OMG Flying Snakes!

Animals and creatures that live in a very specific environment have adapted over the centuries to survive and thrive in these treacherous milieus. The rainforests of the world are one such place. Creatures here have learned to fly, or actually glide, from tree to tree as a means of transportation.

The Flying Snake, or Chrysopelea, is one animal that has adapted to a life in the trees by gliding. The fact that this tubular animal can fly when it clearly should not be possible has kept the world amazed for centuries. However, there are many more interesting facts about this graceful flying snake that first meets the eye.

The appearance of flying is made by flattening out their bodies into a thin ribbon shape that actually pushes air around and down, causing a lift not unlike an airplanes wing. They use the speed and velocity of the freefalling air and the specific contortions of their body to glide through the air for hundreds of feet, turning and changing direction as they go.

flying tree snake

Seeing one of these flying snakes is nothing short of miraculous. Since their contortions and body movements allow them to glide for so long and actually change directions the appearance of flying is very realistic. They are both frightening and majestic simultaneously.

The flying snake is found in the rainforests of Asia, from Indonesia to India. There are only five species of flying snake throughout this entire area and one, the twin barred tree snake, is rare. They range in size from two feet to over four feet and spend their entire lifespan living in the tree top canopies of the rain forests.

Life in the canopies of the trees in the Asian rainforest is unlike any other life. The lush treetops are so verdant and thick, a whole world of creatures lives every day without touching the ground. These various animals are called gliders. They have adapted through centuries of evolution to glide among the tree tops and live successful lives.

Gliding takes so little energy and effort. The gliders often eat less than most other animals of their size because they require less energy. Flying snakes are diurnal. Diurnal animals hunt during daylight hours. They hunt and eat small vertebrates living in the tree tops of the rain forests. The specifics of what they eat are dependent on the areas they live in. Rodents, lizards and small birds are an average meal. They use their gliding ability to catch prey that is also arboreal.

Flying snakes do have fangs, they do bite and they are venomous. While all of those points are definitely negatives, it isn’t as bad as it sounds. Contrary to most types of snakes, flying snakes are opistoglyphous, which means they have rear-facing fangs that are fixed or immoveable. While many species of snakes have hollow fangs, these snakes’ fangs have a small groove that runs the length of it and allows the venom to run down it into the prey.

Their fangs are small because they are fixed and if larger would puncture the snakes’ mouth. Their small, rear facing fangs and mildly harmful venom makes them harmless to humans. It works perfectly for them, however. The way the venom comes out and the placement and type of fangs allows them to kill only small prey and only inject venom that is well inside its mouth.

ornate flying snake

So quiet and timid are this snake that very little is really known about them. Breeding habits, for instance. Little documentation exists. All that is known is that they lay 6 – 11 eggs with hatchlings that are 15 – 20 cm.

Chrysopelea ornate, the ornate flying snake, is the largest of the species growing up to four feet long. They are considered weak glider because of their larger size. They come in a variety of colors even though one of their common names is the Golden Tree Snake.

The twin barred tree snake is the smallest of the species. It is black with red and yellow bands. It rarely grows larger than two feet long and although small is not considered the best glider. That distinction goes to the Paradise Tree Snake.

The Paradise Tree Snake is a stunningly beautiful creature and sought after as pets in Europe. They are a rich, shiny black color with flower shaped scale patches along its dorsal area from neck to tail. They are considered one of, if not the, best gliding snake in all five species.

The flying snake is an amazing creature with still much to teach us. It’s fascinating capability to adapt to the world it lives in is a lesson in wildlife, in biology and in the way of the world. Seeing this amazing creature in flight is breathtaking. It may not be real flight but it is definitely really amazing.

Birds Of Paradise – The Feathered Prima Donnas

Prima Donnas in the world of birds, Birds of Paradise are some of the world’s most vibrantly beautiful birds. There are over 3000 species of Birds of Paradise in the Paradisaeidae family. They are known not only for their bright plumage but for the length of their feathers and colossal head plumes. Some species display bountiful breast plates or head fans. They are located in Indonesia for the most part but also Australia and New Guinea.

Birds of Paradise Plumage

The various species are adorned in many bright hues but vary just as widely in size. The King Bird of Paradise is the smallest on record, measuring a slight 16 cm long.  Its bright crimson wings are tipped in a florescent orange. The males have blue feet and long curling streamers from its tail with bright green green fans at the tip. The Curl-crested Manocode is one of the largest at 43 cm long. Its glossy black and purple head feathers curl and blend with dark, shiny green feathers.

This fantastically beautiful family of birds spends their lives in rainforests and swamps and moss forests.Wilsons Bird Of Paradise All but a few species live in New Guinea. Those that aren’t are the Silk Crow and the Standardwing and the Manocode which live in Australia and The Maluku Islands.

Birds of paradise eat fruits and bugs indigenous to the rainforests and swampy areas they live in.  Birds of Paradise need to eat two different types of fruits in order to survive, simple and complex. Fruits like figs, kiwi, mangos and bananas are simple fruits that are high in carbohydrates. Apples, pears and berries are complex fruits which contain higher levels of fats and proteins. Birds of Paradise require both sets of nutrients to survive and thrive.

This fruit eating requirement makes the Bird of Paradise especially important to the ecological system in New Guinea. In most other parts of the world, mammals eat tree fruits and as the seeds make it through their digestive track undigested, they are deposited in the ground and can sprout seedlings. In New Guinea, it is the Bird of paradise that takes on this important job. The few species that don’t make fruits their main dietary object prefer insects, particularly spiders.

Birds of Paradise have elaborate and time consuming mating rituals. They prefer solitude and will usually only come together to mate. Mating is where all those fantastic colorful feathers come into play. As with most species, it is the male who is the most colorful and elaborately adorned. The male Bird of Paradise uses this display of feathers and colors in conjunction with a mating dance to attract females.

The males use a Lek mating system that entails many males of the species gathering in one spot to compete for females using their dance and appearance. They also use loud vocal displays like crowing and cawing. This is done each day of the mating season in the same place and in the same manner.

Most species of Birds of paradise are polygynous. They mate with more than one female. Only nine species are monogamous and mate with one female, often for life. In these species, the males and females are both drab in color and do not have the elaborate plumage of the other species of Birds of Paradise.

Once the female has chosen her mate she retreats to her nest to hatch and raise her chicks alone. Females make nests in trees, as other birds do, but also in thick foliage and on the ground. The build soft and thick nests of vine tendrils, fern leaves, moss and slender grasses. Birds of Paradise usually only lay egg clutches of one egg, though some of the smaller species will lay two to three eggs.

There is no doubt about it; the Bird of Paradise is an amazing creature. From its importance in the ecosystem to its elaborate mating rituals to the brightly color feathers so artfully arranges on its body, it is obvious why hunters and poachers have begun to threaten the existence of this fine bird.  Native tribesmen also hunt the birds for the ceremonial use of their feathers, feet and bones.

birds of paradise New Guinea

Some of the species are near extinction because of the hunting. However, recent legal provisions have recently been made and the Bird of Paradise enjoys special legal protection from hunters. Only a small amount of hunting can be done by native tribesman for religious purposes only. Humans are the Bird of Paradise’ only natural enemy other than when they are small chicks and preyed upon by larger birds and mammals.

Loss of habitat may be the more realistic culprit for a decline in this bird’s population. In recent times, large quantities of the rain forests in New Guinea and Australia have been converted to farm land or logged for profit forcing the birds out of the area. With less places to live there are less Birds of Paradise. An unjust fate for so regal and elegant a bird.

In the Land of Tea and Protest

Two things it’s hard to place when you take a walk through Prague’s Wenceslas Square today, covered with fast food chains and postcard stands: uprising and far eastern serenity. Through separated by some forty years, both were there and in a lot of ways both still are. The square was the site of the most famous protests during the Prague Spring of August 1968 when Soviet tanks invaded then-Czechoslovakia. The 72 people killed and over 700 injured in the invasion are still not forgotten on the pages of Czech history and the faces of Czech citizens.

As has often been the case with many a landmark site, modern day commerce has outweighed historical significance. Cynics can wax poetic on how many important footsteps the Starbucks off Stepanska Street covers up, others may see the beauty in a country that has grown so much so that it can even have a Starbucks to build; a city that in the writing of Milan Kundera has always been a place to escape is now a must destination for the existentialism, Art Nouveau lovers like myself. I came to Prague with a group of 84 but stayed behind when the other 83 took their week off from university to bask in the Italian and Spanish sun or went north to watch Ireland turn green in the early spring. A Kafka fan all my life, I felt discovering the history and mystery of this city was best done alone. What turned out most mysterious was how much history actually existed where in places like the Starbucks off Stepanska it seemed there was room for none.

If you should find yourself with some time to spend in Prague let the monuments, like the statue of Wenceslas himself watching over the square, be only the beginning of your historical inquiry. Despite the square’s infamy for the ’68 uprising and the country’s pivotal place in twentieth century political history, Prague itself was never actually bombed during WWII, leaving this city-wide monument to Art Nouveau and Bohemia fully preserved and in tact despite its modernization.

Only brief travel throughout the rest of Europe will tell you what a rarity this is for a city this size. And so while it was no chain import of any kind standing on that square, many cups of coffee may very well have been consumed in the early 1900s right where you now walk. The colors and sense of newness that the architecture evokes even today was the same as it was when Karl Capek walked these streets, imagining the future with prescient clarity.

Time itself is quite an interesting part of the city’s history and present. The medieval Prague Orloj or Astrological Clock is another high point on many visitor’s list as well it should be—it is the oldest astrological clock in the world that still works. Go into any pawn shop (of which there are still very many all over the city) and it’s hard not to notice the abundance of watches and clocks, some still ticking, some marking the second they now preserve forever. It is heavily symbolic of the city itself, preserved and present all at the same time.   But beyond the not so subtle landmarks, the understated and untouched history, and the modernization is yet another Prague that is worth the effort to seek out. I found it in a pot of tea.  The Dobre Cajovny is a small teashop tucked down a bamboo-covered alley off Wenceslas Square.

medieval Prague Orloj or Astrological Clock

There’s a sign hanging from the yellow façade of a hotel but it is so faded and small it’s as if offering help only to those who are actively seeking it out. I had been told this was a must stop and so I fell into the category most likely to spot the sign. Behind the square, even just these few steps, everything falls quiet. The teahouse is small and low. The building and ceiling aren’t such but the seating so close to the floor and the concentration of only the handful of patrons I ever saw in there brings a hush and muted sense to the whole experience. A menu with a small bell are brought to you as you sit down and though the short server waited only feet from me, he gave me plenty of space and waited for the bell to announce his arrival. Never assuming, never judging.  The tea is brought in three parts, a small pot filled with green leaves, a larger pitcher of water, kept at a perfectly hot temperature by a single flame underneath it and a bowl about the size of two cupped hands to pour the vivid green tea into when fully brewed. Only after my first couple sips did the server make mention of the book of Kafka parables at my side.  “You know Capek?” he asked
“I do, I’ve always been more of a Kafka man myself though,” I replied feeling immediately foolish for telling a local who the superior Czech writer was.  “Yes. Weird.” he said to me, and I immediately realized he wasn’t trying to share anything Czech with me but rather to give in to what he assumed a sojourner to Prague might be interested in. He had, and either by influence or through influence so too had the Dobre, moved beyond what is Czech about Prague and worked towards establishing what is Prague about Prague. Czech is the ’68 uprising, Prague is peace and serenity. Czech is oppression and national dissolution, Prague is untouched Bohemian beauty.

This teahouse came to be the focal point from which everything I see in Prague coalesced. You see this is the recently released letters of Karl Capek, which demonstrate someone interested not in robotics and industrial futurism but in pacifism and conscientious objection to warfare of any kind.dobre cajovny

You see this in the Orloj, still ticking away in resilience but not resistance. You see this in the Dobre Cajovny, bringing into the fold of this wonderful city something beyond pre-WWII Bohemia and post 1980s-capitlism; bringing the peaceful and the foreign, the obscure and the inviting together.



Go Costa Rica !

Costa Rica has so many attractions it is mind boggling. Tourism is the country’s main income source and they make it worth your every penny. Searching for personal reflection, adventure on the high sea, sports, or spectacular natural attractions, Costa Rica has all that and much more. Check out a few of the Costa Rica destinations below to ensure you’ve experienced a variety of what this amazing country has to offer.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

This 26,000 acre reserve is comprised of tropical rainforest and innumerable species of wildlife. The astonishing biodiversity makes it possible for more than 3000 species of animals and plants to flourish. Not only animals but an overabundance of plant life grows here as well. Vines, orchids, ferns and lush flora and fauna fill virtually every inch of these fertile lands and reach high into the sky over towering trees.

Monteverde_puente Costa Rica
Pciture Courtesy of Author: Haakon S. Krohn

The Monteverde Nature Center and Butterfly Gardens offer numerous educational nature exhibits. A superfluity of multiple species of butterflies amidst more than three acres of replicated natural habitats gives visitors a chance to understand the entire life process of these graceful and important creatures.

The temperatures and humidity of life in a mountain town makes it possible to develop some of the world’s most delicious cheeses. The Monteverde Cheese Factory is known throughout the world for its meticulously cured cheeses and supplies much of the country. They offer tours and exhibits on how the succulent cheeses are made and packaged for sale.

Arenal Volcano

Costa Rico is known across the globe for its active volcanoes. The Arenal is towering, imposing and strikes a bravura and stately figure for visitors at 5,437 feet. While dormant for the past 40 years, this volcano has a lurid history of major and minor eruptions affecting the lives of the townspeople for centuries.

The last major eruption was in 1968 which buried three villages beneath its fiery lava and killed 87 people before it was over. Smoke and lava continued to erupt daily, though not to such a violent extent, until 2010 when the great giant fell dormant.

There are numerous activities and attractions to enjoy at the foot of this volcano. Hiking, fishing, and boating are among the most popular but only the beginning. The geothermal energy under the volcano formed many hot springs throughout the area. They are popular spots for the tourists to unwind after a day of sightseeing.

There are several hot spring locations, each with very unique attributes. Some have swim up bars and others have both hot and cold pools. Some have waterslides and others a virtually secluded, excepting only a small number of visitors a day to preserve its privacy.

Golfing In Costa Rica

There is certain contentment to playing golf surrounded by flourishing rainforests, swinging monkeys, and in view of noble volcanoes. Costa Rica is rife with magnificent golf courses. Each has very specific amenities and attributes.

The Reserva Conchal Resort has a spectacular golf course for its members and visitors. Each nine runs through a stunning course of waterfalls, lush greenery and abundant flora and fauna. It is a 71 par championship course that offers challenging courses as well as beginners. Play through lakes and ravines as well as manicured Bermuda grass greens.

The Hacienda Pinilla is another resort with an all-inclusive 72 par golf course. Designed by Mike Young, one of the finest golf course designers in the United States, this course is more than 7000 yards of stunning greenery, lush landscape, falling waterways and exquisite landscaping.

The Four Seasons courses are all in the Guanacaste area and offer testing specialized layouts. The infamous Arnold Palmer designed this par-72, 18 hole championship course, rated among the top 100 courses outside America. The course begins atop a high plateau overlooking clear, azure waters for a stimulating start.

Ox Carts in Costa Rica

Ox carts and yolks are considered a national art form in Costa Rica and a symbol of their traditional means of transportation. The world’s largest ox-cart, four meters in height and six in length, is located in Costa Rica, made by the country’s most reputable artisans and painters in 2006.

Costa Rica Eco Tourism

Costa Rica is a certified sustainable, ecotourism destination. Sustainability means that Costa Rica is dedicated to using its tourism resources in a way that will perpetuate it’s assets for years to come, helping future generations of both humans and wildlife.

Costa Rica Eco Tourism
Phto Courtesy of: Charles H. Smith, vergrößert von Aglarech

The ecotourism is apparent in the fact that the country comprises only .03% of Earth’s surface but is in the top 20 most biodiversified countries. You can find more species of plants and animals in a small 1,000 acre track of Costa Rica than in the same amount of space in Brazil or even Columbia.

Costa Rica is a wonderland of wildlife and the amazements of Mother Earth. Each destination in this amazing country offers a plethora of modern luxuries and activity surrounded by lush green landscapes and amazing plant and animal life.  Any place you visit will leave you in awe with a deeper understanding of the gifts this planet offers.

Costa Rica – By Kelly Banaski Sons