Comunicado de prensa bilingüe del Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad sobre nuestra nueva rana, Hyloscirtus sethmacfarlanei.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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
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…
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.
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.
Lou Jost/EcoMinga Foundation
[Traduccion en espanol abajo]
Yesterday I posted a Spectacled Bear video taken by one of our rangers near his home town of El Placer, close to our Naturetrek Reserve. Today I received more videos of the same sighting, taken from the village schoolhouse. All the kids got to see the bear! You can hear their excitement in the background.
And the video from yesterday, taken by the people who appear in the last few seconds of the above video:
These bears are damaging the people’s crops, but perhaps we can turn this problem into an advantage for the village. If the bears came often enough, it may be possible for the village to earn some money from tourism. Perhaps the village could actually plant crops for the bears. The challenge will be to find an equitable way to ensure that enough tourism money goes to the farmers who do that.
Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation
A few days ago one of our rangers filmed this large male Spectacled Bear in cultivated fields near his village, close to our Naturetrek Reserve.
[Traduccion en espanol abajo]
This year we have been thrilled to see a dramatic increase in Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) sightings around our Naturetrek, Cerro Candelaria, and Machay reserves, which together form the “Forests in the Sky” wildlife corridor between the Llanganates and Sangay national parks. We have been protecting these bears and their habitat for ten years now, and apparently we have been quite successful.
However, this brings new challenges as bears and people begin to compete for the same food. As one example, bears love the corn that the local people grow, and they can systematically destroy a farmer’s crop, as we showed in this camera-trap video:
In the last few weeks we have heard reports of a more serious conflict, perhaps with the big male bear filmed in the video at the top of this post. The reports, which are not confirmed, blame bears for killing several calves. There was one well-known case of a rogue Spectacled Bear killing calves in northern Ecuador a few years ago, and I have seen a camera-trap photo of a Spectacled Bear attacking a grown Mountain Tapir, so this is not impossible, though it is very rare. Our rangers are investigating these reports. If they turn out to be true, we have a challenging problem on our hands. The owners of these calves are not big ranchers with hundreds of head; these are poor individuals with only a handful of cows at any one time.A calf is a very big deal for its owner, not something whose loss can be easily absorbed.
On the other hand, many reports elsewhere of cattle deaths due to bears have been based on circumstantial evidence and may have actually been cases of scavenging bears. For now, we can only gather the facts as carefully as possible. We hope that these latest reports will prove to be unfounded….I’ll write more when we know more facts.
Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation