Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera)

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Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera). Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

One of the most emblematic Andean birds is the Sword-billed Hummingbird, Ensifera ensifera. We have them in most of our reserves, but they are elusive and hard to photograph when we are hiking around. A few days ago, however, one of these wonderful birds landed in front of my kitchen window and stayed long enough for me to get my camera, so I finally got a picture of it. This species has co-evolved with several species of cloud forest plants with long tubular flowers; this hummingbird is the only organism able to pollinate these plant species. This particular individual may have been attracted to two of these co-evolved species, Passiflora mixta and Passiflora tarminiana, which both grow wild around my house (though this hummingbird is also perfectly able to feed from regular flowers too).

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Passiflora tarminiana. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Passiflora mixta (“Taxo”). Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A large hummingbird like this needs lots of nectar for fuel, and each of the flower species that have co-evolved with this hummingbird have large nectaries loaded with sweet liquid.  Below I’ve made cross-sections of both these passionflower species, so you can see the nectar chambers at the base of the tubes:

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Left: P. tarminiana; right, P. mixta. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

All that nectar is a big temptation of other species too. Since  other species don’t have tongues long enough to reach the nectar, they have to rob the nectar by breaking into the nectaries, drilling or biting holes in the back of the flower. Nectar -robbing doesn’t pollinate the flower, so the robbed nectar is wasted as far as the plant is concerned. Flower variations that happen to be more resistant to robbers will have more nectar to offer the Sword-billed Hummingbird,  and will therefore get visited more often by it, and  will get pollinated more often and leave more descendants. Thus natural selection will eventually lead to flowers whose backsides are somewhat protected against robbers. The thickened “armored” walls of the nectaries are visible in the above cross-sections.

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The base of this passionflower has been pierced multiple times by nectar robbers, probably flowerpiercers. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Still, some robbers get through. Several entire genera of nectar-robbing birds have evolved to take advantage of this resource. The most dedicated thieves are the eighteen bird species belonging to the genus Diglossa, the Flower-piercers. They often have sharp hooks on their bill tips to rip holes in the backs of flowers. Some of the species that rob these particular passionflowers are the White-sided Flower-piercer, the Masked Flower-piercer, and the Glossy Flower-piercer. Many short-billed hummingbirds also drill holes in the backs of the flowers, or use the holes made by flower-piercers. Bees also rob the nectar by biting holes in the back of the flowers, and butterflies steal their share by visiting the holes made by all these other thieves. Some passionflower species put tiny nectaries on the backs of their flowers to attract ants and wasps, which might deter some of these thieves.

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Black Flowerpiercer feeding on Fuchsia. Photo courtesy Roger Ahlman.

The Slater Museum of Natural History of the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington kindly gave me permission to show their scan of the skeleton of this bird, surely one of the weirdest of all vertebrate skeletons. Note the huge keel of the breastbone (sternum), where the powerful wing muscles are attached in the living bird. Note also the bony base of the enormous tongue circling underneath and behind the head, and the little feet pointing backwards:

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Sword-billed Hummingbird skeleton, scan courtesy of the Slater Museum of  Natural History.

The Sword-billed Hummingbird occurs in most of our Banos-area EcoMinga reserves, at elevations from about 2000m to 3400m: Cerro Candelaria Reserve, Viscaya Reserve, Naturetrek Reserve, Rio Verde Reserve, Rio Zunac Reserve, Rio Machay Reserve, and Chamana Reserve. Our lowland Rio Anzu Reserve is too low for it.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

Glowing Puffleg (Eriocnemis vestita)

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Glowing Puffleg (Eriocnemis vestita). Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

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Glowing Pufflegs frequently cling to flowers with their feet instead of hovering while they feed. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A common shrub in the family Ericaceae (the cranberry and blueberry family) is in bloom right now, attracting many species of hummingbirds in our middle-elevation reserves. The most faithful visitor to this bush right now is the Glowing Puffleg, Eriocnemis vestita, a common hummingbird at elevations from around 2100m up to the treeline in the eastern and southwestern Andes of Ecuador. It has white leg puffs, a bright green rump and belly, and purple vent. Like many high-elevation birds, this species is oblivious to humans. One of these even joined me in my outdoor shower once, landing at my feet while I washed. The photos in this post were taken today while the bird was about 2m away, sometimes even closer. I made no attempt to hide, and moved around with it.  It is a nice feeling when a wild creature does not treat a human as a threat!

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Glowing Puffleg. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

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Glowing Puffleg at my feet, directly beneath me. It doesn’t care. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

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Glowing Puffleg taking off less than a meter from me. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

 

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation

 

 

Rainforest Trust’s Species Legacy auction program includes new Dracula Reserve frog, forest mouse, and orchid

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New Pristimantis frog. Photo: EcoMinga/Jordy Salazar.

Tomorrow, December 8, 2018, the Rainforest Trust will put up for auction the naming rights for a number of new species from around the world. The goal is to raise money for Rainforest Trust’s partners, such as EcoMinga, to permanently protect each of these species, and then name each new species after the donor who protects them, or after a person or thing that the donor designates.

Rainforest Trust describes the program as “A historic opportunity to name a species new to science and protect their habitat… Rainforest Trust is celebrating 30 years of conservation success with the largest ever public auction of species naming rights. The twelve newly discovered species pictured below need scientific recognition and we’re providing an exclusive opportunity to preserve your legacy through purchasing the naming rights. Or bid to give the ultimate gift to a loved one this holiday season! Proceeds from this auction go directly to the nature reserves in which these species live, so a bid for one of these species’ names is a chance to both save them from extinction and honor someone or something you care about.”

Rainforest Trust has included three species from the Dracula Reserve and its vicinity, including the most beautiful frog of the whole auction, and the only mammal, and the biggest orchid:

 

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New Pristimantis frog. Photo: Mario Yanez

Pristimantis sp. nov.  (blue eyes)

This stunning new frog with unusual blue to blue-gray eyes was featured in an earlier post. It was found after a long journey into one of the best foothill forests our herpetologist reserve manager, Juan Pablo Reyes, had ever seen in western Ecuador. This forest is adjacent to our current Dracula Reserve, and a target for future purchase, so Juan Pablo and Mario Yanez (INABIO) were charged with investigating it. On their first night in this magnificent forest, these experienced frog scientists quickly became aware of a series of strange unfamiliar frog songs, most of them coming from the canopy above their heads. (Like the best birdwatchers, good frog scientists know the calls of all the local frogs, and hunt for new species mostly by sound.) Searching for the sources of these calls with their flashlights, Juan Pablo and Mario finally located the eye reflections of one of the mystery frogs singing on an aroid leaf about 3.5 meters above  the ground. Juan Pablo climbed a neighboring trunk and was able to use a stick to knock off the leaf, which spun to the ground while the frog stuck firmly to its surface! The herpetologists caught it, and the moment they saw its blue eyes contrasting with the yellow body mottled with brown, they knew they had found a species new to science.

 

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New forest mouse. Photo: Jorge Brito

Chilomys sp. nov.

This little animal was first encountered during our initial Dracula Reserve expedition in 2015, with scientists from the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INABIO) and University of Basel (Switzerland) in search of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Jorge Brito from INABIO was the mammal expert. During the first week of the expedition very few animals were found, but among them were three small individuals in the small genus Chilomys (forest mice) that caught Jorge’s attention, since there were no reports of a Chilomys like this from the region. He could not identify them to species at that time, and listed them as “Chilomys sp.” in his report. No more individuals were found until a new expedition in 2016, when more were found in the highest part of the reserve. With these new individuals Jorge was able to judge the range of variation in the species’ traits. Another individual was collected in 2018 in one of the lower parts of the reserve, showing that this animal was in fact widely distributed throughout our Dracula Reserve mosaic, though most abundant in the highest parts.

Once all the individuals were studied, it became clear that these enigmatic mice were different from the other known species of Chilomys, showing that the region protected by the Dracula Reserve was not only special for plants and frogs but also for mammals.

 

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New Trevoria orchid. Photo: Luis Baquero

Trevoria sp. nov. (orchid)

This species discovery needed a lot of patience. The first known plant was found eight years ago in a remote part of what is now our Dracula Reserve, by orchidologist Luis Baquero and local resident Hector Yela, who is now our reserve guard. It did not have flowers so nothing could be concluded about it. Over the succeeding years several other plants were found in distant parts of the future Dracula Reserve, always without flowers. One of them was collected alive and kept in the Quito Botanical Garden, where it finally flowered for the first time this year. The flower has a strong odor of olive oil. Sadly the creation of our reserve did not happen in time to save the largest population of this species, but we have  managed to protect some of the other populations.

Please spread the word about this opportunity to support conservation and name a species. Remember, tomorrow is the day!

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

New species of Anolis lizard described from our Dracula Reserve

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The new Anolis lizard. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga

The deep, dry Rio Mira valley separates the montane forests protected by our Dracula Reserve from the montane forests further south (such as those protected by our Manduriacu Reserve). Evidently this Rio Mira valley has served as a barrier for many cloud forest organisms over evolutionary time, leading to the evolution of different sister species on each side. The endangered Andean toads Rhaebo olallai in Manduriacu and Rhaebo colomai in the Dracula Reserve may form such a species pair. A pair of still-undescribed forest mice, one in Manduriacu and the other in the Dracula Reserve, appear to be another instance of this phenomenon. EcoMinga’s Juan Pablo Reyes and his colleagues at the National Institute of Biodiversity (INABIO) have just added another example of this divergence, as they published a description of a new species of Anolis lizard from the Dracula Reserve that is the sister species of a common Anolis south of the Rio Mira. The article is published in ZooKeys.

 

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The Mira valley separates the new species, Anolis dracula, from its sister species A. aequatorialis. Map from the article.

This lizard is the most common Anolis of the area. Here is a comparison, from the article, of the new species and its closest relative, A. aequatorialis:

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Top: Anolis dracula. Bottom: A. aequatorialis. From the article.

The scientists who discovered this species were supported in this investigation by INABIO (National Institute for Biodiversity), SENECYT, UNAM (Mexico), the University of Basel Botanical Garden, and EcoMinga. We strongly believe that science should drive conservation, and we always encourage scientists to investigate our reserves. We provide logistical support and sometimes can also help fund studies. Such investigations help us understand the diversity we protect, and let us identify and prioritize new areas for conservation our conservation purchases.

We would like to thank recent donors who make these investigations and land purchases possible: World Land Trust, Rainforest Trust, Orchid Conservation Alliance, University of Basel Botanical Garden, Andean Studies Program, Fundacion Condor, and individuals including Henri Botter and Ardy Van Ooij, Judith Rapacz, Mark Wilson, Vera Lee Rao, and Vicki Byrd.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

Fundacion EcoMinga admitted to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature

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Last week our foundation was accepted as a member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one of the world’s most prominent global conservation organizations. We are happy to join this network of several hundred government agencies and 1100 conservation NGOs. The most visible product of this network is the authoritative global Red List of threatened and endangered species:

http://www.iucnredlist.org/

This is a well-curated list of threat levels for species all over the world; many of our species are on the list, though many more are listed as “Data Deficient” because they have not been evaluated yet.

We are pleased to be a member of this network, and we thank the Rainforest Trust for inviting  us to join and for paying this year’s membership fee.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga