Pristimantis mallii, our tenth new frog species discovered in the upper Rio Pastaza watershed

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Pristimantis mallii in amplexus. Photo: Carolina Reyes

[Ver traduccion en espanol abajo.]

Over the last two decades, scientific work in the upper Rio Pastaza watershed between Banos and Puyo has shown it to be one of Ecuador’s most diverse and under-appreciated biological hotspots. We are regularly discovering new species of plants and animals there, especially frogs, orchids, and melastomes, reflecting the interest of our staff in these groups. Quite a number of new species from this area have been described by us or by our colleagues over the last few months, and I will report on some of these over the next few days.

Today we highlight Pristimantis mallii , a new species from our Rio Zunac Reserve. This is the tenth(!) new species of frog discovered in the upper Rio Pastaza watershed in the last ten years. This one was cryptic; though collections were made as early as 2009, the variability of this species and its closest relatives was not well enough understood to describe it as new until this year.  Its closest relative (as shown by DNA analysis) is P. miktos, a species of the eastern lowlands of Ecuador and Peru from 200-300m elevation. Pristimantis mallii is found only at much higher elevations, 1300-2200m, and it has not yet been found outside the Rio Zunac Reserve.


Female P. mallii. Photo: Bioweb


A different female P. mallii. Photo: Bioweb.


At our request, the authors of the species description kindly agreed to name this species after my late friend Malli Rao, one of the earliest supporters of the EcoMinga Foundation. The article explains this choice: “The new species is named in honor of the late Dr V. N. Mallikarjuna “Malli” Rao, of Wilmington, Delaware, USA. A winner of the Lavosier Medal at DuPont, he helped develop an environmentally safe alternative to the fluorocarbons that were depleting the ozone layer. His donation to EcoMinga in 2007 started the Río Zuñag Reserve, the type locality of P. mallii.”

A national newspaper picked up the story of this discovery and gave it a nice treatment:

Para mas informacion en espanol vea aqui.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

Pristimantis mallii, nuestra décima nueva especie de rana descubierta en la cuenca alta del río Pastaza
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano Flores
** IMG 01 ** – Pristimantis mallii en amplexus. Fotografía: Carolina Reyes
A lo largo de los últimos 20 años, el trabajo científico en la cuenca alta del Río Pastaza, entre Baños y Puyo, ha demostrado ser una de las zonas más diversas y un hotspot poco apreciado biológicamente en Ecuador. Regularmente descubrimos nuevas especies de plantas y animales en este lugar, especialmente anfibios, orquídeas y melastomataceas, reflejando el interés de nuestro equipo en dichos grupos. En los últimos meses hemos descrito, nosotros o nuestros colegas, varias nuevas especies de esta área, e informaré sobre algunas de ellas en los próximos días.
Hoy resaltaremos a Pristimantis mallii, una nueva especie de nuestra reserva Río Zunac. Esta es la décima nueva especie de rana, descubierta en la cuenca alta del Río Pastaza en los últimos 10 años. Esta es críptica; aunque las colecciones se realizadon en 2009, la variabilidad de esta especie y sus parientes más cercanos no fueron comprendidos lo suficiente para describirlos como nuevos hasta este año. Su pariente cercano (como muestra su análisis de ADN) es P. miktos, una especie de las bajuras del este de Ecuador y Perú, de 200 a 300 msnm. Pristimantis mallii se ha encontrado a mayores altitudes, de 1300 a 2200 msnm, y no ha sido encontrada fuera de la Reserva Rio Zunac.
** IMG 02 ** – Hembra de P. mallii. Fotografía: Bioweb
** IMG 03 ** – Otra hembra de P. mallii. Fotografía: Bioweb.
A petición nuestra, los autores de la descripción de las especies, accedieron amablemente a nombrar esta especie en honor a mi difunto amigo Malli Rao, uno de los primeros partidarios de la Fundación EcoMinga. El artículo explica esta elección: “The new species is named in honor of the late Dr V. N. Mallikarjuna “Malli” Rao, of Wilmington, Delaware, USA. A winner of the Lavosier Medal at DuPont, he helped develop an environmentally safe alternative to the fluorocarbons that were depleting the ozone layer. His donation to EcoMinga in 2007 started the Río Zuñag Reserve, the type locality of P. mallii.”
Un periódico nacional tomó la historia del descubrimiento y le dió un buen trato:
Para mayor información pinche aqui.
Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera)

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

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


Passiflora tarminiana. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga


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

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


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.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

An even closer encounter with a Mountain Tapir in our Rio Zunac Reserve!


A few days ago I posted Alyssa Kullberg’s video of a Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) that came to dinner at our research station in the Rio Zunac Reserve. On the same trip, she and our staff ran into this fearless Mountain Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque). Our guard Santiago Recalde caught the encounter on video.  These are extraordinary sightings of rare animals that seem to have lost all fear of humans, after being protected by us for the last dozen years.

Lou Jost. Fndacion EcoMinga

¡Un encuentro aún más cercano con un Tapir de Montaña en nuestra Reserva Río Zuñac!
Unos pocos días atrás publiqué el video de Alyssa Kullberg sobre un Oso de Anteojos (Tremarctos ornatus) que vino a cenar en nuestra estación científica en la Reserva Río Zuñac. En el mismo viaje, ella y nuestro equipo se encontraron con este intrépido Tapir de Montaña (Tapirus pinchaque). Nuestro guardia, Santiago Recalde, captó el encuentro en video. Estos son avistamientos extraordinarios de animales raros que parecen haber perdido todo temor a los humanos, después de haber sido protegidos por nosotros durante los últimos doce años.
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano-Flores

Spectacled Bear close encounter in our Rio Zunac Reserve

Dinner guest in the Rio Zunac Reserve. Video by Alyssa Kullberg.

[Vea traduccion en Espanol abajo]

Two weeks ago we posted our reserve guard Santiago Recalde’s video of a close encounter with a fearless Mountain Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque) in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Last week Santiago returned to the same reserve with Alyssa Kullberg, a Fulbright Scholar who has just arrived here to spend the next nine months studying our new Magnolia species. They have just come back from the reserve this evening with news of their an astounding encounter with another of our large mammals, a Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus).

Alyssa told me that during the whole 4 hour hike from the roadhead to our very remote research station, they were seeing fresh Mountain Tapir, Spectacled Bear, and Puma tracks on the trail. They stayed a week in the reserve, and one day, while they were in the forest, a Spectacled Bear entered the station and stole some food. Later, while Alyssa and Santiago were eating dinner, the bear came back for more food, and approached the station quite closely (even though Alyssa and Santiago were loudly conversing) until it caught their scent. Even after catching their scent, the bear did not seem very frightened, as it paused to think about eating a young palm tree next to the trail.


Spectacled Bear coming to share dinner with Alyssa and Santiago. Note the Magnolia buds on the table in the foreground; most neotropical Magnolia species open only at night, so we have to collect the buds and care for them until nightfall. Photo: Alyssa Kullberg.

While we have seen tracks around the cabin before, and have had some minor bear damage in the past, this is the first time a bear has been this bold. We may be the victims of our own success in protecting this reserve– the animals are losing their fear of humans, so we may be heading for the kinds of bear problems that are common in North American national parks. We will try to be extra careful to protect our food, though this will not be easy. In any case, I’d rather have this problem than the problem of not having bears!

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation

Encuentro cercano con un oso de anteojos en nuestra Reserva Rio Zuñac
Hace dos semanas posteamos un video de nuestro guardia Santiago Recalde acerca de un encuentro cercano con un tapir de montaña sin miedo en nuestra Reserva Rio Zuñac. La semana anterior regresamos a la misma reserva con Alyssa Kullberg, una becaria Fullbright que ha llegado aquí para invertir los siguientes nueve meses estudiando nuestra nueva especie de Magnolia. Han venido de regreso a la reserva esta tarde con noticias de su sorprendente encuentro con otro de nuestros grandes mamíferos, un oso de anteojos (Tremarctos ornatus).
Alyssa me dijo que durante las 4 horas de caminata desde la cabeza del camino hasta nuestra estación de investigación remota, vieron un Tapir de Montaña, un Oso de Anteojos, y caminos de Puma en el camino. Estuvieron una semana en la reserva , y un día, mientras estaban en el bosque, un Oso de Anteojos entró a la estación y robó algo de comida. Después, Alyssa y Santiago estaban comiendo la cena, el oso vino de regreso por mas comida, y se acercó bastante a la estación (a pesar de que Alyssa y Santiago conversaban en voz alta) hasta que atrapó su aroma. Incluso después de atrapar el aroma, el oso no se veía muy asustado, mientras se detenía a pensar en comer una palmera joven al lado del sendero.
Oso de anteojos ingresando para compartir la cena con Alyssa y Santiago. Tomar en cuenta que los brotes de Magnolia en la tabla en el suelo; muchas especies de Magnolias neotropicales se abren solo en la noche, así que tenemos que colectar los brotes y preocuparnos por ellos hasta que caiga la noche. Fotografía: Alyssa Kullberg.
Si bien hemos visto algunas pistas alrededor de la cabina antes, y hemos tenido daños menores en el pasado, esta es la primera vez que un oso de anteojos ha sido tan audaz. Es posible que seamos víctimas de nuestro propio éxito en la protección de esta reserva: los animales están perdiendo el miedo a los humanos, por lo que es posible que nos enfrentemos a los problemas de osos que son comunes en los parques nacionales de America del Norte. Intentaremos tener mucho cuidado en proteger nuestros alimentos, aunque esto no será fácil. En cualquier caso, ¿preferiría tener este problema que el problema de no tener osos!
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga.
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano Flores



Mountain Tapir close encounter


Our pair of Black-and-chestnut Eagles (Spizaetus isidori) has been nesting again in our Rio Zunac Reserve. The Peregrine Fund has hired two of our guards’ family members, Abel Recalde and Andi Salazar, to monitor this nest and record details of prey items, etc. We’ll report on that data after the Peregrine Fund finishes analyzing it.

A few days ago, as Abel climbed the trail to the nest, he encountered a completely tame Mountain Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque). This endangered mammal is a special treat to see. He excitedly pulled out his cell phone and made the video posted above at close range. It is strong evidence that our wardens are doing a good job; our animals are loosing their fear of humans, because no one hurts them anymore.

By the way, the eagles successfully fledged a baby this year!


Black-and-chestnut Eagle (Spizaetus isidori) baby, Generation 2018. Photo: Abel Recalde and Andi Salazar,  Peregrine Fund

Lou Jost. EcoMinga Foundation