"Carara forest" Costa Rica Travelogue by Pierangelo
Costa Rica Travel Guide: 5,604 reviews and 12,061 photos
<B>Carara Biological Reserve</B> (4,700 hectares) is a transition zone between dry tropical forest and the wetter regions to the south. It is laced by countless rivers, the largest being the Tarcoles. During the rainy season, the Tarcoles floods its banks, creating a large lagoon that quickly fills with water hyacinth. Crocodiles and caimans are easily spotted along with plenty of wading birds. Coatimundis, peccaries, white-face capuchin, howler and spider monkeys, and the rare-two toed sloth can all be found here along with a great variety of plant life including fabulous heliconias. Carara is one of the few nesting areas remaining for the scarlet macaw. Throughout the day, the macaws can always be heard and often seen in flight, particularly around dusk. There are two paths. One starts at the main entrance and takes a short circular route, the other begins 2 km away and passes the lagoon.
Easily accessible for day trips from San Jose, but accommodation also available locally.It is located 88 km west of San Jose
There's something endearing about the leaf-cutting ant (Atta cephalotes), a mushroom-farming insect found in lowland forests throughout Costa Rica, carrying upright in its jaws a circular green shard scissored from the leaves of a plant. At some stage in your travels you're bound to come across an endless troop of "media" workers hauling their cargo along jungle pathways as immaculately cleaned of debris as any swept doorstep.
The <B>nests</B> are built below ground, sometimes extending over an area of 200 square meters, with galleries to a depth of six meters. Large nests provide a home for up to five million insects. (All ant societies are composed entirely of females; males exist only to fertilize the queen and then die. And only the queen, who may boast a thousand times the body weight of a minor worker, is fertile. Hence, all other ants in the colony are her daughters.) They set off from their nests, day and night, in long columns to demolish trees, removing every shoot, leaf, and stem section by tiny section and transporting them back to their underground chambers.
They don't eat this material. Instead, they chew it up to form a compost on which they cultivate a nutritional <B>breadlike fungus</B> whose tiny white fruiting bodies provide them with food. The species has evolved different physical castes, each specializing in its own social tasks. Most of the workers are tiny minors ("minimas"), which tend the nest. The cutting and carrying is performed by intermediate-size workers ("medias"), guarded by ferocious-looking "majors" about three-quarters of an inch long.
The rainforest contains more than <B>half of Earth's plant</B> even though rain forests cover only about 6% of the earth's surface. The average humidity in the rainforest is high, ranging from 77% to 88%. The average temperature is at least 75 to 86 degrees.
Many of the plants and foods <B>in your home</B> originated in the rainforests. Common house plants, such as bromeliads, African violets, periwinkle and the Christmas cactus, began in the rain forest. Bananas, avocadoes, pineapples, peppers, peanuts, oranges, papaya, lemon, pepper (the spice), coconut, sugarcane, cassava and cacao -- all are rain forest products. Coffee beans, cashews and Brazil nuts are all native to the tropics. Chicle, used in chewing gum, comes from a tropical tree. Chocolate, popular worldwide, is from the cacao seed, which is native to the tropical rainforest.
Other products commonly in use are also found here. Oil from the <B>cacao</B> seed is also used in suntan lotions, cosmetics and soaps. The kapok tree produces silky, water resistant fibers used as filling in a number of products, such as life preservers, pillows, upholstery and insulation. A rubber tree product, latex, is used in making tires for cars, trucks and heavy equipment.
About one-fourth of all the <B>medicines</B> we use come from rainforest plants. Curare, from a tropical vine, is used as an anesthetic and to relax muscles for surgery. Quinine, from the cinchona tree, is used to treat malaria. The rosy periwinkle contains an anti-leukemia drug; a person with lymphocytic leukemia has a 99% chance that the disease will go into remission because of the rosy periwinkle. more than 1,400 varieties of tropical plants are thought to be potential cures for cancer.
The rainforest grows in several <B>layers</B>. The tallest layer contains the emergents, giant trees that grow to height of 250 feet or more. These trees cut through the top of the forest canopy reaching toward the sunlight. The roots of these trees are very shallow because of the lack of nutrients in the soil. Since tropical rainforest soil is nutrient poor, the trees establish large root systems which fan out rather than dig deep into the soil. These buttressed roots help add support and balance to fortify the tree.
The <B>canopy</B> layer of the forest contains trees standing 60 to 150 feet tall. Their branches form a canopy, or umbrella, that shades the forest floor. The trees in this layer grow so close together that, viewed from above, they appear to form a solid green floor of their own. These trees block most of the sun from reaching lower plants. They also stop the rain from reaching the plants below. The rain must run down the trunks of the trees or drip off the leaves.
Thick, woody vines are found in the canopy. These vines, called <B>lianas</B>, sometimes are as big around as a person. They climb the tree in the canopy to reach for sunlight.
<B>Epiphytes</B> are plants that grow piggy back on the trees of the canopy, such as orchids, ferns, mosses, lichens and others. These plants grow in the canopy where light is more plentiful. The epiphyte uses the tree for support, getting water from the rain that falls. Some epiphytes can make their own food from sunlight and air. Many epiphytes produce beautiful, brightly colored flowers that we use as house plants.
<B>Bromeliads</B> are epiphytes from the pineapple family. Orchids are another variety of epiphyte commonly adapted to home growth. There are more than 20,000 varieties of orchid. In tropical rain forests, orchids grow on tree branches, trunks or rocks. Epiphytes are commonly known as air plants.
Below the canopy we find the <B>understory</B>. This level is comprised of vines, smaller trees, ferns and palms. Beneath them are even smaller bushes and many kinds of ferns. This part of the forest also remains green all year round. A large number of plants from this level make up common house plants. Because this level receives very little direct sunlight or rainfall, they adapt easily to home conditions and are preadapted to severe conditions of shade and low humidity. Among these plants are anthurium,caladium, colocasia, philodendron and garden callas.
These plants also have had to adapt to <B>poor soil</B> with few nutrients. They have developed features that help them to survive. For example, not producing flowers helps to conserve energy, and broad leaves allow the plants to take in as much light as possible. Remaining green year round helps with food production.
Effective use of water is a major problem for plants where <B>rainfall</B> ranges between 80 and 320 inches a year. That amount of water can cause plant rot, growth of mold and decay. To get rid of the excess water, many rainforest plants have slick, water repellant coatings on their leaves, shapes that allow rain to run off easily and spout-like "drip tips" that help drain water from the surface of the leaf.
The forest <B>floor</B> forms the lowest level in the forest. Very little sunlight filters through to this area. Mosses, herbs and fungi grow here. Few plants are found on the floor of the forest. The floor is covered with wet leaves and leaf litter. There is much decay on this level, which sends nutrients back into the soil.
A typical forest in the United States contains from 5 to 12 different kinds of trees, while a typical rainforest may have over 300 different kinds. Rainforests usually contain 10 times more tree species and 5 times more bird species than temperate forests.
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