Field of Science

Seeing red in the rainforest

Bright red and orange colors dot the rainforest here and there for the purpose of calling attention to an organism or a part of an organism for a number of reasons. Since such signals are readily noticed by humans, with the exception of red-green color blind people like my old friend and colleague, Dr. What-red-flower, they get a lot of attention. This time of year in Costa Rica many people will call attention to the vivid bright orange floral display of the llame del bosque, the flame of the forest, but mostly they are referring to Spathodea campanulata, a member of the Bignoniaceae with big displays of orange flowers.  But this plant is a native of Africa escaped from cultivation here in Costa Rica, but this doesn't seem to be noticed by many people who should know better. The native Costa Rican plant known as flame of the forest is a Rubiad (coffee family) with the name Warszewiczia coccinea that TPP has featured before. This was an exmple of the infuriating nature of common names.
Now of course these plants are using color to attract in this case pollinators. But bright red colors can also deliver other messages like notice me but leave me alone. The following image is a common sight, a bright red spot in the dense understory. A tiny frog whose color and voice call attention to itself, which you might think could put a male seeking a mate in danger, especially when so readily seen and bite sized. These frogs are way less than an inch long. However this is Dendrobates pumilio, the strawberry or blue-jeans frog, a poison arrow frog who benefits from gaudiness by reminding potential predators how nasty is was to have tried to eat one of these little morsels. Biologists call this aposomatic coloring. Sorry about the bright eyes, a bit of flash reflection. A young lady on the field trip is using 3D printed little frogs and a recording of their call to study what the ladies prefer. Hmm, have any of these frogs moved? It's not nice to fool TPP!  Nah, they're real.

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