Posts Tagged ‘biodiversity’

A Costa Rican Adventure

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Suzan Murray is the Chief Veterinarian and the Smithsonian National Zoo. She’s also a world-class Study Leader on our Smithsonian Journeys tours. Here, she shares a day in Costa Rica with Smithsonian travelers, and with you.

The violet sabrewing hummingbird

The violet sabrewing hummingbird. Photo: Kate Desvenain

Today was our first full day in Costa Rica. The group had breakfast together and it gave us a chance to get to know each other. From our breakfast table we could see numerous brightly colored birds outside as we chatted and got to know each other. Our tour guide, Herman, has been working in Costa Rica for over 30 years. He is a warm, knowledgeable and friendly man and our group immediately took to him. We also immediately bonded with our driver, Marco, who not only was an incredibly safe driver, but personally took the time to help everyone on and off the vehicle every day. He also took a great liking to my personal traveling companion, Evan, my 10-year-old son. Marco and Evan became fast friends on this day.

Our trip for the day was to visit a close by, beautiful volcano, which from the base appeared to be shrouded in clouds. As Herman explained, the weather in Costa Rica changes rapidly, and one minute it could be cloudy with poor visibility, particularly at higher altitudes, while the next minute there could b excellent visibility. The bus dropped us off just a short distance from the crater’s edge, but at the high altitude the short hike to the rim created an excellent way to get our hearts pumping. Herman showed us plants along the way and pointed out various biological and volcanic features. When we arrived at the rim, the clouds had moved in and we were not able to see the rim of the crater. Although we were somewhat disappointed, in the end, we all appreciated the beautiful walk and the early morning exercise. It was the perfect way to start our trip.

Our next adventure was a visit to a coffee farm. During this trip we learned everything you every wanted to know about coffee. We learned about the types of beans used (arabica only in Costa Rica), how the plants are cared for, when the seeds are collected and how they are first separated into different grades based upon several factors, including size, we were able to observe the drying and roasting process, and the tour ended with a taste test and an opportunity to buy samples as souvenirs. Evan was able to take part in the coffee bean drying process while the rest of us were able to relax and taste the coffee samples. This was a big hit with the coffee drinkers in the group. The plantation also had a butterfly garden through which we walked prior to resuming our journey.

Click here for more on travel to Costa Rica and here for more about Costa Rica on the Journeys Blog.

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Thursday, October 14th, 2010
Scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute work with the local animal populations.

Scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute work with the local animal populations.

Between bats, birds, and coral reefs, the folks studying biodiversity at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama stay pretty busy. In fact, if you’re a college student, your chance to help them out with their research (and get college credit for it) comes in the summer of 2011. Here’s a few more things to know about our friends at STRI.

1) They’re using using radio telemetry  to track the routes and interactions of animals around – and across – the Panama Canal. They’ve also discovered that sloths aren’t as lazy as we thought. Click to read more from Smithsonian Magazine.

2) They’ve set up an underwater reef webcam at the Galeta Marine Laboratory in Panama. Click to check out the action.

3) They study bats, lots of bats – in fact, there are 74 species of bats living on Panama’s Barro Colorado Island, not far from STRI. Thanks to the Smithsonian Channel, you can meet the Smithsonian scientists who study them.

4) STRI  has a great interactive web site for kids, where they can learn (in English and Spanish) all about sharks.

There’s plenty more where that came from. Click here for STRI’s main page, here for more information on our college summer program, Exploring Panama: Biodiversity in the Tropics, and here for all of our travel opportunities in Panama

Where would you like to go next summer? Please share.

Panama: Five Things

Monday, September 6th, 2010

When most of us consider Panama, the Panama Canal immediately comes to mind. However, there’s a lot more to Panama than this marvel of civil engineering. Here are a few things you might not know about Panama:

A brilliantly-colored morpho butterfly, one of many unique creatures that can be found in Panama.

1)  Smithsonian scientists are using radio telemetry  to track the routes and interactions of animals around—and across—the Panama Canal. They’ve also discovered that sloths aren’t as lazy as we thought. Click to read more from Smithsonian Magazine.

2) The indigenous Cuna people of Panama have almost complete sovereignty over their lands and affairs, one of the most positive relationships between government and indigenous people in the world. Click here to hear some of their music, thanks to Smithsonian Folkways.

3) The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute maintains an underwater reef webcam at the Galeta Marine Laboratory in Panama.

4) Panama’s Barro Colorado Island is home to 74 species of bats. Thanks to the Smithsonian Channel, you can meet the women who study them.

5) Blue-footed boobies don’t just live in the Galápagos—they can also be found on islets in the Gulf of Panama.

Packed yet? Right now, we’re featuring a sale on our expedition cruise, The Panama Canal and the Wonders of Costa Rica. Book by September 20th and save $740 per person. Tour departs January 8, 2011.

Where are you going on your next adventure? Please share.

Q&A on Costa Rica

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Dr. Suzann Murray is the Chief Veterinarian at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. She oversees the health care of the zoo’s entire animal collection, as well as conservation, research, and training programs. Here, she takes a few minutes out of her busy schedule to talk about the biodiversity of Costa Rica, where she leads our Costa Rica’s Natural Heritage tours.


A tree frog in Costa Rica

Q. As Chief Veterinarian at the National Zoo, how do you integrate your diverse knowledge of animals to create a memorable learning experience on Smithsonian Journeys tours?

A. I have the opportunity to work with a diverse range of species, from fish to mammals and birds to reptiles. Each species, and in some cases, each animal, has its own adaptations to its natural environment. I enjoy using my medical knowledge of animals as a way to provide some “inside” knowledge to tour members. To me, the diversity of animal life is just fascinating. Having the opportunity to share my knowledge of animal adaptations is a great joy.

Q. Costa Rica  is nestled between Nicaragua and Panama in Central America and borders both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. How does this geographic location contribute to the rich biodiversity found in Costa Rica?

A. Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, largely due to its two coasts and mountainous ranges that provide a wide range of topography and microclimates for a huge variety of species. From flatlands close to sea level up to the cloud forests of the volcanoes, the varying habitats are suitable for incredible animal diversity. The abundance of rivers and the access to the ocean and the Caribbean Sea also make it possible for endangered species such as dolphins and sea turtles  to call Costa Rica home. Finally, by being so close to the equator, the temperature is in an ideal range to support almost any kind of plant or animal life.


The Arenal Volcano. Photo: Costa Rica Tourism Bureau

Q. Our trip will visit the Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica’s most well-known volcano, which is considered one of the most active volcanoes in the world. How has the Arenal’s presence impacted the surrounding environment?

A. Arenal produces frequent and moderate eruptions. The course of the lava flow has also changed over the years. In areas of previous eruptions, we will be able to observe the re-growth of secondary forest and compare that terrain to the more lava-covered areas of recent eruptions. The south side of the Volcano is known for its unique cloud forest, and it is also known as a region in which world-class coffee is grown.

Q. What types of animals can Smithsonian travelers look forward to seeing in the rainforest: mammals, birds, reptiles, insects? Are there any endemic species that participants may encounter on this trip?

A. If you are a bird enthusiast, Costa Rica is the place to go. If you are not yet interested in birds, be prepared to join the growing ranks of birders! The sheer numbers and types of birds we will see are truly astounding–from colorful smaller birds such as hummingbirds, flycatchers, and toucans, to larger birds of prey and storks. Some of these birds are found only in Costa Rica. For those who are truly wild about mammals or reptiles, we will look for the impressive howler and spider monkeys, unique sloths, sea turtles, caiman crocodiles, and possibly even the rare dolphin. Whether we are searching in the land, sea, or air–we will be seeing an abundance of wildlife.

What’s your favorite tropical animal? Share below.

Click here for educational travel opportunities in Costa Rica for you and your family.


Gardens of the Caribbean

Thursday, August 5th, 2010
The <i>Sea Cloud II</i> sailing the Caribbean.

The Sea Cloud II sailing the Caribbean.

The first thing most of us think about when we imagine the Caribbean is how fast we can get a bathing suit on and stick an umbrella on a sandy part of the beach. But the Caribbean is also a haven for beautiful gardens, unique animal species, and an eclectic ecosystem.

The region ranges in elevation from 40 meters below sea level to up to 3,000 meters, resulting in a variety of rare animals and plants that can only be found on these islands. The lowlands are don’t receive much rain and are considered semiarid, with some plants such as cactus scrubs being found on parts of Barbados, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. At the same time, trade winds tend to push moisture in the highlands of the islands, creating a rainforest climate where completely different species of flora and fauna are found.

How special is the Caribbean when it comes to biodiversity? When you look at the numbers, it’s pretty amazing. There are over 13,000 plant species found on these islands, and 50.4% are only found in this region of the Earth. But it’s the amphibians that truly makes the islands special. Amazingly, 100% of the amphibians—over  170 species—are native to the islands. Then there is the unique diversity of mammals, reptiles, and birds that are found on each island.

The wildlife to view and appreciate in the Caribbean is everywhere, and if you have really good eyes, you might see a few of the tiny hummingbirds found in the tropics - all while getting a great tan.

Which Caribbean Island is your favorite to visit? Tell us why!

Marvel at the beautiful colonial architecture and gardens of the Caribbean this January aboard the Sea Cloud II with Smithsonian Journeys!