Blog

Presenting the telling of the tales home for the stories of Isa Betancourt and Rumaan Malhotra's trek in the land of the orangutans.

The Chemical Secret behind Rio Celeste's dazzling blue waters

20170120 Costa Rica Rio Celeste-16.jpg
 Here is where all the magic happens! At the confluence! In Costa Rica they call this spot the teñidero which translates to "dye" in english.

Here is where all the magic happens! At the confluence! In Costa Rica they call this spot the teñidero which translates to "dye" in english.

The sky-blue waters of Rio Celeste are completely natural.
How is this possible when the two contributing streams of water are completely clear?!

In 2012, Costa Rican scientists brought their sampling tools and chemistry kits to the site of the confluence to get to the bottom of this mystery. 

In the photograph on the right, you can see the confluence, where two streams come together and all the magic happens!!

From physiochemical testing both the tributaries and Rio Celeste, the researchers were able to determine key differences in the streams.

The one tributary, aptly named Quebrada Agria (or Sour Rag), is extremely acidic. The other tributary, Rio Buenavista, is neither acidic nor basic but contains aluminosilicate particles. When when the two waterways mix together at the confluence, turning into Rio Celeste, the acidity causes the particles to aggregate and the bright blue coloration appears! 

. . .

Lets get technical.
Río Buenavista (aluminosilicate particles = 184nm and pH = 6.8)
+ Quebrada Agria (pH = 3.1)
= Rio Celeste (aluminosilicate particles = 570nm because pH = 5)
= vibrant sky-blue color!

The blue color comes from the light scattering caused by the suspended mineral particles in the water. The optical phenomenon is the same as that which causes rainbows in the sky! It's called Mie Scattering.

Want more detail? Check out the peer-reviewed paper yourself: < http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0075165 >

Paper Citation:
Erick Castellón, María Martínez, Sergio Madrigal-Carballo, María Laura Arias, William E. Vargas & Max Chavarría. Scattering of light by colloidal aluminosilicate particles produces the unusual sky-blue color of Rio-Celeste (Tenorio Volcano Complex, Costa Rica). PLos One (2013) 8 (9):e75165. < http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0075165 >

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Slick Super Bloom

In light of World Poetry Day, I crafted a haiku about the white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata). It is commonly found in the the south west of the United States of America.

 

The highway is slick;
Caterpillar guts spread thick.
Super Bloom Season


 

 The White-lined sphinx ( Hyles lineata )&nbsp; Photograph by Rumaan Malhotra, Posted with permission.

The White-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata
Photograph by Rumaan Malhotra, Posted with permission.


Behind the poem....

I received this photograph from Rumaan, who is currently in California. There is a wildflower super bloom occurring in the south west USA deserts this year and he said that he has been seeing these caterpillars everywhere!


Apparently, white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata) caterpillars are sometimes so numerous that roads are closed because the caterpillar guts make the roads dangerously slippery! I bet that with the super bloom, this is one of those years...

Puddling Pals

Betancourt Borneo Puddling single

We all know that butterflies and moths (Order: Lepidoptera) visit flowers for food. However, did you know that there are minerals that butterflies and moths can only obtain from sources such as animal sweat, tears, fecal matter, and mud puddles? This behavior is called puddling and it is not uncommon to find many butterflies puddling together.

Here are photos from my first encounter with puddling butterflies! The main species that was puddling, the Common Blue Bottle (Graphium sarpedon) is not at all shy. I lucked out. I was able to get up close with my camera without scaring them away. Additionally, clouds softened the sunlight. These were ideal insect photoshoot conditions. 

The butterflies filter large quantities of liquid through their bodies as they puddle. Every several minutes they unload the water waste with a sudden squirt out the rear to make space to draw up more liquid to keep the mining process going (See photo below). The water is recycled. It goes back into the substrate and picks up more minerals. Whooosh! It goes back up through the proboscis and into the butterfly. The nutrients are filtered out of the water and absorbed by the butterfly.

Once a puddling area dries up the party is over. Without moisture, the butterflies can no longer access the nutrients with their proboscis. Imagine trying to eat a chocolate bar with a straw. Liquify it. Now drinking it up with a straw is no problem. This is why the water recycling optimizes nutrient acquisition. It lengthens the time that the resource is available to the butterflies. Bon appetite, butterflies!

  Puddling Pals
 Before and...

Before and...

 ... a moment later. The butterfly squirts out water to make room for the intake of more.

... a moment later. The butterfly squirts out water to make room for the intake of more.

Overhead View Puddling
 

Merlin the chameleon goes when the wind blows

 

Merlin holds on tight to a Hibiscus plant (Hibiscus sp.).

 

Merlin the Veiled Chameleon joined me outside to enjoy the beautiful summer day.

 

When he is outside, Merlin moves very differently than when he is in his indoor enclosure. In unfamiliar territory, Merlin is cautious and does his best to camouflage with his surroundings through both his coloration and movements. 

 

When I take Merlin outside, his coloration is usually a mix of green and brown. I think the sunlight presence, absence, and strength impacts the darkness of Merlin's coloration. 

 

Most of Merlin's outdoor time is spent staying very still upon a plant's branch. If Merlin chooses to move, he moves when there is a breeze that shakes and bends the branches and leaves of the plant. This diffuses attention that might otherwise be drawn straight to him. So clever! To top it off, Merlin rocks his body forward and backward while advancing forward to further disguise his presence. What great behavioral camouflage! 

 Merlin will slowly spin himself to be on the opposite side of of a branch when he sees me peering over at him!

Merlin will slowly spin himself to be on the opposite side of of a branch when he sees me peering over at him!