An ornate creature from our Rio Zuñac Reserve

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Click on any of these to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Katydid: Moncheca sp. (M. elegans or new species). Those jaws bit me many times during my photo shoots. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Different species of insects are primarily distinguished by their male genitalia. We found both a female (with sword-shaped ovipositor) and a male individual of this species. I include the genitalia here in case there is some expert who can help decide whether this is a new species. It is similar to Moncheca elegans but the colors are not right. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

My friends Tom Walla and Johanna Varner, professors at Colorado Mesa University, came to visit our Rio Zunac and Cerro Candelaria Reserves last month. They set up a light to attract night insects. They were especially interested in moths, and I’ll write more about that later. But along with many amazing moths we attracted two feisty individuals of this spectacular katydid. They were very active and often did a raised-wing display to try to scare me. They also really enjoyed biting me with their giant bright yellow mandibles. I became fascinated by them. They stayed alive for two weeks, allowing me to observe and photograph them (I found that they like to eat flowers), and when they died I mounted them and photographed them even more.

They belong to the genus Moncheca, which contains some of the world’s fanciest katydids, like M. pretiosa. Our individuals are most like M. elegans, but the colors don’t match an expert-certified photo on the internet. The male genitalia are the definitive way to tell them apart, so I provide a photo of the genitalia above in case an expert looks at this post. This exact form has been seen and photographed by my friend Andreas Kay, and also by someone named Moira who submitted her picture of it (from Sumaco, in eastern Ecuador, not far from our reserve) to an internet bug ID site, to no avail.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation

 

 

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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23766808.2017.1292755

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.

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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.

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A spider (genus Gasteracantha?) along the river of the Torrent Duck. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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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:

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A tropical harvestman (“daddy longlegs” to US readers). Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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Frog at night. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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Sleeping lizard. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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Exuberant antennae. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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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:

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Walking stick. Male Oreophoetes sp (maybe a new species) according to Yannick in the comments below. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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A water bug. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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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:

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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:

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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!

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Myself, Saige, and Lorie at the Pailon Del Diablo waterfall just below EcoMinga’s Naturetrek Reserve. Photo: unknown stranger.

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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?

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

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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.

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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.

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

 

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

 

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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.

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

 

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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

 

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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.

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

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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

 

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

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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.

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

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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

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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:

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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.

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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