly devoured from below. Ugh we were gutted once again until…”Wait, where are the tweezers? I’m gonna try grab the cricket with them and pull her out again!” Anna was sharp! “GREAT idea!” I ran and got the tweezers from the nature centre and passed them to Anna.

Anna didn’t give up and was fighting the orange-kneed for the cricket haha. It was working, the tarantula didn’t want to give it’s free meal back to us and clung on with all its might. Anna was a star and drew her out once again. I saw my shot and I took it…I quickly placed the bucket over the tarantula…we’d trapped her, we DID IT!!! A quick high five was needed, phewie! We slid some card underneath her and scooped her up in the bucket. And guess what? The tarantula was STILL holding on to that cricket hahaha. What a team.

Bosses were so pleased with us the next day. We named our tarantula Dillon, inspired from the film Predator that we’d watched together a few nights before hah! And she was massive. What an absolute beauty.

Serpent strikes back!

So we have a water feature in our gift shop which the bosses recently filled with a bunch of tadpoles. The tadpoles of course rapidly grew into teenie tiny lil frogs. One of them was so small that it only just fit on my little finger!

We’d eagerly gather all the tiny frogs (when we could find them) and let them loose in our gardens. Trouble is, there was more than just us and our tourists trying to find them….yep, other predators lurked!

One morning (annoyingly on my day off), one of the staff spotted a green side striped pit viper in garden 1. It was hunting our little frogs! Those things are highly venomous. There is an anti-dote however, I’ve been told you need to go back to the hospital for more than one jab…inconvenient and painful at the same time hey!

One of the bosses came to the rescue though and managed to get rid of it and placed the snake somewhere else. Thinking the drama was over, a mere week or so later, I was on garden duty. While I was cutting dead leaves, I looked up and saw something that almost looked ‘too’ green if that’s possible? It was like a beautifully, perfect green among the other leaves and vines surrounding it. Another thing…not a single butterfly was sitting on the fruit in that area! ‘Hmm…that’s odd!’ I thought. ‘I’ll take a 2nd look’. As I approached the perfectly green ‘thing’, my senses quickly sharpened to alert me…’STOP right there! Don’t get any closer you idiot, that’s a bloody snake!’ It’s amazing how quickly your instincts kick in…almost like they realise before you do!

Luckily, Anna happened to walk in at that moment. “Hey, um, there appears to be a snake in here!” I pointed in the direction of the snake to show Anna so that she too didn’t get any closer to it. “Omg, ok. I’ll go get Bryna wait here”. Anna hastily headed to reception to get help. Roberto then walked in which felt strangely reassuring that I wasn’t still alone with the deadly beautiful serpent. “Roberto, there’s a snake right there. Is this a pit viper?” I already knew it was but I think my brain just wanted to make doubly sure it knew it was definitely dealing with a potentially dangerous situation. “Oh boy! Yes it is and you are standing far too close to it” Roberto ushered me to move back further. “Those things can detect heat and will strike the distance of their body length and that one looks pretty long!” Jeeez! “It looks like the one we captured from before”. Roberto appeared to be examining it closely (from the distance we were at!) but he seemed to ‘recognise’ it so I just took his word for it! “Isn’t it beautiful?” Still gazing at the snake, I had to agree. It was so still too, just poised there right in front of us on a branch and waiting to strike at the right moment.

green viperAnna came back after trying to find Bryna so Roberto ended up calling Bryna’s mobile to find out where she was. In all the drama, it seemed everyone who worked at the butterfly gardens was now right there with us all trying to take a peek (or showing us their support) Even Hilda, our resident cook was in on the action haha!

Bryna finally appeared in the garden with an extra long stick and a huge round, deep bin to drop the snake into. We all waited and watched with baited breath as Bryna (who is also heavily pregnant I may add!) made a few attempts to ‘pick’ up the snake with the stick and lower it straight into the bucket but she managed it with no problem. As soon as the snake was in the bucket, I could hear a swoop of deep sighs from every mouth present! “Phewie!” I victoriously clapped for Bryna’s bravery. What a relief!

Since then, I have developed an extra cautionary eye whilst making my way through our green-housed jungle habitats!

Red rump

It was my last night at the bugs and Anna and I had just spent a lovely night in reminiscing and chatting and eating chocolate hehe. I needed a pee but I thought I’d cheekily walk over to the ‘normal’ toilets at the reception area so I could also sneak in some wifi time (remember we are meant to use the compost toilet hehe).

So anyways, I walked over and saw something ‘thick’ and black scoot off in front of me right near the entrance of the toilets. ‘What was that?’ I wondered. I shone my headlight down in the direction of where this thing had run. ‘Omg, there it is! Wow, is that a tarantula?’ Right on the marble floor, I could see a spider with 8 long hairy black legs, a flat but wide thorax (centre of the body) and a reddish, brown abdomen. ‘Well, it can’t be a spider…it has the same features as a tarantula. Hmm, maybe it’s a baby one?’ I kept chatting to myself trying to distinguish what it was but I was pretty sure it was a baby tarantula and a male too because I could see 2 small ‘hooks’ at the front which the males use to fertilise the females with.

‘Right, I’m getting a bucket’. After I’d taken my photos, I just knew I had to catch this guy to show the bosses in the morning. He was easy to catch too, I just gently placed the bucket over him and slid the lid right under. So much easier than our orange-kneed earlier in the week. Score!Red rump

Anna was asleep by the time I’d finished faffing about bug hunting haha. I couldn’t wait to show her my catch in the morning.

Morning came and I’d caught up with Bryna. “Ahh wow. A male tarantula. That’s a red rump and they are pretty rare, I’ve only seen 4/5 of them in my time here! Who knew you’d turn into an expert bug hunter. Don’t go touching all the bugs down in Peru, some are highly venomous ok”. “Ok then, spoils sport!” I grinned hehe. Bryna sounded well impressed and I was super happy that she called me an ‘expert bug hunter’ heheh. The male was then released and yummy pastries were bought for everyone for brekkie :)

It was then time for me to say my goodbyes and catch my 5 hour long bus ride back down the mountain to San Jose…

New adventures

So from turtle conservation to working through an Entomology internship…the ups and the downs, the constant smell of mildew on my clothes, the actual mould that started growing its own city on my quick dry towel, from the crapping in the woods, the almost quitting halfway through…it’s all been totally worth it!

I’ve learnt so much and can’t wait to start my new adventures in Peru. I will miss all the special people that I have met along the way so far, especially my friend Anna who fast became my best friend who I have such a wonderful connection with. We are going to stay in touch and visit each other at some point in the future which I’m so happy about. Yay, a trip to Canada B.C 😀

So keep on reading, I feel this next trip is going to be just as special. Much love xx

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