Backyard Beasties

From baby iguanas, through katydids, hummingbirds, even a pit viper! The variety of creatures we can see without even leaving our neighbourhood never ceases to amaze me. My daughter, the nature nut, frequently brings home one or two baby iguanas for us to see, sometimes as many as four at a time! Here she is with her friend from round the corner – his ‘n hers baby iguanas.

His n hers baby iguanas, Panama

And here is a very common sight in our house. A bit fuzzy, but you get the idea.

Baby Iguana, Panama

Luckily for us, this Pit Viper, a member of the rattlesnake family, very possibly the legendarily dangerous Fer de Lance, was not found in our backyard. But it was in our next door neighbour’s but one! Rather foolishly I went out to their yard to take some pictures of this intimidating creature. As you can see, it was coiled in a defensive/aggressive stance and ready to strike. A creature to reckon with for sure. This one ended up dead I’m afraid – sometimes it’s them or us, and if you google Fer de Lance (which I do NOT recommend), you will see that our neighbours could not take the risk of this potentially deadly beast escaping.

Fer de lance, Panama

It is still a novelty for us to see six inch long insects, such as this impressive katydid on the wall of our house, spotted, of course, by our daughter.

Katydid, Panama

If you look closely at this picture, you will see an Amazon parrot camouflaged among the greenery. This illustrates perfectly why so many of the parrots and parakeets are bright emerald green – they are virtually impossible to spot in the trees, unless you happen to see them landing. This tree is right outside our backyard, and these large parrots fly over our house, squawking in pairs, every morning and every evening as they go to and from their roosting place.

Amazon parrot from my backyard, Panama

And, to finish, some nice soothing pictures of a hummingbird at our feeder.

Hummingbird at my Feeder, Panama

Beautiful hummingbird at my feeder, Panama

Panama: The Most Biodiverse Place on Earth

As Panama has the richest biodiversity of any place on our planet, even including the wonder that is the Amazon, I thought I would do a picture post to celebrate some of the fabulous flora and fauna of this precious country. I hope you enjoy looking at these photos as much as I enjoyed taking them!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Amazing cricket

Look at this amazing cricket we found! It was crawling up a walking stick outside an artisan’s shop. The spots on its side were perfect circles, with a black outline around each that you would swear had been painted on.

Within 2 minutes drive of our house this afternoon we had seen a large white heron, two cardinal birds and…. an enormous (2 metre long or so) grey iguana crossing the road just in front of our car. A car in the opposite lane had to swerve to avoid it. It was so large at first I took it for a crocodile!

Panama Praying Mantis

Yet another spectacular find by my insect-mad daughter who really excelled herself this time by spotting this praying mantis climbing up the wall of our house.

This remarkable creature climbed slowly and methodically all the way up to the first floor of our house, stretching out first one long front leg, then pulling up its body behind and stretching the opposite leg and pulling up again. It did this in such a calm controlled manner, taking perhaps 5 minutes to climb 15 feet. An insect to reckon with.

Wildlife of Suburban Panama City

I spotted this crocodile just round the corner from our house, lying on the river bank. This river is 50 feet from our (fenced-in!) back garden! We stopped the car and hurried to get pictures, while keeping the children a safe distance. A nice contrast between this one and the caged beasts of the Costa Rica zoo, this croc jumped into the water with a splash and swam away when my husband and toddler approached, leaving behind a large lizard whose life we probably saved.
Boa constrictors live around this river too, so hopefully I’ll be able to add a picture of one of them to this blog one day.

We went on to Ancon hill where the children and my husband saw a green and black poison dart frog at close quarters. The poison dart frogs of Panama City are not as venomous as the legendary ones of the Darién Gap – a dart rubbed over the back of one of these contains enough venom to kill a human for a year after the rubbing. Natives live in the forests of Darién to this day and still use the blowpipe method of hunting. Incredible to thing this is all going on tens of miles from our house.

Then my daughter found two giant, and I mean giant millipedes. It seems it is impossible for her to leave the house without finding one of these creatures. These ones had yellow spots at the edge of each segment making them look ultra-creepy!

Spider from Mars

If you don’t like creepy-crawlies, look away now! I am going to show you the creepiest crawly that I have ever seen. My daughter found this strange creature at the door to the bathroom in our new home. She thought it was a dead spider and asked daddy to move it. When my husband went to pick it up in a piece of kitchen roll, it scuttled away super quickly. So it was alive! It looked like an enormous upside down flattened spider gone badly wrong. Anyway, I am the (live) spider catcher in our family, so I caught it in a glass, and here it is, next to my hand for scale.

I took it outside and set it down on the front path to examine it again, only to see a set of pincers covering up its eye area! Then I noticed it had a crab-like shell. So it seems to be some kind of land-based crustacean – like a cross between a spider and a crab. You can see this very clearly below. It looks like an alien life form to me! You can see its long thin feelers which it moved around in a spookily controlled manner curling the ends of each one in slow motion.

I tried to find out what this creature is, but couldn’t find any information on the internet – maybe we’ve discovered a new species! I did find creatures called spider-crabs, but they definitely looked liked spiders, and I didn’t see any that had these pincers. If anyone knows what this creature is, I would love to hear from you. This is one visitor I’m hoping doesn’t call round again!

NOTE: After I posted this article, I was reliably informed that this is a tailless whip scorpion! The things I took for feelers were actually very flexible front legs. Apparently one featured in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and it was suggested one bite could kill. But I have found out they are not actually poisonous, although they can squirt acetic acid if annoyed!

Ants nest

We were at the beautiful Balboa Academy the other day – an American International School on the outskirts of Panama City – when we saw this large ants nest in the tree above us crawling with the creatures. I think they were leaf cutter ants as we have seen them a few times since our move here and I seem to recall them climbing up trees to their nests with a David Attenborough voice-over!

I took this picture on a separate occasion in just a normal residential street in Ancon, another area of Panama City. It shows a leaf cutter ant carrying a leaf – if you look closely you can see the ant, but the leaf is quite blurred unfortunately. It can be frustrating seeing these amazing sights but not being able to capture them adequately – I may have to upgrade my camera!