‘Do you smell that? It smells like a snake.’ That’s what my hiking companion stated as we slipped off of the gravel road into the cover of the surrounding jungle. I didn’t smell it. I couldn’t smell anything. I had a sinus infection. So, I shrugged my shoulders and said as much. We continued hiking.
We had been monitoring this patch of jungle for several months now, and every time we left the stoney road and started into the forest I thought to myself, ‘You’d better be careful where you put your feet. If I were a snake, I’d live here.’ Some types of forest don’t make my brain scream snake, but this type of forest, extremely humid, bordering water, dense with huge trees that drop their leaves and fronds onto the forest floor, seemed like the perfect habitat for an unlimited number of snakes that I don’t want to step on.
Up until this point we had successfully installed and reviewed our camera traps without a single snake sighting. Actually, even though the forest felt very alive, we hadn’t seen much wildlife at all. On this particular day, we started seeing wildlife before we even reached the site. We stopped to observe several species of hawks that were doing their thing on the side of the road. Later, when a tayra ran across the road in front of us I proclaimed, “Wow, we are having great wildlife luck today!”
After moving forward from the area that supposedly smelled like snake, I was steeling myself for the known bullet ant obstacle that was ahead. As I wrote about before, this very trail contained a series of downed logs that crisscrossed each other. At the base of one of the logs, under the soil, was their nest.
As you look at the logs, you notice a huge black ant patrolling the top of it, then another, then another on the next log. The trick was to ready yourself, take a deep breath, then hop over each log, being sure not to touch any part of them, in a quick series while saying ‘Ah! Ah! Ah!’, after you successfully hurdled each one.
Just before the bullet ant logs, there was a large stand of some kind of tree that dropped huge oval leaves all over the forest floor. Each leaf was at least a foot and a half long and six inches wide. They laid in piles all over the forest floor, and it made me uneasy to walk on them because it seemed like there could easily be something hiding under there.
With all of the snake talk in the beginning of the hike, I wasn’t taking any chances. I was leading the way and before I put my next boot anywhere, I was flipping the giant leaves out of the way. I probably flipped six leaves out of the way and then under the seventh, Ahh! I quickly retreated.
“Terciopelo!” Though this was my first official encounter, I knew exactly what I was looking at. We stared at the snake in excited fear for a few minutes but then it was time to move on. I’m not the snake-chopping type, so I retrieved a strip of cut-up white undershirt that I keep in my backpack to mark trails and tossed it alongside the curled-up snake. We took a leaf-flipped detour around our new friend and continued, even more carefully than before, on our mission.
When it was time to return on the same trail, we did the scary bullet ant hop a second time and also returned to find the snake in the same spot next to the white strip of fabric. This being 2023, you have to take a cellphone pic, right? So we did, and it’s the photo that grabbed your attention and invited you to read this article.
About the Author
Vincent Losasso, founder of Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring, is a biologist who works with camera traps throughout Costa Rica. Learn more about his projects on facebook or instagram. You can also email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org