Noblella is a small genus of frogs that is active during the day, unlike most neotropical cloud forest frogs which must be searched for at night. The genus is primarily Andean but has a few representatives in the Amazon basin as well. Our new Noblella species was first found by our “Keepers of the Wild”reserve warden Fausto Recalde in the Viscaya Unit of EcoMinga’s Naturetrek Reserve (see map). Further field research by our reserve manager Juan Pablo Reyes and his colleagues, and by Mindee Gudrum, a student at theSchool for International Training, turned up more individuals, which provided a more complete picture of the species’ range of variation. Molecular work by Santiago Ron of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador confirmed that it was new and in fact was one of the most phylogenetically distinctive species of Noblella. (The molecular study included almost all known Noblella species and many of their closest relatives; the resulting phylogeny revealed that the genus Noblella as currently recognized is really a mixture of two different lineages, and should be split up, but that is a story for another day.)
Noblella naturetrekii was named after the UK nature tour company, Naturetrek. Before EcoMinga existed, I had helped Naturetrek set up their Ecuadorian plant tours, and I guided the first ones. I was impressed by the level of knowledge of their tour participants. Naturetrek and its CEO David Mills was a strong supporter of the World Land Trust‘s worldwide conservation efforts, and after my friends and I founded EcoMinga, WLT reconnected us with Naturetrek. Since 2009 Naturetrek has given more tha $400000 to WLT for us, and with those funds we have built two “Naturetrek Reserve” units in the upper Rio Pastaza watershed, encompassing more than a thousand acres, to protect strategic and highly threatened Andean cloud forests. The main Naturetrek Reserve unit fills the gap between our Cerro Candelaria Reserve and our Machay Reserve, forming a critical link in our Llanganates-Sangay biological corridor between the two national parks in our area. The second unit, which we call the “Naturetrek-Viscaya Unit,” protects the lower slopes of the mountain range above the settlement of Viscaya. The new Noblella has now been found in both of these units. An additional population was discovered just outside the Naturetrek-Viscaya Unit, but this population was destroyed by deforestation and road-building just a few months after its discovery.
Our Banos-area reserves, with the properties of the Naturetrek units outlined in yellow (thin yellow lines are still in process of purchase), other units in red, and national parks in green. Click to enlarge.
This is not the only special species found in the Naturetrek Reserves. We have also found another new species of frog there, currently being described, and in the Naturetrek Viscaya Unit we have also found a new species of lizard, which is quite surprising. There are also many special plants in both units, including our recently described Blakea attenboroughii in the main Naturetrek Reserve Unit. I am sure there will be more new species from these reserves, because they have been carefully selected to protect unusual microhabitats.
David Mills and Naturetrek’s support for our work is ongoing, and Naturetrek will be helping us enlarge the area we protect. It is a model company in its support for nature, and deserves all the recognition it can get for this. Naturetrek has just been nominated ‘Best Safari, Wildlife & Nature Holiday Company’ in the prestigious British Travel Awards. Currently they’re in second place in the voting, and they’d greatly appreciate our readers’ support. Click here to vote:https://www.britishtravelawards.com/btaform.php?nomLink=117 They deserve it!
Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga
Cutín Noblella de Naturetrek (Noblella naturetrekii), una nueva rana de nuestra Reserva Naturetrek
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano Flores
**IMG 01**- Conoce a Noblella naturetrekii, una nueva especie de rana de nuestro mosaico Reserva Naturetrek. Fotografía: Juan Pablo Reyes/Ecominga.
Noblella es un pequeño género de ranas que está activa durante el día, a diferencia de muchas ranas de bosques nublados neotropicales que pueden encontrarse por la noche. El género es principalmente Andino, pero también tiene algunos representantes en la cuenca amazónica. Nuestra nueva especie Noblella fue encontrada primero por nuestro guardia de la reserva “Guardianes de la Naturaleza”, Fausto Recalde, en la Unidad Viscaya de la Reserva Naturetrek de EcoMinga (Ver el mapa). La investigación de campo adicional llevada a cabo por nuestro gerente Juan Pablo Reyes y sus colegas, y por Mindee Gudrum, un estudiante de School for International Training, permitió la observación de más individuos, los cuales brindaron una imagen más completa del rango de variación de la especie. La investigación molecular llevada a cabo por Santiago Ron de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, confirmó que era una especie nueva y que, en efecto, era una de las especies filogenéticas más distintivas de Noblella (El estudio molecular incluyó casi todas las especies conocidas de Noblella y muchos de sus parientes cercanos; la filogenia resultante reveló que el género Noblella, como se reconoce actualmente, es en realidad una mezcla de 2 linajes diferentes, y debería dividirse, pero esa es una hisotira para otro día).
Noblella naturetrekii lleva el nombre de la compañía de turismo natural de Reino Unido (UK), Naturetrek. Antes de la existencia de EcoMinga, ayudé a Naturetrek a preparar y guiar sus primeros recorridos de plantas ecuatorianas **Recorridos botánicos ecuatorianos/Visita a la planta ecuatoriana**. Estuve impresionado por el nivel de conocimiento de los participantes de tour. Naturetrek y su CEO David Mills fueron un fuerte soporte de los esfuerzos de conservación de World Land Trust, y luego de que mis amigos y yo fundaramos EcoMinga, WLT nos reconectó con Naturetrek. Desde 2009, Naturetrek ha donado más de $400 000 a WLT para nosotros, y con estos fondos hemos construido dos unidades de “Reservas Naturetrek” en la cuenca alta del Río Pastaza, abarcando más de mil acres (4.05 km2), para proteger los bosques nublados andinos estratégicos y altamente amenazados. La unidad principal de la Reserva Naturetrek llena el vacío entre nuestra Reserva Cerro Candelaria y nuestra Reserva Machay, formando un vínculo crítico en nuestro corredor biológico Llanganates-Sangay entre los dos parques nacionales en nuestra área. La segunda unidad, a la cual llamamos “Unidad Naturetrek-Viscaya”, protege las laderas más bajas de la cordillera sobre el asentamiento de Viscaya. La nueva Noblella ahora se ha encontrado en ambas unidades. Se descubrió una población adicional en las afueras de la Unidad Naturetrek-Viscaya”, pero esta fue destruida por la deforestación y la construcción de una carretera justo pocos meses después de su descubrimiento.
**IMG 02** – Nuestras reservas en el área de Baños, con las propiedades de las unidades Naturetrek delineadas en amarillo (Líneas amarillas finas todavía están en proceso de compra), otras unidades en rojo, y parques nacionales en verde. Click para agrandar.
Esta no es la unica especie especial encontrada en las Reservas Naturetrek. También hemos encontrado otra nueva especie de rana aquí, la cual actualmente se encuentra siendo descrita, y en la Unidad Naturetrek-Viscaya hemos encontrado nuevas especies de lagartijas, lo cual es bastante sorprendente. También hay muchas especies de plantas en ambas unidades, incluyenbdo nuestra recientemente descrito Blakea attenboroughii en la unidad principal de la Reserva Naturetrek. Estoy seguro de que habrá nuevas especies de estas reservas, ya que han sido cuidadosamente seleccionadas para proteger microhábitats inusuales.
El apoyo de David Mills y Naturetrek continúa, y Naturetrek nos ayudará a ampliar el área que protegemos. Es una compañía modelo en su aporte a la naturaleza, y merece todo el reconocimiento que puede obtener por esto. Naturetrek ha sido nominado a “Mejor empresa de vacaciones de Safari, Vida Salvaje y Naturaleza” en el prestigioso British Travel Awards. Actualmente están en segundo lugar en las votaciones, y apreciarían bastante el apoyo de nuestros lectores. Click aquí para votar:https://www.britishtravelawards.com/btaform.php?nomLink=117 Lo merecen!
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).
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
White-lipped Peccaries in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.
[Traduccion a Espanol abajo]
My colleagues and I have been exploring what is now the Naturetrek and Cerro Candelaria Reserves for decades, and the El Placer community has been exploring it for a century. We thought we knew all the large mammal species that could be found there. But a few weeks ago our wardens were astonished to find a large herd of White-lipped Peccaries (Tayassu pecari) in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. These are very large and rowdy wild pigs, much larger than the more common Collared Peccary (Pecari tajacu). Collared Peccaries are known from cloud forests and paramos near Banos, but these White-lipped Peccaries are much more at home in Amazonian rainforests, and this new record from Cerro Candelaria Reserve is near the highest elevation ever recorded for the species.
White-lipped Peccaries in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. Video: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.
Subsequent interviews with the local people revealed that this herd had come through our Naturetrek Reserve from the foothill forests farther to the east, near Rio Negro and Cumanda, where biologists from the Universidad Estatal Amazonica (including our manager Juan Pablo Reyes) had earlier detected a population using camera traps.
These are challenging animals to conserve, because they range very widely. They tend to get into trouble with humans. This herd apparently destroyed a neighbor’s crop field in a single hour, and when the owner tried to chase them out, they reacted aggressively. In the Amazon they often travel in herds of 200 or more, and such herds have been known to kill even jaguars in defense of their young. I’ve occasionally had to climb trees to escape those Amazonian herds.
I’ve heard that fourteen of the pigs in this herd have been shot and eaten when they were off our reserve. This rate of attrition is not sustainable, but it will be very hard to control. The herd certainly won’t stay on our reserves, because we have very little area at low enough elevations. They may get themselves into trouble with humans, but on the other hand they may head deep into the jungle, far from hunters, returning only periodically.
A few years ago, in the lowland Amazonian rainforests of Peru, I filmed a herd of White-lipped Peccaries feeding at a clay salt lick:
White-lipped Peccaries in Peru. Video: Lou Jost
We have salt licks here in our reserves too. Maybe some day we will be treated to a sight like this here!
Mis colegas y yo hemos estado explorando lo que ahora son las Reservas Naturetrek y Cerro Candelaria por décadas, y la comunidad El Placer ha estado explorandola por un siglo. Pensamos que conocíamos todas las grandes especies de mamíferos que se podrían encontrar por aquí. Pero hace unas pocas semanas, nuestros guardias se sorprendieron al encontrar una gran piara de Pecaríes de Labio Blanco (Tayassu pecari) en nuestra Reserva Cerro Candelaria. Estos son cerdos salvajes muy grandes y ruidosos, mucho más grandes que el Pecarí de Collar (Pecari tajacu). Los pecaríes de collar son conocidos de los bosques nublados y páramos cerca de Baños, pero este Pecarí de Labio Blanco se encuentran mucho más en casa en las selvas amazónicas, y este registro de la Reserva Cerro Candelaria está cerca de las elevaciones más altas alguna vez registradas para la especie.
Entrevistas subsecuentes con la gente local reveló que esta piara ha venido de nuestra Reserva Naturetrek de los bosques de las estribaciones más al este, cerca de Rio Negro y Cumanda, donde los biólogos de la Universidad Estatal Amazónica (incluyendo nuestro gerente Juan Pablo Reyes) ha detectado tempranamente una población usando cámaras trampa.
Aquí hay animales desafiantes para conservar, porque varían mucho. Tienden a meterse en problemas con los humanos. Aparentemente, esta manada destruyó un campo de cultivo vecino en una hora, y cuando el dueño intentó expulsarlos, reaccionaron agresivamente. En el Amazonas a menudo viajan en manadas de 200 o más, y se sabe que tales manadas incluso matan jaguares en defensa de sus crías. De vez en cuando he tenido que trepar árboles para escapar a estas piaras Amazónicas.
He escuchado que 14 de los cerdos en esta piara han sido disparados y comidos cuanto estuvieron fuera de nuestra reserva. Esta tasa de deserción no es sustentable, pero será muy difícil de controlar. La piara ciertamente no permanecerá en nuestras reservas, porque tenemos muy poca área a elevaciones lo suficientemente bajas. Pueden meterse en problemas con los humanos, pero por otro lado, pueden adentrarse en la jungla, lejos de los cazadores, regresando solo periodicamente.
Hace unos pocos años, en las tierras bajas de la selva amazónica del Perú, filmé una piara de Pecaríes de Labio Blanco alimentandose con una sal de arcilla:
Tenemos sal de arcilla aquí en nuestra reserva también. Tal vez un día seremos tratados aquí con algo así.
Last week two of my brave family members from the US visited some of EcoMinga’s reserves with me. My sister Lorie Koessl and my brother Brad’s 17-year-old daughter Saige Jost are both nature-lovers and hikers, so they were perfect companions. Here are some of the things we saw in and around our reserves in six days of hiking.
Mammal encounters are rare here. Usually we only see them in our camera trap videos, or we find their tracks or scat. But on our visit to EcoMinga’s Rio Anzu Reserve in the Amazonian foothills, we were sitting on rocks along the river when we heard a strange call, not quite bird-like….a few seconds later two tayra (Eira barbara) appeared on the opposite bank, jumping from rock to rock. These are relatives of the wolverine and mink, fairly large muscular omnivores that are capable of killing large birds and mid-sized mammals. This was one of the best views I have ever had of them. They were not concerned by our presence. My sister had borrowed one of my cameras for the day and she managed to snap a few pictures of them as they went along.
Tayra (Eira barbara) on the limestone along the shore of the Rio Anzu. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Lorie Koessl.
Of course there were many invertebrates in the Rio Anzu Reserve. Here is a colorful grasshopper photographed by Saige on her cell phone:
Grasshopper. Photo: Saige Jost.
In our Rio Zunac Reserve, we encountered a couple of rodents. One especially cute individual had made a nest in an abandoned cabin that used to belong to our park ranger Fausto Recalde before we bought the land from him:
Albuja’s Climbing Rat (Rhipidomys albujai). Photo: Lorie Koessl.
Incredibly, this turned out to be a recently discovered new species of mammal, Albuja’s Climbing Rat (Rhipidomys albujai), that was only described a few months before our visit, by our friend Jorge Brito and coauthors:
From the Climbing Rat’s cabin Lorie spotted our magnificent pair of Black-and-chestnut Eagles, though they were too far away to photograph. This cabin is just below their former nesting site, but it seems they are not currently nesting there. Perhaps they are still caring for last year’s fledgling.
On a day hike to our Cerro Candelaria and Naturetrek Reserves, we were able to spend time watching the well-named Torrent Duck (Merganetta armata) feeding in a raging whitewater stream that would have quickly killed almost any other bird or mammal.
Female Torrent Duck resting on a rock in the rapids. Photo: Lorie Koessl.
This is a very distinctive duck appears not to be closely related to the familiar north temperate duck species, but its position in the tree of life is still uncertain.
On the day of the Torrent Duck sighting, our ranger Fausto Recalde brought his 5-year-old daughter Amy along. She was an excellent guide, who found several interesting things that we had not noticed. She was also very playful; she did this controlled falling trick about 20 times in succession, laughing all the while:
Amy Recalde playing.
A spider (genus Gasteracantha?) along the river of the Torrent Duck. Photo: Lorie Koessl.
A plant with irritating spines, Nasa (Loasaceae), along the river of the Torrent Duck.
Night hikes are always special in the tropics. We took a night hike during our three-day stay in EcoMinga’s Rio Zunac Reserve, and in the space of less than a half hour we saw a non-stop show of fascinating insects, arachnids, frogs, and sleeping lizards:
A tropical harvestman (“daddy longlegs” to US readers). Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lorie Koessl.
Frog at night. Photo: Lorie Koessl.
Sleeping lizard. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lorie Koessl.
Exuberant antennae. Photo: Lorie Koessl.
One of many variations on this theme seen during our night walk. Parobrimus sp. (could be Parobrimus horridus) according to a comment below by Yannick. Photo: Lorie Koessl.
There were neat invertebrates during the day too along the Rio Zunac. On our return home we saw these:
Walking stick. Male Oreophoetes sp (maybe a new species) according to Yannick in the comments below. Photo: Lorie Koessl.
A water bug. Photo: Lorie Koessl.
Saige plays with a millipede. Photo: Lorie Koessl.
Some of the invertrebates were less welcome. There was an eruption of biting horseflies in the Zunac Reserve that week, and here are some that we killed while they bit us during a quick dinner:
Dead horseflies killed as they tried to bite us during dinner. This is about a quarter of the total number we killed during that dinner; most were completely squished….Photo: Lou Jost.
On the same rock wall where we piled the dead horseflies, there was a fascinating construction of waxy tubes made by large black bees:
This is an open cell under construction. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.
This is a sealed cell with larva inside. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.
Lorie and Saige, thanks for your visit! It was fun to show you EcoMinga’s reserves!
Myself, Saige, and Lorie at the Pailon Del Diablo waterfall just below EcoMinga’s Naturetrek Reserve. Photo: unknown stranger.
Camera trap video of a Spectacled Bear eating a bull carcass near El Placer, Ecuador, next to our Machay and Naturetrek Reserves. The bear first sniffs the camera, then eats. Video set up by Juan Pablo Reyes and Santiago Recalde, EcoMinga.
It has been a while since we’ve posted here. Readers might imagine that this means there is not much news to report, but in fact the opposite is true. We have been so busy, with so much going on, that we have not had time to sit back and write about what we are doing. I have just returned from Taiwan to give a talk about the mathematics of biodiversity and to work on the textbook that Anne Chao and I are writing. I finally have a bit of time to sit and write, and that is what I will try to do for the next few days…
Before I write posts on some of the new things, I’ll finish the bear story that I had left hanging in my last posts (here and here).
As regular readers may recall, one or more Spectacled Bears near our Cerro Candelaria, Naturetrek, and Machay reserves had been eating the crops of the local people and apparently killing a few of their cattle. We brought in a bear expert, Andres Laguna, to talk to the local people and take appropriate action. A bull had just recently died (possibly killed by the bear) and this gave us the chance to film and trap the bear.
We succeeded in the filming the bear visiting the carcass during the day (above) and also at night (below).
Spectacled Bear at night munching on rotten bull meat near El Placer. Video set up by Juan Pablo Reyes and Santiago Recalde, EcoMinga.
This was our chance to trap the bear. Unfortunately Andres was not able to return to our area in time, in spite of our promises to the community. We don’t have enough experience to trap the bear ourselves, so in the end we missed the opportunity to do something about it. Fortunately we have not received any new reports of dead cattle, but bears are still eating our neighbors’ corn.
Now the same people who are losing their cattle and corn to bears are starting to lose their chickens to puma. Two puma have been spotted with some regularity in the area, and recently puma tracks were found very close to homes.
A puma caught by a camera trap in our reserve near El Placer. Credit: Karima Lopez.
Our conservation successes are negatively affecting the local people, and if this continues, they will certainly take matters into their own hands and kill the offending animals….I am not sure what the solutions are. One obvious thing we can do is pay compensation for confirmed losses. We are also trying to involve the community with the reserve, to make them proud of it and to find ways that they can benefit economically from it. Then they may be able to overlook the lost corn and chickens, though cattle are so valuable that no one can accept losing them.