Impressions of a cool place: the cloud forest

Editor’s note: Our group spent much of the day Tuesday (Jan. 3) hiking in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve with Mark Wainwright, a naturalist guide and author-illustrator of The Mammals of Costa Rica and other publications. During our five-hour journey, we stopped frequently along the trail to hear Wainwright tell stories about what we encountered in the cloud forest — its animals, plants, ecological connections and environmental functions. What follows are the short pieces the journalists produced about what most intrigued them.

Inside a Fairytale

By Holly Enowski

MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — With almost 800 tree species, 130 mammal species, 500 bird species and more than 3,000 plant species, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is home to “a lot of life in a teeny weeny weeny speck of area,” said naturalist guide Mark Wainwright.

Wainwright, author of “The Mammals of Costa Rica,” believes that the forest is more than just a source of electricity, water, scientific research and economic revenue for the Monteverde community that thrives on its eco-tourism.

This forest’s uniqueness is “difficult to put into words,” Wainwright said. “What really makes Monteverde so special is the fact that we straddle the Continental Divide.”

Visitors experience a variety of climates, precipitation, environments and views during a walk through the reserve.

Described as “a fairytale,” Wainwright said Monteverde is among the most diverse spots in the world.

“In a tropical forest, like Monteverde, what’s common is rare and what’s rare is common,” he said.

Edited by Kathryn Cawdrey


Muddy Boots Meet Dutch Boots

By Jalyn Henderson

MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — We came across a variety of plant life as we ventured through the reserve. Plants found in the reserve have a several uses, but only 2 percent of the plants there have been researched, said our guide, Mark Wainwright.

Of the medicines on the market, one-fourth come from plants, Wainwright said.

“There’s a whole pharmacy all around us,” he said.

An example of a tree that has influenced modern practices is Dutch Boots. This small tree is related to milkweed and is typically found in the tropics.

Dutch Boots leaves produce a white, sticky insect repellent, designed to prevent enemies from eating them. This sticky substance has been used as a source for several innovations in insect sprays and repellents. These trees are only one example of the resources nature can provide.

“This [the Monteverde cloud forest] is an unopened medicine chest,” Wainwright said. “There are no questions about that.”

Edited by Liza Anderson

Talented Animal Does More Than Meets the Eye 

By Amanda Henderson

MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — Watching several hummingbirds get a dose of sugar water, a larger animal lurks nearby. It is waiting for the opportune time to sneak in for food.


The Olingo is a member of the raccoon family. It uses the wire to reach a hummingbird feeder at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Photo by Kathryn Cawdrey

The animal soon climbs a tree, scurries across a wire and down onto a hummingbird feeder. As the birds frantically fly away, the olingo begins to suck on the feeder’s openings to get a meal.

The olingo is a smaller member of the raccoon family. Native to Costa Rica, several live throughout the Monteverde area. They are not dangerous to humans unless they feel under attack.

The animal moves quickly and has sharp claws.

Naturalist guide Mark Wainwright said one of the memories he has of the olingo is violent. Though the animal is not known to be violent, one day he saw an olingo grab a hummingbird, rip its head off and eat it in front of a group of older women tourists.

Edited by Kathryn Cawdrey

How Hummingbirds and Bees Fly

By Blake Nourie

Hummingbirds have a unique ability to fly in all directions, unlike all other birds. Their wings flap in an elongated figure 8 motion, allowing the bird to fly laterally, upside down and even hover.

At each turning point in their figure 8 motion, their feathers whip down, creating a constant downward force and no upward force. This specific motion allows the hummingbird to fight gravity like no other bird. All other birds have an upstroke, creating a slight downward force that inhibits the lift force.

Although not seen in other birds, this figure 8 motion is also seen in honeybees.

For years, scientists couldn’t understand how honeybees could fly, given their large mass to wing surface-area ratio. The problem laid in assuming bees flew the same as birds.

Once scientists discovered that bees also use a figure 8 motion to fly, they could eliminate the expected downward force and understand the mechanics behind flight.

In comparing honeybees and hummingbirds, though aesthetically unrelated, the similarities in flight patterns prove nearly identical.

Edited by Isabella Alves and Brianna Stuble


Violet Violence

By Isabella Alves

MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — Not everyone gets a chance to leave childhood bullies behind. Hummingbirds in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve deal with theirs their whole lives: the Violet Sabrewing hummingbird.

In the early morning hours at the reserve, the Sabrewing swoops down off its perch to scare off the other smaller birds before hovering near a red and yellow feeder for a drink.

The Sabrewing — with its brilliant purple body, black wings and flashy white tail feathers — is known for chasing other hummingbirds and totally disregarding territorial boundaries, Mark Wainwright, naturalist guide, said.

The bird looks more akin to a small finch than a typical petite hummingbird and is one of the biggest species, weighing in at a hefty 12 grams, Wainwright said.

The Sabrewing would definitely classify as the linebacker of the hummingbird world.

Edited by Nadav Soroker


A Lonely Brown Bruiser

By Nadav Soroker


A Brown Violet-ear hummingbird rests on a cable outside of the Hummingbird Gallery at the Monteverde Reserve, Tuesday, January 3, 2017. The Violet-ear is a dull colored hummingbird that ranges across Central and parts of South America.

MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — The Brown Violet-ear hummingbird is a lonely flash of brown flitting among other hummingbirds at the sugar-water feeders just outside the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Pausing every so often to rest on the twisted power cables strung between the building and the nearby lodge, the Violet-ear shows off its namesake streak of purple feathering dashed beneath its eye.

The Violet-ear is rarely found at the reserve, according to naturalist guide Mark Wainwright.

An aggressive hummingbird, the Violet-ear seeks out flowers with high sugar content, then fiercely defends them. A larger breed, the Violet-ear is about 11.5 centimeters in length, compared with the hummingbird size range of 7.5 to 13 centimeters, according to

Edited by Isabella Alves


Elephant Ears and Beetles, an Unlikely team

By Kathryn Cawdrey

MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — The elephant ear plant is found among the dense foliage throughout the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.


The Elephant Ear plant blooms to reveal a tall, white flower. The male part is located in the petal, and the female part is in the bulb below. Photo by Kathryn Cawdrey.

The plant’s common name stems from its large, wide leaves, which resemble an elephant’s ear. The plant also produces a white, football-sized flower.

The male organs of this flower are in one part, and the female organs are in another. Overall, 70 percent of the world’s flower species contain both reproductive segments in each blossom. But the elephant ear separates the parts on the same bloom, naturalist guide Mark Wainwright said.

Elephant ear attracts beetles into its female part, where they scuttle down the tube-like petal. Then, they consume nectar and reproduce. After mating is completed, the beetles emerge, passing through the male part.

The male part contains pollen that latches onto beetles upon exiting the flower. The beetles spread that pollen to other elephant ear plants, assisting in the plant’s reproduction.

Edited by Amanda Henderson


The Hidden Future of Monteverde Insects

By Brianna Stubler

MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — The cloud forest of Monteverde makes up less than .01% of the earth’s landmass, yet contains 2.5-3% of global biodiversity. This estimate was given by Mark Wainwright, a naturalist guide and author.

Wainwright emphasized that a considerable amount of the forest remains unknown, much like the insect larvae hidden under or inside leaves. These tiny balls or other shapes are the young of different insects, some of which prefer only certain species of plants. But the insects all function similarly.

An egg laid in the leaf has chemicals similar to the plant’s own growth hormones, allowing the larvae to develop inside the leaf where they have food and security, Wainwright said.

He estimated that thousands of kinds of insects lay eggs this way. Scientists understand this process, but the scope of the interaction and various species that participate are yet to be fully discovered.

Edited by Holly Enowski

2 thoughts on “Impressions of a cool place: the cloud forest

  1. hollyjean says:

    Reblogged this on Holly Enowski and commented:
    The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was an adventure in itself. Read about our experience with Mark Wainwright, a tour guide (with an Art major!), during our five hour venture into the forest.

  2. Debbie Allen says:

    These brief stories and photos work very well, whetting the readers’ interest for more in-depth reporting.

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