How About Dangerous Insects in The Rainforest? Is It as Bad as I Imagine?
When I was a kid, back in the seventies, my Nanny Elena used to tell me these horrible stories about the “Chiquizá” (Chee-kee-zaa).
The Chiquizá (I learned later in life that their real name is Tarantula Hawk) was a huge black wasp with bright orange wings. My nanny Elena would say that its sting would not only hurt terribly but also give .you a fever. You would die in the middle of horrible pain in my fruitful imagination.
While wandering, traveling, and guiding tours, I saw several creatures and insects in the rainforest that provoked chills in several people. Actually, the adventurer in me always found them quite interesting… Tarantulas, Fer de Lance, Eye Lash vipers, Bullet ants, and other beauties would make a stop, take a picture, and observe, sometimes for long periods. I like snakes, I like tarantulas… I really don’t mind Bullet Ants… But if I see a Chiquizá… I will run! As fast as possible, terrified!
It even happened to me once with a group of intrepid young dutch photographers. We had seen a couple of Fer de Lance vipers (One of the most aggressive and poisonous vipers in the World). I told them to take the picture above my shoulder as I knew, pretty much, the length of their jump if they felt disturbed. I was young and skinny, and they probably saw me as a Latin American Lara Croft… Later in the tour, we saw a “Chiquizá” flying towards the group while walking on a rainforest trail. I screamed irrationally and started to run up the track.
When we arrived at the nearby restaurant, their urgent question was, “What was it that terrified you so?” I felt so embarrassed when answering… “Ahmmm… a tarantula wasp!”. “A wasp?” “It is big and terrible… and… they are deadly!”… “Deadly?!”….. “Well! Not deadly… but their sting causes a lot of pain!”
It happened to me once, with a group of intrepid young dutch photographers, that we saw a couple of Fer de Lance vipers (One of the most aggressive and poisonous vipers in the World). I told them to take the picture above my shoulder as I knew, pretty much, the length of their jump if they felt disturbed. Later in the tour, we saw a “Chiquizá” flying towards the group while walking on a rainforest trail. I screamed irrationally and started to run up the track. I was young and skinny, and they probably saw me as a Latin American Lara Croft…
My embarrassment receded when I heard about the actual pain index for stings from bugs by the entomologist Justin O. Schmidt that created this index that seeks to rank the painfulness of dozens of Hymenoptera stings across a four-point spectrum.
And it happens that the infamous tarantula hawks are among the ten most painful stings in the World… But even more than that, it happens to be that Costa Rica holds in its gorgeous rainforest the most painful of them all: The Bullet Ant!
So… Is This Paradise, After All?
Well yes! You just have to know a couple of tricks around the rainforest!
First of all, my Nanny Elena was not right exactly. The Tarantula Hawks are not hunting anyone down! They are quite easy and mellow, even if their sting hurts a lot (Or so I’ve read… I’ve never known anyone stung by one… And of course, I never was!). They are not aggressive; between feeding or fighting, they will always flee. Also, you can find more information about Costa Rica insects here!
The most painful is not hunting anyone either! The bullet ants live in trees in the rainforest. And usually, you see them wandering on the barks of trees, either climbing up or coming down. And that is what you really have to know!
The most important instruction I always gave to my passengers was, “Watch before putting your hand anywhere!”.
Colonies consist of several hundred individuals and are usually situated at the bases of trees. And they go up the trees to forage with nectar and small bugs. They are extremely common, and they have been places where they’ve found four ant nests in one hectare… so! Just be careful and watch where you are putting your hand. Especially when talking about large trees with buttresses.
And if you come with children into the forest, try never to let their hands loose. Ask about Nannys in the hotels. The tutoring system we can provide for families (Together with a tour guide, another person will come with the family group simply to babysit and entertain the children).
To wrap it up, let me say that no… They are not after humans! Not the vipers, not the bullet ants, not even my dreadful friend, the tarantula hawk! We are big animals, and we ARE predators! If they have to choose, they will always run away from you, and it is only until they feel trapped and in danger that they may attack. All you have to do is to be careful, see where you put your foot, see where you put your hands, and that’s it…
If it worked for me throughout my almost 25 years in the rainforests*, why wouldn’t it work for you?
*I was a naturalist tour guide for almost twenty-five years throughout Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama forests. Not once was I stung by a bullet ant or a tarantula hawk or bit by a snake. The worst that ever happened to me, several times, yes, was to put my foot over fire ants and suffer them… But that’s ok!
Written by Olga Sáenz-Carbonell for Camino Travel.