Remarkable mimicry

2017-07-19-15.27.39 ZS PMax

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?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/andreaskay/31583234000/in/photolist-Q7UkjN-Q7Uk8f-HpMphQ-HpRUzt-JkQCzc-JkQCbr-HBPABf-HEcfA6-eXy7XX-eXy7Ta-eXKv1S-egc5ed-dmufYw-dmucGX-bVDV1V-bPbYgn-bPbYeX

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.

_1100783

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.

_1100944

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

 

_1100955

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

 

_1100963

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.

_1110131

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

 

_1110189

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

Thanks for looking,

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation.

Cloud forest images from our Rio Zunac Reserve, and canopy access at last

 

_1100120

Aroids in our Rio Zunac cloud forest. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

Last week our rangers and I went on a  camping trip in the wet cloud forests of our Rio Zunac Reserve. We were on a mission to put climbing ropes into the canopies of some of our Magnolia trees, so that we (and other researchers) could study their reproduction, and perhaps protect the seed capsules from insect predators, and try other techniques to help them reproduce. We never see very young plants of these species, so we are a bit worried about their future.

I also used the opportunity to capture some better photos of the complex interior of this beautiful cloud forest. The ridgetop forest above 1700m is very special, one of the wettest forests in Ecuador, with plant life bursting from every available surface, plants piled on other plants. We didn’t have many photos of this forest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rio Zunac cloud forest, 2000m. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rio Zunac cloud forest, 2000m. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rio Zunac cloud forest, 2000m. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A grant from BGCI allowed us to buy mountain-climbing rope and harnesses. In the 1990s I used to spend a lot of time climbing tropical rain forest trees, and I still had my powerful bow and arrows and fishing reel; with this I can shoot a fishing line over a chosen branch. Then the fishing line pulls up a heavier line, and then  a heavier line, and after a series of between three and six successively heavier lines, I can pull up the mountain-climbing cord.

p1110282

Preparing the bow and arrows. The arrows, dragging the fishing line behind them through the moss and leaves, have a hard time coming down through all the vegetation. So I use heavy fishing arrows, and I put weights on their tips. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

p1110295

Shooting a newly-described Magnolia vargasiana. Accidental photo of the exact millisecond when the arrow leaves the bow– a minor miracle. I think we could try a million times without ever managing to repeat this feat.  Click image to enlarge. An arrow can be shot with fair accuracy over a particular branch, though what happens after it passes the branch is partly up to chance…The arrows are easy to lose, and I lost two of my three remaining arrows (unobtainable in Ecuador) on this trip. The one I’m firing in this picture was one of them–it got embedded in the tree (even though it has a flat tip) and did not come down. Photo:Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

p1110309

Shooting another tree, an unidentified species of Magnolia which Fausto Recalde had found the day before. It is not either of the two species previously found here (M. vargasiana and M. llanganatensis, which are both new species recently described by Dr Antonio Vazquez and his collaborators from specimens found on this ridge of the Rio Zunac cloud forest).  This is my last remaining arrow, bent and tattered, but it  worked. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

p1110315

Pulling up heavier line. This is delicate work, as the knot sometimes gets caught on stuff. I tape the knots with electric tape to minimize that. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

_1100050

While I pull from the far side of the  tree, our rangers release the mountain-climbing cord from the other side. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

_1100052

The mystery Magnolia with the climbing rope in place. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

p1110364

I dress for the climb: harness and helmet. I have a rule that everyone must use gloves on the rope, to keep the rope free of salts from our sweat. In a place with lots of animals, it is important that the rope not attract gnawing critters looking for salt. As a further precaution we normally take the rope down between uses (leaving a cheap string in its place), which also protects it from UV light degradation. But even when stored in the forest or in camp, rodents wouldfind the salt and cause potentially fatal damage. This happened to my rope in Costa Rica. Of course we also inspect the rope before each use…Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

p1110369

Climbing the mystery Magnolia. It is thin but tall, and couldn’t be free-climbed. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

_1100062

Our rangers below me at the base of the Magnolia. Click to enlarge.  Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s a flower of the mystery Magnolia. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

_1100092

There are many other beautiful trees in this forest. Here is Meriania pastazana, similar to our recently-discovered Meriania aurata but without the yellow wings on the ovaries.

_1100141

Flower of Meriania pastazana. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

2017-01-13-10-10-27-zs-pmax-udr

The anthers of Meriania pastazana. These are hollow and contain their pollen on the inside. The pollen comes out through small pores (one pore is visible on the top purple tip of the rightmost anther) when the anther is shaken rapidly by a bee or other agent. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

EcoMinga would like to thank Joachim Gratzfeld and Botanical Gardens Conservation International for a grant which enabled us to purchase climbing ropes and harnesses. I also want to thank our rangers, who risk their lives free-climbing some of the trees.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation

 

 

Releasing a rescued Spectacled Bear in our Rio Zunac Reserve

dsc05450

Ukumari wakes up in his new home as the anesthesia wears off. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

Jeremy La Zelle and Greg Taylor, the men behind Backpacker Films, visited Banos in September 2015. When they heard about the pending release of a rescued Spectacled Bear in our Rio Zunac Reserve, they asked to join the release team.

The young bear had been found by a farmer two years earlier, badly injured. Doctors performed surgery on it and saved its life. Sebastian Kohn, director of Centro de Rescate Ilitio on the slopes of Volcan Cotopaxi, took it into his care and raised it, taking care to maintain its wild character and not turn it into a pet. The goal was always to return it to the wild. He fed it while hidden so that it did not associate food with people, and the bear kept its distrust of humans.

When Volcan Cotopaxi began to erupt, the Centro de Rescate suddenly had to close, so the bear had to be released quickly. The Ministry of the Environment asked us to receive the bear and assist in its release. Our rangers and a team of specialists carried the bear on a stretcher for several hours to take it to good habitat away from humans. Jeremy and Greg filmed the whole process, and the video below, released a few days ago, is the result.

 

It’s a testament to the best elements of our own species that so many people put so much effort and so much heart into the rescue and rehabilitation of this poor bear:

dsc05363

The team of veterinarians, bear experts, “stepfather” Sebastian Kohn (yellow shirt at left), and EcoMinga rangers (Luis and Santiago Recalde, not in view, and Fausto Recalde holding the intravenous serum bag). Photo: Santiago Recalde?EcoMinga.

dsc05381

EcoMinga Ranger Luis Recalde holds the bear’s head while the veterinarian tapes its claws to minimize danger to the crew. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

The bear, after its release, wandered widely and was filmed by camera traps up to seven kilometers from its release site. It was last recorded alive and well about six months after its release, but its body was later found by Ministry of the Environment field staff, well outside our reserve. Some speculated that the bear had been attacked by another bear, but we don’t really know.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

 

Visit to our Rio Zunac magnolias

 

dscn5893

Trunk of one of our Magnolia trees. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.

I’ve written often about our exciting new magnolia species. Our first two undescribed species were discovered in our Rio Zunac Reserve, and they were recently described by Dr Antonio Vazquez (Mexico) as Magnolia vargasiana and M. llanganatensis.

We got a grant from Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), London, to try to enrich our populations of these species, which do not appear to be reproducing well. Last month Dr Joachim Gratzfeld of BGCI came to see our famous Magnolias for himself. He was guided by our  reserve caretakers Luis and Fausto Recalde, who are also co-authors with Dr Vazquez on the scientific papers describing the new Magnolias.

p1110304

Joachim Gratzfeld photographing plants in the reserve. Photo: Fausto Recalde/EcoMinga.

dscn6255

Fausto Recalde with rotten magnolia buds. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.

 

These Magnolia species, like many other neotropical Magnolias, have flowers that open briefly at night and then close before dawn, trapping their pollinator inside. The next night, the flower opens again and releases its pollinator, now thoroughly covered in pollen. This secret drama unfolds each night in the top of the forest canopy, unseen by human eyes. The only way a visitor can see the process is for someone to climb the trees and bring down some ready-to-open buds. These can be kept in water and will open the following night if they are mature enough.

p1110223

The buds of Magnolia llanganatensis high in the canopy. Photo: Luis Recalde/EcoMinga.

 

Luis and Fausto are expert tree climbers, and were able to climb our giant trees to bring Joachim some buds of each species. (By the way, our grant from BGCI is for buying static climbing rope and harnesses to set up a safe system, so that anyone can reach the canopy of these magnolias and work on their pollination and propagation. We will deploy this system in late December.)

dscn5928

Luis and Fausto Recalde examining the crown of a tree with their camera zoom. The gold tubes attach together and have clippers at their tip, which can be pulled closed by a string. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.

dscn5945

Luis Recalde climbing a magnolia. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.

dscn6285

Luis Recalde (right) and Fausto Recalde studying magnolia buds. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.

dscn6311

Magnolia vargasiana bud starts to open. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.

dscn6360

As the flower opens it frees its trapped pollinators, such as the flea beetle at the base of this flower. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.

dscn6389

Magnolia vargasiana  opening. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.

dscn6418

Magnolia vargasiana fully open. Only a handful of humans have ever seen this. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.

A trip to the Rio Zunac Reserve always has surprises in store, no matter what a visitor comes for. Joachim’s visit was no exception. He  had to climb some gentle mountains to reach the Magnolias, and at his highest point he had reached a poorly-known forest where other trees besides the Magnolias were newly-discovered or, in a few cases, still unknown to science. By chance Joachim came across a tree with large intense wine-purple flowers in the genus Meriania, a member of the large and important family known to botanists as the Melastomataceae. We had first seen this species a few years ago in the same area, and I sent pictures to experts but no one could identify it. There was also another species in the same genus, Meriania, which David Neill and I had discovered in this same forest fourteen years ago. This was Meriania aurata, one of the most spectacular trees in the world, which I have written about before.

_DSC0125

Meriania aurata. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

In addition to exciting trees, Joachim visited our Black-and-chestnut Eagle (Spizaetus isidori) nest and saw the baby, nearly ready to leave the nest.

P1100683.jpg

Black-and-chestnut Eagle adult and young at their nest in the reserve. Photo: Fausto Recalde/EcoMinga.

There were lots of other birds, and many species came to feed on the fruits of some melastomes that the guards had planted around our cabin and in old pastures:

p1110214

Immature male Green-and-black Fruiteater eating melastome berries. Photo: Luis Recalde/EcoMinga

p1110210

Golden Tanager eating melastome berries. The guards planted these melastomes here to attract birds. Photo: Luis Recalde/EcoMinga.

p1110198

Golden-winged Manakin, rarely seen in the reserve. Photo: Luis Recalde/EcoMinga.

Joachim found an unusual fern, Ophioglossum palmatum. It makes big rubbery hand-shaped leaves that look nothing like a typical fern, with club-shaped spore-bearing structures growing from the leaf margins. This fern is very seldom encountered here, but it has a very wide distribution that even reaches into southern Florida in the US.

dscn6144

The weird fern Ophioglossum palmatum. Note the spore-bearing finger-like projections where the leaf tapers into its stem. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.

dscn6037

The forest interior. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation.

Frog fanciness

p_katopriodestitozunac2

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:

p_katopriodes2titozunac

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!

dsc08735pristimantiszunacnorte-spnovmaybejprjpg

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:

p_eriphusjprzunac

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

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

pristimantis-sp1

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-galdi1

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

Here’s a Pristimantis lacrimosus with copper eyes:

pristimantis-lacrimosus1

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

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation.