Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Oso Hormiguero

As it turns out, I was wrong about the termite nest the pericos were rehabbing to construct their own nest: It is NOT abandoned...

...Last night my wife and I were chatting on our lower porch after putting Laila down for the night, and we heard a sound in the trees in the general vicinity of the termite nest. It's difficult to describe the sound - like someone wielding a small hatchet on balsa wood - but it was clearly being made by something larger than a bird.
Garcia was locked on the treetops, and Madona was uneasy.
I grabbed a flashlight and my wife and I discovered an oso hormiguero intently focused on invading the nest with its massive claws, pick-axe head and arthroscopic tounge.

Oso hormiguero (OH-so-or-mee-GARE-oh) is Spanish for what gringos call an "anteater". Literally translated it means "Bear Ant-hunter". I like the Spanish better than the English. It makes more sense when you see one.

This thing operated as methodically as the pericos, with a behavioral instict that was poetry in motion. We were mesmerized. And that tounge made of pink linguini... talk about specialization!

I had already tied up the dogs as soon as I realized it was an hormiguero. Garcia's had two encounters with them and he came out on the losing end both times, nearly losing an eye the first time while receiving a deep puncture wound in his lower jowl the second when the hormiguero snagged it on a right hook - literally. I noticed he wasn't even barking this time, but wasn't taking any chances on a "third strike".

I grabbed my camera from the vault and, while my wife shined the dimming flashlight on the hormiguero and nest (batteries never come through when you need them), and did my best to focus and shoot. The four photos in this entry tell the story.
My biggest surprise was that oso hormigueros have prehensile tails - they're a fifth limb and can wrap tightly around branches. Equipped with this formidable adaptation, and working in conjunction with their massive front claws and powerful hind legs, these things are as at home in a tree as any species of monkey. It was pretty cool. I hadn't even seen this on Animal Planet. This thing was clearly familiar with its arboreal feeding station, slurping in the brown rice-like termites as if none of us was there. We (dogs and humans) were, for all intensive purposes, invisible.

After I was satisfied with the shots I had taken, we retired to the house to give the hormiguero a window of opportunity to go about his business and move on. After about another 20 minutes, the hormiguero disappeared into the night. I untied the dogs in the wee hours of the morning well after the hormiguero had moved on.

When the pericos arrived in the morning, they were distressed, to say the least. Nothing seemed to compute. They didn't know what to do.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. The hormiguero did not destroy the termite nest. Clearly, he plans on returning regularly for a periodic gorging on termites. How the pericos can live inside an active termite nest perplexes me. But they've started their work and they may return. Ojala.

¡Oso hormigueros! ¡Pura vida!

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Spanish for "parakeets". We have a pair that appears to be constructing their nest in an abandoned termite nest in one of the trees next to our house. It's kinda cool sitting out on the porch drinking our Costa Rican coffee in the morning, and eating delicious Balocco Italian cake, while we watch this pair take turns hollowing out the termite nest.

They're quite deliberate in everything they do. One perico stands lookout while the other works on burrowing out a hollow in the nest. After awhile they switch.

The pair arrived a couple of months ago and have steadily been spending more and more time near the termite nest. This week, they finally "broke ground". It was like they were feeling out a new neighborhood before pulling the trigger on buying a home. They're quite chattery when they arrive in the morning, but hardly make a sound when they start work. They're language is fairly sophisticated, using a wide variety of calls to communicate different things.

As the hot, dry Guanacaste summer progresses, we'll keep you up to date on any chick sightings. I'm heading for the beach and a cold Pilsen. ¡Pura vida!