Entomophobia? Me?

Probably my least favorite insect.
Probably my least favorite insect.

“You’re going to have mosquitoes at Palo Verde,” said one of the advisors on my vegetarian spider project.

No big deal, I thought to myself, I’ve dealt with mosquitoes before. I’m not afraid of insects, am I? That’s what the work “entomophobia” means.

Coincidentally, I happened to be reading Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet on my way to Costa Rica, the story about a boy who is trapped in the Canadian wilderness after he’s forced to crash land on a lake. One of the images that stuck in my mind were the swarms of mosquitoes that covered his arms and face, but I never realized that mosquitoes could really swarm like that…

…until I got to Palo Verde.

The welcome sign I still haven't had a chance to photograph myself. Image credit: Universidad de Costa Rica
The welcome sign I still haven’t had a chance to photograph myself. Image credit: Universidad de Costa Rica

I made it to the front gate of the park last evening right as the guard was closing up. He was nice enough to let me in, but right away I noticed the buzzing. It was high-pitched, and I could see several bouncing black shapes on my windshield as soon as I put my window down. The guard showed me to his house and let me buy four days’ worth of tickets, then let me go on my way.

It had already been a long drive on a dirt road that wound between cattle pastures to get to the front gate, but then the guard said the Palo Verde Biological Station (where I was headed) was another 10 kilometers (about six miles) in. My jaw nearly dropped; I couldn’t believe I was going somewhere so remote, and I had to ask if there would be people at the station, because it almost seemed like I’d be there all by myself.

After the guard assured me that there were people (and food), I headed on my way. The road was bumpy, but thankfully somebody had advised me to rent a four-wheel drive vehicle. There are no buses or taxis that run anywhere close to the station, and it would have been an impossible distance to walk, especially when I finally got an idea of exactly how many mosquitoes are around here.

There are millions… billions, even. Insect repellant doesn’t work, and today I found out that there is one species that bothers you all night and another species that bothers during the day. There is no relief, except under a mosquito net (and even that isn’t always secure).

The good news is that the people are very friendly, and they actually waited around even when I arrived several hours late. Dinner was waiting for me, and the woman scientist who checked me in is doing research on crocodiles. She even let me visit the babies under her care.

Dinner was definitely good, and so was dessert!
Dinner was definitely good, and so was dessert!
Aren't they cute?
Aren’t they cute?
There were actually quite a few of them.
There were actually quite a few of them.
Along with a fish.
Along with a fish.

Now these baby crocodiles are definitely not pets; they are only being held (and fed, and cleaned) until the start of the rainy season. The only problem is that the rainy season was supposed to start in May–almost four moths ago. In this part of Costa Rica, there is supposed to be a strong dry season from December through May, and then the rains come, the lakes and rivers fill, and the crocodiles come out of their caves. Yes, you read that right–here in Palo Verde, the American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) have an interesting habit of either spending the dry season in caves or digging their own holes in the ground. This is because the lakes dry up, so a crocodile doesn’t have much choice of where to go. Another fascinating tidbit of information about this habit is that the males somehow lose their territorial instincts during the times when they’re all forced to shack up in a cave. This year, they’re having to tolerate each other more than ever–not only because of the super-long dry season, but also because there are approximately three males for every female. The way that a crocodile egg hatches into a male or female depends on the temperature, with heat over 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) producing mostly males. Warmer yearly temperatures (even with one cold winter in the United States) could be the reason that there are more and more males, although a couple of scientists here at Palo Verde are also testing the effects of certain chemicals that are getting washed off into the water. Hopefully enough rain will come soon that the lakes will fill up and the crocodiles can go back to the water.

American crocodile video.

Now for those who think that crocodiles are dangerous, especially those who have seen that “shocking” video of the boy in Mexico getting followed by the crocodile these past few weeks, be sure to watch the video below:

Now I’m definitely not saying that it’s a good idea to swim with a crocodile under any circumstances, but they aren’t nearly as aggressive as they might seem. The American crocodile mostly eats fish, and they rarely attack humans. People, however, are known for attacking crocodiles. The magnificent reptile in the video above, named Poncho, was found by his “trainer” after he’d been shot in the eye and suffered brain damage. Unfortunately, Poncho died three years ago, after living 17 years with his injuries and reaching the age of 50.

Let’s hope that wild crocodiles still have a chance to overcome all the obstacles they face, and may it rain hard in Palo Verde!

 

 

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