Rare lizard found this week in the Viscaya unit of our Naturetrek Reserves

P1030113

Riama meleagris in our Natretrek/Viscaya Reserve. Note the iridescence on the scales. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

A few days ago our reserve manager, herpetologist Juan Pablo Reyes, was working with community members in our Naturetrek/Viscaya Reserve a few kilometers north of the town of Banos (Tungurahua province) when he accidentally encountered a lizard he had never seen before. It proved to be Riama meleagris, a species that has  previously been recorded from only two other sites, both in Tungurahua province. Both those other localities are now now highly disturbed, and the species is classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN. Our reserve is the only protected area where this species has been found; it is good to know that it will be protected from deforestation here at least.

P1030012

Rialma meleagris in our reserve. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

P1030047

The former landowner, Jorge Peña, and his family, who now help us care for the reserve. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

 

Incredible frog discoveries in our Dracula Reserve

P1010051

A potentially new species, a blue-eyed Pristimantis! Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

A few weeks ago our executive director Javier Robayo and our ranger Hector Yela organized an expedition to investigate the poorly known amphibians, reptiles, and mammals in an area we are trying to purchase for our Dracula Reserve expansion, in the province of Carchi in Ecuador. Trips into unexplored territory are always exciting, especially when the exploration is done by a team of experts who are famous for finding new or unusual creatures. Besides Javier and Hector, this expedition included Mario Yanez, Glenda Pozo, and Jorge Brito, from Ecuador’s Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, herpetologist Juan Pablo Reyes who is also our reserve manager, Tito Recalde and Jordy Salazar, who are two of EcoMinga’s Banos-area rangers, and several brothers of Hector: Elias, Rigoberto and Rodolfo, who helped prepare trails and keep the expedition supplied with food.  The mission was supported by the University of Basel Botanical Garden.

The excitement in Juan Pablo’s voice was palpable when he called me as soon as he had reached cell phone coverage at the end of the expedition. He reported not just one but at least three exciting discoveries! The most amazing was an apparently new species of frog that was yellow with blue eyes!!!!  It belongs to the huge genus Pristimantis. None of the herpetologists had ever seen anything like it. Still, it could be some rare color mutant, so its DNA will be analyzed by frog expert Santiago Ron to make sure it is new.

pridaffdegener

Blue-eyed Pristimantis. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Mario Yanez.

 

P1010065

Blue-eyed Pristimantis. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

In addition to this fancy frog, the expedition also discovered a new population of a fancy toad, Atelopus coynei, named by the late Ken Miyata for the famous evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne. The often-colorful Atelopus toads are disappearing throughout their range due to the invasive chytrid fungus.  This species too had disappeared from most of its former range, but was recently rediscovered by Andreas Kay about 15kms from this population. The species is listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered. Mario Yanez wrote “Otras localidades históricas con composiciones similares como Tandayapa o Río Baboso están severamente fragmentadas y han perdido las especies que hoy se mantienen en Carchi. [Este sector] mantiene composiciones taxónomicas y funcionales altamente diversas.” Translation: “Other historic localities with similar compositions, like Tandayapa or Rio Babosa, are severely fragmented and have lost the species which are still present today in Carchi. [This area] still maintains  highly diverse taxonomic and functional compositions.”

P1010068

Critically endangered Atelopus coynei from this newly discovered population. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

 

Atelopus coneyi1

Atelopus coynei from this population. Photo by Mario Yanez.

As if that wasn’t enough, the team also discovered a second population of Rhaebo colomai, a toad that had just recently been rediscovered in our Dracula Reserve by another team of herpetologists. Like Atelopus coynei, it is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.

Rhaebo colomai

Critically endangered Rhaebo colomai from this new population. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Mario Yanez.

Mario concludes: “Se ha registrado una comunidad de anfibios y reptiles taxónomica y funcionalmente completa. En menos de tres meses una segunda especie amenazada es registrada por la gestión Ecominga. Sobresale el hallazgo de especies endémicas y amenazadas de Bufonidos andinos sintópicos en el sector ….Potenciales nuevas especies evidencian que la comunidad de herpetofauna en la cuenca del Río Mira esta poco estudida y nada representada en el sistema nacional de áreas protegidas, al ser diferente a los sectores de Cotacachi – Cayapas, Mindo e Ilinizas. Es una gran oportunidad de hacer conservación efectiva.”

Translation: “We have observed a community of reptiles and amphibians that is taxonomically and functionally complete. In less than three months a second endangered species has been recorded thanks to the efforts of EcoMinga. The discovery multiple sympatric species of threatened Andean Bufonidae [toads] is striking. The presence of potential new species shows that the herpetofauna community in the Rio Mira watershed is poorly studied and not represented at all in national parks or other state protected areas, in contrast with the Cotocachi-Cayapas, Mindo, and Illinizas areas. This is a great opportunity for effective conservation.”

P1010107

Glass frog, Espadarana prosoblepon. Note the blue armpit flaps! Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

I’ve heard that the mammals found by the expedition were also very interesting, including new records for Ecuador, but I have not yet received the details. I’ll post about that when I know more.

P1010217

Happy frogs along the stream. Apparently another new species, but more work is needed; this species had been seen on an earlier expedition in our Dracula Reserve. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

We are currently raising money to buy land in this area, which is at elevations not represented in the existing units of our Dracula Reserve. You can help by donating to the Orchid Conservation Alliance. Please mention that the donation is for EcoMinga. They have already raised over $90000 in the last few months for this project, and the Rainforest Trust will match that donation. We hope to convince the Rainforest Trust to continue matching future donations; they will probably decide this in February.

P1010252

 Anolis purpurascens found during the expedition. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

Many thanks to our team of experts for their passion to investigate and save Ecuador’s biodiversity, and to the University of Basel who made this expedition possible.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

 

 

 

 

A “lost” toad rediscovered: We join the effort to protect Rhaebo olallai

Fig. 4. Andinophryne ollalai
Juvenile Rhaebo olallai, a “lost” amphibian recently rediscovered after a 43 year disappearance. Photo by one of the rediscoverers, Ryan Lynch.

In my last post I wrote about the amphibian experts who had secluded themselves in a remote cloud forest lodge, San Isidro, in order to work on updating the IUCN Red List status of 200 Ecuadorian frog species. They have finished their task, but the proposed threat categories for each species still need to be reviewed by other specialists. The categories assigned to each species will only become official after this review.

Nevertheless for some species, conservation can’t wait, and I will write a few posts here about some species that we believe are likely to be officially classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered, and which require urgent conservation action.

Andinophryne ollalai
Another view of Rhaebo olallai, the Tandayapa Andean Toad. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

One of the most dramatic frog conservation stories involves the Tanadayapa Andean Toad, Rhaebo (formerly Andinophryne) olallai. This species was first discovered in 1970 near the town of Tandayapa about 50 kms west of Quito, but then it disappeared. The area has become a very popular ecotourism destination and is often visited by scientists, so its disappearance from the area seems to be real and not the result of lack of searching. In fact the area was searched multiple times by trained herpetologists looking specifically for this toad, for a total of at least 150 hours of search effort, without success. Another Ecuadorian member of the genus, R. colomai, also disappeared shortly after its discovery, and the current IUCN Red List notes that R. colomai may be extinct.

In 2012 biologists Ryan Lynch and Sebastian Kohn (whose parents are EcoMinga board members) were surveying the forest of Manduriacu, 40 kms north of the site where R. olallai had been discovered forty-three years earlier. They were surprised to find an unusual fancy toad during their night walks, and immediately realized this was something special. Upon investigation they realized that they had rediscovered R olallai! And not just a few individuals. They eventually found large numbers of them, in all age categories. Their photos were the first ones ever published of live individuals. They also were the first humans to see the fancy color pattern of the juveniles, as shown in Ryan’s photos at the top of this post. As they mature they lose their pattern, as shown in the photo below. These dramatic color changes are not found in most other species of the genus.

Andinophryne ollalai
Adult Rhaebo olallai. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

The rediscovery was described in a scientific article, and also in article for the Amphibian Survival Alliance. The latter article explains the conservation situation of this toad:

Its scarcity earned the species a spot on the World’s “Lost Frogs” List by Conservation International. “This is a truly exciting and important rediscovery,” stated Dr. Robin Moore who launched the Global search for Lost Frogs, adding “In order to prioritize what and where to protect, it is imperative to know whether rare species such as this still exist. Hopefully this remarkable find will lead to some concrete conservation actions to ensure the species stays off the Lost Frogs List.”…

The article continues:

The region surrounding Manduriacu has received attention by conservationists in recent years due to the expansion of hydroelectric, mining, and logging activities, all of which could threaten the well-being and survival of unknown numbers of rare and endangered species such the Tandayapa Andean Toad in the region. “The last time we visited the property we encountered a freshly clear-cut plot of land less than a kilometer from the rediscovery site, which is home to the only currently known population of the species” stated Lynch, adding “so land preservation in the region can’t come quick enough.”

Santiago R. Ron from Museo de Zoología QCAZ, Universidad Católica del Ecuador, who oversees ongoing population studies of Andinophryne [Note added by LJ: that genus is now included in Rhaebo] in Ecuador stated “The discovery of the Tandayapa Andean Toad in Manduriyacu demonstrates that the forests have unique properties and, presumably, unique communities”, adding “so the study and conservation of this area should be considered a priority for both the Ecuadorian government and the international conservation community.” In addition to the Tandayapa Andean Toad, four threatened amphibian species have been recorded in Manduriacu…

Fig. 1. Manduriyacu Location
Map of Manduriacu.


The habitat of Rhaebo olallai in Manduriacu. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

One of the other threatened amphibian species of Manduriacu is the Darwin-Wallace Poison Dart Frog, Epipedobates darwinwallacei, recently described by Diego Cisneros-Heredia and EcoMinga director Mario Yanez. It is endemic to foothill forests just west of Quito, in Pichincha, Santo Domingo, and Cotopaxi provinces. Poison dart frogs are unusual among frogs for the care they give to their offspring; the adults sometimes carry their tadpoles on their backs to put them in new pools of water in the canopy, often bromeliad crowns. Females of some species visit these pools and lay infertile eggs in them to feed their offspring. The first photo below shows an adult carrying tadpoles.

Another rare and local endemic is Lepidoblepharis conolepis, restricted to Pichincha and Cotopaxi provinces:

Lepidoblepharis conolepis
Lepidoblepharis conolepis. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Some other reptiles and amphibians of Manduriacu, all from Ryan Lynch’s website:

Anolis gemmosus
Anolis gemmosus. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Anolis aequatorialis
Anolis aequatorialis. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Pristimantis muricatus
Pristimantis muricatus. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Diaphorolepis wagneri
Diaphorolepis wagneri. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Centrolene peristictum
Centrolene peristictum. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Espadarana prosoblepon
Espadarana prosoblepon. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Hyloscirtus cf. alytolylax
Hyloscirtus cf alytolylax. Note that this species is hiding under a leaf while calling, exactly like the Hyloscirtus I had photographed in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Pristimantis scolodiscus
Pristimantis scolodiscus. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Since this is the only known place in the world where the Tandayapa Andean Toad exists, and since other very rare species are also present there, clearly this threatened forest should be preserved. Sebastian Kohn has long been committed to conserving this forest, and he was able to buy several lots in the Manduriacu watershed where the toad lives. These lots total 969 acres and range in elevation from 1100 to 2100m. He enrolled these properties in the Ecuadorian government’s SocioBosque program, which pays the owner to conserve the forest. Sebastian uses all of the annual government payment to fund the salary of a permanent forest guard, who happens to also be the president of the local community.

Shortly after they rediscovered the toad, Ryan and Sebastian approached us for help in protecting this watershed, and we agreed. The Manduriacu lots protected by Sebastian are now under our control. Sebastian has turned them over to us to manage, and will give us all the money he receives from the SocioBosque program, to pay our costs for that management, so that there is no cost to us. In addition he has generously agreed to donate all of his land to EcoMinga when his SocioBosque contract ends. (We do not want him not to donate it to us now, because that would cut off the SocioBosque management money; the SocioBosque program applies only to individuals and communities, not to foundations.) So we are proud to announce that Manduriacu becomes EcoMinga’s newest reserve, with Sebastian’s original purchases as its core!

However, there is still a 325 acre property in the middle of this watershed that has not been bought. It splits our protected forest in half. EcoMinga has still not been able to find all the funding for this purchase. We have promises of about $10,000 but need another $63,000 for the lot. (We may be able to buy it with less money if we can find an entity that would match the donated funds; we have sometimes been able to do this in the past.) This property contains excellent primary forest and lots of wildlife, including big cats, peccaries, and much else. The highest parts, at 2000m elevation, have not yet been explored but should contain a very high diversity of Dracula orchid species (and these would mostly be different species from those in our Dracula Reserve, which is much farther north near the Colombian border). If there are any US readers who would like to help us with this purchase, the Orchid Conservation Alliance can accept donations and give tax deductions. Please specify that your donation should go to EcoMinga/Manduriacu, and also write me to let me know.

Note added July 28 2016: Something seems to be wrong with the Orchid Conservation Alliance Paypal button; it will be better to send a check directly to them and write an email to the president, Peter Tobias, with copy to me, advising him that the donation is for EcoMinga/Manduriacu:
Peter Tobias, President
Orchid Conservation Alliance
564 Arden Drive
Encinitas, CA 92024
USA
Thanks Jim Knight for bringing the problem to my attention.

The Manduriacu forest contains important mammals like the Brown-headed Spider Monkey, listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, and many other species. Below is a herd of Collared Peccaries (Pecari tajacu) eating its way through the Manduriacu undergrowth at night:

and a Brocket Deer (Mazama species):

And here is a potential predator of the peccaries and deer, a Puma (Felis concolor):

There is also evidence that jaguars use the forest, including this camera-trap photo:

Apparently a Jaguar (Panthera onca) passing close to Sebastian's camera trap in Manduriacu.

Apparently a Jaguar (Panthera onca) passing close to Sebastian’s camera trap in Manduriacu.

But the weirdest animal of all is the Pacarana (Dinomys branickii), which will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.

For more inspiration see all of Ryan Lynch’s beautiful photos of the reptiles and amphibians of Manduriacu Reserve:
http://ryanlynch.zenfolio.com/manduriacu

More info on Ecuador’s amphibians:
Amphibians of Ecuador, Universidad Catolica de Quito: http://zoologia.puce.edu.ec/Vertebrados/Anfibios/AnfibiosEcuador/Default.aspx

Lou Jost
Fundacion EcoMinga

Recently-described snake shows up in my bedroom

In 2008 a team of Ecuadorian and international herpetologists stopped to eat at Dona Marcia Pacheco’s roadside grilled-chicken restaurant in southeast Ecuador. The ever-vigilant herpetologists noticed a strange banded snake in a jar of alcohol in the restaurant. It was a distinctive species that none of them had ever seen before. Their scientific article explains: “After negotiating with the owner of the restaurant, the specimen was acquired and later determined to be a species of Siphlophis. However, it could not be keyed out to any known species. During a second joint herpetofaunal survey by the MECN [Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales] and the ARDRC-UTA [University of Texas- Arlington] of the upper Pastaza River drainage in March 2008, a second specimen was found alive at El Topo, in the province of Tungurahua.” El Topo is the community at the entrance to our Rio Zunac Reserve.

Siphlophis ayauma. Photo: Omar Torres-Carvajal, FaunaWebEcuador, bajo licencia CC (BY-NC 3.0).

Siphlophis ayauma. Photo: Omar Torres-Carvajal, FaunaWebEcuador, bajo licencia CC (BY-NC 3.0).

The species was published scientifically in 2014 and named Siphlophus ayauma. A few examples were later found in other places, always in the eastern Andes of the provinces of Tungurahua, Morona-Santiago, and Zamora in southeast Ecuador. Our herpetologist and reserve manager, Juan Pablo Reyes, sent me the article and said that this species might even occur where I live, above Banos in Tungurahua province.

A few evenings ago when I entered my bedroom I saw a long slender snake slowly moving on the floor. Since it looked vaguely like a coral snake, I was cautious, and carefully caught it without touching it. I put it in a plant pot to photograph, and sent the photos to Juan Pablo. He told me that it was in fact this newly-described Siphlophis ayauma!! Quite an exciting thing to find in my house…

Siphlophis ayauma, a recently-described species endemic to the eastern Andes of southeast Ecuador. This is the individual I captured in my bedroom. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Siphlophis ayauma, a recently-described species endemic to the eastern Andes of southeast Ecuador. This is the individual I captured in my bedroom. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

References

Coleman M. Sheehy III, Mario H. Yánez-Muñoz, Jorge H. Valencia, Eric N. Smith (2014). A New Species of Siphlophis (Serpentes: Dipsadidae: Xenodontinae) from the Eastern Andean Slopes of Ecuador. South American Journal of Herpetology 9: 30-45.

Lou Jost

Undergraduate student projects in our reserves: Alex Bentley studying the pit viper Bothrocophias micropthalmus


Every semester for many years, we have hosted undergraduate students doing independent study projects for a study-abroad program run by the School for International Training in Quito. This year we had six students, each doing independent study projects lasting about two weeks. They are assisted in the field by our reserve guards Santiago, Luis, Fausto, and Jesus Recalde, and they usually stay with families in the commmunities around our reserves. It is a nice way to integrate the reserves with the surrounding communities. Students really enjoy the experience, and their studies are often useful to us for conservation planning. Sometimes they even discover new things!

This semester’s students are finishing up their reports now. I will post excerpts from a few of the more photogenic projects here in the following weeks (and I hope to go back and write about some of the nice projects of past students as well, as time permits).

Alex Bentley is intensely interested in herpetology, so he chose to study our impressive pit viper, Bothrocophias micropthalmus. I’ve written about this snake previously here, here, and here. Alex told me that as he looked for internet data on this snake, my blog posts were almost the only field observations he could find. So clearly there was a need to do more.

Alex spent his time in the Rio Anzu area, where we have a reserve at 1100m-1200m. He stayed much of the time at a nearby Rio Anzu reserve, Sumak Causay, which has a cooperative agreement with us. He found plenty of Bothrocophias in his two weeks. I’ll wait for his paper to write more about his actual study, but for now I just want to put up some of his beautiful photos of our area’s reptiles and amphibians.

Today will be Lizard Day.

Enyalioides praestabilis near the Rio Anzu. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

Enyalioides praestabilis near the Rio Anzu. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.


Enyalioides praestabilis again. Photo: Alex Bentley.

Enyalioides praestabilis again. Photo: Alex Bentley.


Lizard near Rio Anzu. Photo: Alex Bentley.

Lizard near Rio Anzu. Photo: Alex Bentley.


Closer view of the previous lizard. Photo: Alex Bentley.

Closer view of the previous lizard. Photo: Alex Bentley.


Sleeping lizard near Rio Anzu. Photo: Alex Bentley.

Sleeping lizard near Rio Anzu. Photo: Alex Bentley.


Potamites ecleopus near the Rio Anzu. Photo: Alex Bentley.

Potamites ecleopus near the Rio Anzu. Photo: Alex Bentley.