Family visit

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.

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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.


Approach to Quito’s airport. Photo: Saige Jost.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga.

Remarkable mimicry

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Spider that mimics a frog in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

I’ve been away again, this time gone for almost three weeks with a great group of students from Stanford University led by Dr Margaret (Minx) Fuller. We spent most of our time in the Amazonian lowland rainforest, but I also took them to EcoMinga’s Rio Zunac and Rio Anzu Reserves. Throughout the trip we found amazing examples of mimicry. The most unusual mimic was this spider, which was found by students Dylan Moore and Natalia Espinoza on our Rio Zunac trip. At first they thought it was a frog. It holds its forelegs in a position reminiscent of the hind legs of a frog, and its abdomen mimics a frog head, complete with eyes. I imagine that small birds or insects that would catch a spider might not want to waste energy or risk their lives trying to catch a frog.This spider seems to be related to the famous “bird poop spiders” but I don’t really know. If an arachnologist reads this, perhaps he or she could add some information about this?


Above and below: Spider that mimics a frog in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.


Note added July 26 2017: Andreas Kay in nearby Puyo reports that he has also found this spider twice, and thinks it is in the genus Stephanopis; see his picture here:

It is always a pleasure to browse his site, Ecuador Megadiverso.

I found another exquisite mimic in our Rio Anzu Reserve the next day. This leaf-mimic katydid would have passed unnoticed except that when we walked past, it went into its hiding pose and moved its two antennae together so that they appeared as one. That motion caught my attention, but it still took me a minute to see the katydid.


A leaf-mimic katydid in our Rio Anzu Reserve. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The best way to see exotic katydids, grasshoppers, and crickets is to walk in the forest at night. Here are some others we found in the eastern lowlands on this trip.


Dead-leaf katydid in the Amazon. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMnga.



Grasshopper in the Amazon. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.



Amazonian nymph katydid. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMimnga.

Mimicry is not limited to insects and arachnids, though. Birds can can also disguise themselves. The hardest birds to spot in these forests are the potoos, which look like dead stubs on tree branches. When some species of potoo sense danger, they even lift their heads to point straight up, enhancing the illusion. They sit all day on their chosen perch, and only hunt at night, sallying for large flying insects. The females lay their single egg carefully balanced on the broken-off tip of a branch, and the baby grows up looking just like an extension of the branch.


Great Potoo. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.



Common Potoo. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Thanks for looking,

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation.

A new species of liverwort discovered in our Rio Anzu Reserve!


The bryophyte-covered limestone canyon of the Rio Anzu before the 2016 flood, which removed almost all of the vegetation. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.


[Traduccion en espanol abajo]

Mosses and liverworts, collectively known as “bryophytes”,  were the first plants to emerge from the oceans onto dry land, about 300 million years ago. Many of them are still closely tied to water. Some of the most interesting bryophytes are riverside specialists adapted to regular submergence. Most bryophyte species have very wide geographic distributions, even ranging across multiple continents, since their spores are small and easily blown in the wind. Most scientists would not expect much local endemism in such a group. However, as we have also seen in orchids (whose seeds are small and spore-like), habitat specialization can lead to local endemism even in the absence of dispersal limitations or barriers. So it always pays off to look closely at places that combine unique geological and ecological factors.

The great Scottish botanist Richard Spruce was the first bryologist to look closely at the mosses and liverworts in our upper Rio Pastaza watershed, on his epic twelve-year trip from the mouth of the Amazon to the Pacific Ocean.He lived in Banos for six months, discovering many new species of mosses, liverworts, ferns, and flowering plants. Before he reached Banos from the Amazon basin, he had to cross our Rio Zunac, and then the nearby Rio Topo. As often happens, though, hard rains made it difficult to cross the Rio Zunac. He and his group of indigenous helpers managed to make the crossing, but were then trapped between the Zunac and Topo rivers as both rose to dangerous levels. They were stuck there for three days, and nearly starved to death (they ate toads to stay alive). But a botanist is never bored in a new country. While he was stuck between these two rivers he discovered the strangest bryophyte of his whole Amazon-to-Pacific expedition, a riverside liverwort which he named Myriocolea irrorata. He wrote in his journal (later published as Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and  Andes, edited by the co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace) that it was “perhaps the most interesting bryophyte that I have ever found.”


Myriocolea (Colura) irrorata, a remarkable epiphytic liverwort with a very restricted geographic range. This was Richard Spruce’s favorite discovery of his whole Amazon-to-Pacific twelve-year trip in the mid eighteen-hundreds. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

No one ever saw this plant again in life until Dr Rob Gradstein, then of the University of Gottingen, and his student Noelle Noske came to Banos in 2002 to search for it. They asked me to join them. Rob, Noelle, and I tried to follow Spruce’s journal. We failed to find the plant on the first day, but during our second day of searching we found lots of plants on the Rio Topo. We were tremendously excited, especially Rob! However the rediscovery was followed shortly by the news that the Rio Topo would be the site of a small hydroelectric project, which the local people opposed. Myriocolea irrorata, which was classified by the IUCN as Critically Endangered, became the emblematic species of the struggle to stop the project, but the government eventually forced it through. [Phylogenetic studies recently showed that the very unusual morphology of Myriocolea irrorata was a recently-evolved feature, and that it was actually part of the large genus Colura. Recently a new population of this species was found on the Cordillera del Condor in southeast Ecuador, far from the original population.]


Protests against the Rio Topo hydroelectric project continued for years, partly to protect Myriocolea irrorata and the rest of the Rio Topo ecosystem. They ended when two hundred police in full riot gear forceably removed protestors who were blocking the access road. The police then escorted the first machines to the construction site. Screen shot from an amateur video.

Rob and I worked to have a bust of Richard Spruce erected here, and this became a reality in 2006, with the help of the Linnaean Society of London, Missouri Botanical Garden, the Birtish Embassy, Ghillean Prance, Raymond Stotler and Barbara Crandall-Stotler, and others. It was made by a local Banos artist, Edguin Barrera. Probably the only monument to a bryologist in all of South America!


Bust of Richard Spruce in Rio Verde, Canton Banos, Ecuador. Photo: Bryological Times/Rob Gradstein.


Dedication to the Spruce bust. From the Bryological Times.

On Rob’s visit to Banos in 2008, I took him to our Rio Anzu Reserve, to see if Myriocolea irrorata grew in the Rio Anzu. This is a limestone river with many interesting limestone-specialist plants. It was on these limestone cliffs that I had once found a new genus of orchid, which Gerardo Salazar and I named Quechua. On this trip Rob and I did not find any Myriocolea irrorata, but Rob did find another strange liverwort, in the genus Fossombronia, that he could not identify. Some Fossombronia (such as F. texana, found along the limestone streams of the Hill Country of central Texas) are limestone specialists (B. Crandall-Stotler, pers. com.), and this appears to be another. He collected it and began to work on its taxonomic placement. A few weeks ago, nine years later, he and his colleague Barbara Crandall-Stotler were finally confident that it was in fact a new species, still known only from the Rio Anzu. I was flattered to hear that they wanted to name it after me…


Rob Gradstein at the moment that he discovered the new Fossombronia in 2008. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.


In this 2008 photo the Fossombronia covered large areas of the rocks. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Last week, excited by this news, I went to the Rio Anzu to photograph “my” liverwort. The trip started out badly. A huge storm (said to have been a 50-year storm) had hit the area in December, washing out the aquatic park of the nearby city of Shell, and causing much flood damage. As I went up the entrance road to the Rio Anzu, , where once little forest streams quietly flowed, I saw deep bare newly-scoured canyons  filled with fallen tree trunks. The road itself eventually became impassable due to the flood damage, and I had to walk a long way to the trailhead. Inside the forest the damage continued, with big washouts and landslides. This did not bode well for the riverside vegetation I had come to see. Nevertheless there were beautiful flowers growing in the forest; I was briefly distracted by Heliconia aemygdiana and a species of Eucharis, a relative of the amaryllis.


Heliconia aemygdiana in the Rio Anzu understory. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.


Eucharis formosa(?), a large amaryllid which is common in the Rio Anzu forest. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

When I got to the rocky riverside where Rob had discovered the new Fossombronia, my worst fears were confirmed. There was almost nothing left of the thick moss layer that used to cover every surface. Most of the rocks looked and felt like they had been sandblasted, with fresh bare surfaces,  no organic material at all. The ladyslipper orchids (Phragmipedium pearcei) that were one of the highlights of this vegetation had been severely damaged, though many tattered plants still clung to the downstream sides of the rocks, held by their white newly-exposed roots.

Before the flood:


Before the 2016 flood. Lots of bryophytes on the limestone rocks. The bridge in the background was washed out by floods even before the 2016 flood. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

After the flood:


Bryophytes are almost gone after the 2016 flood. Many Phragmipedium plants still hang on, especially those clinging to the downstream side of the rocks. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Before the flood:


The mossy canyon of the Rio Anzu before the flood. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

After the flood:


After the 2016 flood, the rocks have been scraped clean by the river. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.


The rocks cleaned of bryophytes by the 2016 flood. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Some of the slightly sheltered pockets in the bare rocks still had traces of green moss. I desperately searched these for “my” Fossombronia. In nearly the same place as Rob’s initial discovery in 2008, I found what was left of them. It looked like the river stripped off all their leaves, but the bases of the plants were still alive and were vigorously resprouting! I shouldn’t have worried about them. This is, after all, the rough habitat they had evolved in for millions of years.


The new Fossombronia resprouting. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.


Larger plants of the new Fossombronia. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.


The new Fossombronia resprouting after the flood. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lou Jost/EcoMinga


¡Una nueva especie de hepática descubierta en nuestra Reserva Río Anzu!
IMG 01 – El cañón de piedra caliza cubierta de briófitas del Río Anzu antes de la inundación del 2016, la cual removió casi toda la vegetación. Haga click en la imagen para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost/ Fundación EcoMinga
Musgos y hepáticas, conocidas en conjunto como “briófitas”, fueron las primeras plantas que emergieron de los océanos hacia tierra firme, hace cerca de 300 millones de años. Muchas de ellas están todavía fuertemente vinculadas al agua. Algunos de los briófitos más interesantes son especialistas ribereños adaptados a la inmersión regular. La mayoría de las especies de briófitas tienen distribuciones geográficas muy amplias, incluso abarcando múltiples continentes, ya que sus esporas son pequeñas y fácilmente arrastradas por el viento. La mayoría de los científicos no esperarían mucho endemismo local en dicho grupo. Sin embargo, como también hemos visto en orquídeas (cuyas semillas son pequeñas y similares a las esporas), la especialización del hábitat puede conducir al endemismo local incluso en ausencia de limitaciones o barreras de dispersión. Así que siempre vale la pena observar de cerca en los lugares que combinen factores geológicos y ecológicos únicos.
El gran botánico escocés Richard Spruce fue el primer briólogo en mirar de cerca a los musgos y hepáticas en nuestra cuenca alta del Río Pastaza, en su épico viaje de 12 años desde la desembocadura del Amazonas hasta el Océano Pacífico. Vivió en Baños por seis meses, descubriendo muchas especies nuevas de musgos, hepáticas, helechos y plantas con flor. Antes de llegar a Baños desde la cuenca del Amazonas, tuvo que cruzar nuestro Río Zuñac, y luego el cercano Río Topo. Como a menudo suele suceder, las fuertes lluvias hicieron difícil cruzar el Río Zuñac. Él y su grupo de ayudantes indígenas arreglaron como hacer el cruce, pero luego quedaron atrapados entre los Ríos Zuñac y Topo, ya que ambos ríos alcanzaron niveles peligrosos. Estuvieron atascados por tres días, y cerca de morir del hambre (comieron sapos para mantenerse vivos). Pero un botánico nunca se aburre en un país nuevo. Mientras él estaba atascado entre estos dos ríos, descubrió el briófito más extraño de toda su expedición del Amazonas al Pacífico, una hepática rivereña a la cual nombró Myriocolea irrorata. Él escribió en su diario (después publicado como Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes, editado por el codescubridor de la teoría de la evolución por selección natural, Alfred Russel Wallace) que esta fue “tal vez la briófita más interesante que he encontrado alguna vez”.
IMG 02 – Myriocolea (Colura) irrorata, una notable hepática epífita con un rango geográfico restringido. Este fue el descubrimiento favorito de Richard Spruce de todo su viaje de doce años de la Amazonía al Pacífio a mediados de los mil ochocientos. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.
Nadie volvió a ver esta planta en la vida hasta que el Dr. Robert Gradstein, entonces de la Universidad de Gottingen, y su estudiante Noelle Noske vinieron a Baños en 2002 a buscarla. Ellos me solicitaron unirme. Rob, Noelle, y yo intentamos seguir el diario de Spruce. Fallamos al encontrar la planta en el primer día, pero durante el segundo día de búsqueda encontramos bastantes plantas en el Río Topo. Estábamos tremendamente emocionados ¡Especialmente Rob! Sin embargo el redescubrimiento fue seguido de cerca por las noticias de que el Rio Topo sería el lugar para un pequeño proyecto hidroeléctrico, al cual la población local se oponía. Myriocolea irrorata, que fue clasificada por la IUCN como En Peligro Crítico, se volvió una especie emblemática en la lucha para detener el proyecto, pero eventualmente el gobierno forzó su aprobación. [Estudios filogenéticos han mostrado últimamente que la morfología inusual de Myriocolea irrorata fue una característica evolutiva reciente, y que de hecho era parte del gran género Colura. Hace poco una nueva población de esta especie fue encontrada en la Cordillera del Cóndor en el sureste de Ecuador, lejos de la población original].
IMG 03- Las protestas en contra del proyecto hidroeléctrico Río Topo continuaron durante años, en parte para proteger Myriocolea irrorata y al resto del ecosistema del Río Topo. Terminaron cuando doscientos policías con todo el equipo antidisturbios removieron a la fuerza a los manifestantes que estaban bloqueando el camino de acceso. La policía entonces escoltó las primeras maquinarias al sitio de la construcción. Captura de pantalla de un video amateur.
Rob y yo trabajamos para erigir un busto de Richard Spruce aquí, y esto se hizo realidad en 2006, con ayuda de la Sociedad Linneana de Londres, el Missouri Botanical Garden, la embajada Británica, Ghillean Prance, Raymond Stotler y Barbara Crandall-Stotler, y otros. Fue hecho por un artista local de Baños, Edguin Barrera. ¡Probablemente el único monumento de un briólogo en toda sudamérica!
IMG 04 – Busto de Richard Spruce en Río Verde, Cantón Baños, Ecuador. Fotografía: Bryological Times/Rob Gradstein.
IMG 05 – Dedicatoria al busto de Spruce. De Bryological Times.
En la visita de Rob a Baños en 2008, lo llevé a nuestra Reserva Río Anzu, para ver si Myriocolea irrorata crecía en el Río Anzu. Este es un río de piedra caliza con muchas plantas interesantes especialistas para este tipo de piedra. Fue en estos acantilados de piedra caliza que encontré una vez un nuevo género de orquídea, a la cual Gerardo Salazar y yo nombramos Quechua. En este viaje, Rob y yo no encontramos ninguna Myriocolea irrorata, pero Rob encontró otra hepática rara, en el género Fossombronia, que él no pudo identificar. Algunas Fossombronia  (como por ejemplo F. texana, encontrada a lo largo de ríos de piedra caliza del Hill Country de Texas central) son especialistas para piedra caliza (B. Crandall-Stotler, comunicación personal), y esta especie parece ser otra. Él la colectó y comenzó a trabajar en su ubicación taxonómica. Unas pocas semanas atrás, nueve años después, él y su colega Barbara Crandall-Stotler finalmente estaban seguros de que, en efecto, era una nueva especie, conocida todavía solo para el Río Anzu. Yo estaba halagado de oír que ellos querían nombrarla por mi.
IMG 06 – Rob Gradstein al momento que descubrió la nueva Fossombronia en 2008. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.
IMG 07 – En esta foto de 2008 la Fossombronia cubría grandes áreas de las rocas. Haga click para agrandar la imagen. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.
La semana anterior, emocionado por estas noticias, fui a Rio Anzu para fotografiar “mi” hepática. El viaje empezó mal. Una fuerte tormenta (se dice que ha sido una tormenta de 50 años) azotó el área en Diciembre, arrasando el parque acuático en la cercana ciudad de Shell y causando muchos daños por inundaciones. A medida que subía por el camino de entrada al Río Anzu, donde una vez los pequeños arroyos del bosque fluían silenciosamente, vi cañones profundos recién descubiertos, llenos de troncos de árboles caídos. El camino por sí mismo eventualmente se volvió infranqueable debido al daño de la inundación, y tuve que caminar un largo trecho hasta el comienzo de un sendero. Dentro del bosque, el daño continuaba, con grandes lavados y deslizamientos de tierra. Esto no fue un buen augurio para la vegetación ribereña que había venido a ver. Sin embargo, hubo hermosas flores creciendo en el bosque; yo fui brevemente distraído por Heliconia aemygdiana y una especie de Eucharis, un pariente de la amarilis.
IMG 08 – Heliconia aemygdiana en el sotobosque de Río Anzu. Haga click en la imagen para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.
IMG 09 – Eucharis formosa(?), una gran Amaryllidaceae que es común en el bosque del Río Anzu. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.
Cuando llegué a la orilla rocosa donde Rob redescubrió la nueva Fossombriona, mis peores miedos fueron confirmados. No quedaba casi nada de la gruesa capa de musgo que solía cubrir cada superficie. Muchas de las rocas se veían y sentían como si hubieran sido pulidas con arena, con superficies desnudas y frescas, sin material orgánico en absoluto. Las orquídeas ladyslipper (Phragmipedium pearcei) que fueron uno de los aspectos más destacados de esta vegetación habían sido severamente dañados, aunque muchas plantas andrajosas todavía se aferraban a los lados aguas abajo de las rocas, sostenidas por us raíces blancas recién expuestas.
Antes de la inundación:
IMG 10 – Antes de la inundación del 2016. Varias briófitas en las rocas de piedra caliza. El puente en el fondo fue lavado por las inundaciones incluso antes de la inundación del 2016. Haga click en la imagen para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.
Después de la inundación
IMG 11 – Las briófitas casi se fueron después de la inundación de 2016. Muchas plantas de Phragmipedium todavía se mantienen, especialmente aquellas que se aferran al lado de las rocas aguas abajo. Haga click en la imagen para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.
Antes de la inundación:
IMG 12 -El cañón del Río Anzu con musgo antes de la inundación. Haga click en la imagen para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.
Después de la inundación:
IMG 13 – Después de la inundación de 2016, las rocas han sido raspadas limpiamente por el río. Haga click en la imagen para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.
IMG 14 – Las rocas libres de briófitas por la inundación de 2016. Haga click en la imagen para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.
Algunas de los agujeros que actúan como pequeños refugios en las rocas desnudas todavía tenían rastro de musgo verde. Desesperadamente busqué en estos por “mi” Fossombronia. Cerca del lugar del descubrimiento inicial de Rob en 2008, encontré lo que quedaba de ellos. Parecía que el río los había despojado de todas sus hojas, ¡Pero las bases de las plantas seguían vivas y estaban rebrotando vigorosamente! No debería haberme preocupado por ellos. Este es, después de todo, el hábitat áspero en el que han evolucionado por millones de años.
IMG 15 – El nuevo rebrote de Fossombronia. Haga click en la imagen para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.
IMG 16 – Plantas más grandes de Fossombronia. Haga click en la imagen para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.
IMG 17 – El nuevo Fossombronia rebrotando después de la inundación. Haga click en la imagen para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.
Lou Jost / EcoMinga
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano Flores

Frog fanciness


Pristimantis katoptroides in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Fausto Recalde/EcoMinga.

A recent trip to the Rio Zunac Reserve turned up some beautiful frogs in the genus Pristimantis. This is the largest genus of vertebrates, and its local diversity in our area is staggering. Most of them seem nondescript at first glance, but many of them have bright species-specific “flash colors” on their sides, bellies, or inner thighs. This lovely P. katoptroides photographed  by our forest guard Fausto Recalde is an example. Its inner thighs are an intense indigo blue:


Pristimantis katoptroides in our Rio Zunac Reserve showing blue flash pattern. Photo Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

Here is another Pristimantis found on an earlier trip to the forests adjacent to the reserve, which we are raising money to purchase. This one has dramatic yellow stripes on its inner thighs and sides . Juan Pablo says that this is almost certainly a new species!


Possible new species of Pristimantis in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

The eyes can also be very colorful, as in this Pristimantis eriphus found on the same trip as the P. katoptroides:


Pristimantis eriphus in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

This is probably the same species, from our Cerro Candelaria Reserve:


Pristimantis eriphus? [Edit 10 Dec 2016: Juan Pablo tells me that this is actually a new frog currently being described] in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. Photo: Alejandro Arteaga/TropicalHerping

Here’s Pristimantis galdi from the Rio Zunac Reserve with green eyes:


Pristimantis galdi in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Javier Aznar/TropicalHerping.

Here’s a Pristimantis lacrimosus with copper eyes:


Pristimantis lacrimosus from our Rio Anzu Reserve. Photo: Alejandro Arteaga/TropicalHerping.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation.

Ladyslippers 2: Conservation


Phragmipedium fischeri, one of the most endangered plants in Ecuador. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

As I mentioned in a recent post, ladyslippers as a group are the most endangered of all orchids. More than 37% of the world’s critically endangered orchid species are slipper orchids,  even though they make up less than 2% of orchid species worldwide. Our EcoMinga reserves are fortunate to host at least six slipper orchids in the genus Phragmipedium. Some of these are among the most critically endangered orchids in the world.


Phragmipedium lindenii near Banos. Photo: Lou Jost.

The most common of our slipper orchids is the one species that doesn’t have a slipper, Phragmipedium lindenii. It grows in drier habitats in some of our Banos-area reserves. A fortunate mutation in the distant past changed the symmetry of the flower, so that instead of two normal petals and a slipper, it has three normal petals. In slipper orchids there is an anther above each normal petal, and in this mutation the third petal also has an anther, which grows straight into the stigma, always fertilizing the flower.


Phragmipedium pearcei in our Rio Anzu Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost.

Our Phragmipedium pearcei is another widespread slipper orchid. In remote places where people do not strip it, this species forms immense colonies along streams which pass through limestone outcrops at the base of the eastern Andes, on the edge of the Amazon basin. Our Rio Anzu reserve protects several large colonies.


Phragmipedium pearcei is often underwater. Photo: Lou Jost.

Several slipper orchids are also found in the vicinity of our Dracula Reserve mosaic in northwest Ecuador. Widespread Phragmipedium longifolium can be found on moist roadside cliffs . There is also a more unusual species whose flowers we have not seen yet, but judging from the leaves, it must be a long-petaled species, perhaps the endangered  Phrag. caudatum.


Phragmipedium longifolium in our Dracula Reserve. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.


 Phragmipedium caudatum. Photo: Wikipedia.

The species I’ve mentioned so far are fairly widespread, though they are rapidly disappearing as a result of habitat destruction and plant collectors. Much more important for conservation are two slipper orchids which have very limited distributions centered around our Dracula Reserve: Phragmipedium hirtzii and Phragmipedium fischeri.


Phragmipedium hirtzii. It is easily distinguished from Phragmipedium longifolium by the lack of black “eyelashes” on its staminode (the shield-like green thing covering the entrance to the pouch). Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

Phragmipedium hirtzii is classified as “Endangered” in the IUCN Red List, and is only known from a few sites in extreme southwest Colombia and adjacent extreme northwest Ecuador. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) reports that there are only three sites covering a total of 12 sq. kilometers. It is under heavy pressure by plant collectors. One of the populations is in our target area for expansion of the Dracula Reserve.


Critically endangered Phragmipedium fischeri in its natural habitat. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

Phragmipedium fischeri is even more threatened than Phragmipedium hirtzii. It is endemic to a very small area near our existing Dracula Reserve in extreme northwest Ecuador, and nearby southwest Colombia. It is classified by the IUCN as “Critically Endangered,” and they estimate the total area of occupied habitat is only around 4 sq. kilometers. The IUCN estimates there may be fewer than 100 adult individuals, and reports that even this small number is rapidly declining. If this is true, the species is on the brink of extinction and it is among the most endangered plants in Ecuador.


Fallen Phragmipedium fischeri and Phragmipedium longifolium gathered at the P.  fischeri site. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

This beautiful orchid urgently needs protection. We are therefore assuming the responsibility to buy and conserve the only known Ecuadorian location for this species. Because of its importance and because increasing demand for the species from collectors, we have taken the unusual step of temporarily securing the property using borrowed money, which we must replace quickly.

The Orchid Conservation Alliance is committed to help us  extend the Dracula Reserve to include this Phragmipedium fischeri site, a Phragmipedium hirtzii site, and additional unusual habitats rich in rare and undescribed orchids and other plants and animals. We urge readers interested in slipper orchids to donate to the Orchid Conservation Alliance for this project. Please make sure you specify “Dracula Reserve” when you contact them– they support many projects, including other projects of ours. Write to

or send a check to

Peter Tobias, Orchid Conservation Alliance

564 Arden Drive

Encinitas, CA 92024 USA


Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation


Luis Baquero photographing Phragmipedium fischeri in its natural habitat. Photo: Gabriel Iturralde.

List of IUCN Critically Endangered Slipper Orchids: