Thursday, September 17, 2009

Day (and night) of the Goliaths!

male Goliath Beetle, Trinidad, 7/23/09

On one of our days in Trinidad the highlights fell not on birds, and the emphasis wasn't on digiscoping either... GASP! No on this day there was a unique treat in store, this was the day of the Goliaths!... (and an early birthday celebration).

female Goliath Beetle nearly filling my palm, Trinidad, 7/23/09

The morning started with some birding that was really great, but I won't dwell on that for now. Instead I'll talk about a personal treat, running into Goliath Beetles. The male at top (while cool looking) was unfortunately dead, but still photogenic I might add. The girl below though was an alive one I found on a chain link fence that I had to share with my friends.

positively prehistoric!

Below, Kim Kaufman finds the answer to one of nature's mysteries, "I wonder what would happen if I tried to get a picture of a Goliath Beetle on my shirt?!?..." also proving this was very much an alive Goliath Beetle. Sorry Kim, you didn't deserve it, but glad she waited to get off my hand! Perhaps it was something you said?!?.... ;p

Kim Kaufman displays her badge of honor left from the cool Goliath Beetle!
From the title you realize this adventure stretches into the night! One HUGE advantage of a summer visit to Trinidad over the typical fall & winter trips is the wondrous natural spectacle that occurs nightly on the beaches of Matura! Following our typical fabulous lunch and some mid afternoon veranda time back at the Asa Wright Nature Centre, we packed our evening picnic gear (complete with early birthday cake) and headed to the beaches. We enjoyed a hot picnic dinner prepared by the centre staff complete (naturally) with famed rum punch as the sun went down and soon the fun began.

Juie Zickefoose studies a young Leatherback Sea Turtle
We were treated to a spectacle that is rarely observed by most of us and indeed none in this group of esteemed world travelers had ever enjoyed this spectacle of nature before. Above Julie studies one of these diminutive creatures barely larger than the Goliath Beetle, as only an artist could!
the "Thopso-foose" couple in awe of these amazing creatures!

Of course it wasn't long before the curiosity just leads to pure joy that any naturalist would be sure to feel at a time like this. I think the faces say more than my words possibly could. Above Bill Thompson, III & Julie Zickefoose are clearly thankful to be able to assist in the research taking place. Below Kenn & Kim Kaufman are equally blown away!
Kenn & Kaufman study a rare close-up look of Leatherback Turtle hatchlings.

Despite the impression given by the photos, most of the time the beach is kept completely dark except for one or two dim red lights used by researchers. There are often many researchers and visiting guests on the beaches so young turtle hatchlings like these are sometimes collected and hand-delivered to the ocean so they are not accidentally trodden on. Guests donations and permit fees help to fund the project here and since its inception, the community has rallied behind the world class spectacle here. With the community support turtle nest poaching (once common) is now a thing of the past! Another example of how tourism has actually aided in preservation/conservation.
Julie takes advantage of a rare opportunity in nature!

Now these tiny swimmers hardly seem worthy of the title "Goliath" however, if they are one of the very few to beat the odds and live long enough to return to this beach to breed they will indeed be giants. The largest of the Sea Turtles, Leatherbacks typically reach over 1,000 pounds! On this night we were fortunate enough to not only see hatchings but we had multiple adults on the beach as well. At first we had two together, one did a "false crawl" where it came out of the water and did a short loop then returned not finding the precise spot it wanted. The second began digging but the sand in this spot was too soft and the sides kept collapsing. As I said, most of this is observed by whatever ambient light the moon & stars cast, and to some degree the dim red lights used by researchers. It was amazing to watch as an enormous dark shadowy form would de deposited by the black waters retreating from a wave crest. I was forunate enough to be staring toward the sea as one of these shadowed behemoths magically "appeared".

the crew enjoys the show!

At long last though this female found firm sand and was able to dig a hole she approved of to lay her eggs. It is only at this point that researchers will allow flashlights and photography in the short window as she lays her eggs. Apparently, in this semi-torpid state they are oblivious to the disturbance. It was a long day but an adventure and experience that none in our party will ever forget! Thank you again to Asa Wright Nature Centre, Caligo Ventures, and the team of dedicated researchers at Matura for allowing us to experience such an amazing and rare spectacle of nature so few have the opportunity to enjoy!


  1. What a blast to see this, Bouts. Thanks so much for these photos--especially the one of me and Bill diggin' the babies. Seeing you so much lately, we're spoiled--loved hanging with you in Lakeside, a-wee-mum-mum-awaaaaay.

  2. Amazing photos! Shane and I were freaked out by the humongous beetle. Better you than me! Your job rocks. I am jealous. But I know you pay your dues.

    Thanks for sharing.