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:

Ladyslippers 1: Biology


Critically endangered Phragmipedium fischeri in northwest Ecuador near our Dracula Reserve. Click this and any other photo to enlarge. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

The ladyslipper orchids are among the most distinctive and beloved plants in the world. They are an ancient group, diverging from the other orchids while dinosaurs still walked among them. But today their beautiful intricate flowers have been their undoing, as plant collectors combine with habitat destruction drive them to extinction around the world. A  recent effort by Kew Gardens to assess their conservation status worldwide has shown that 79% of the world’s slipper orchid species are either vulnerable or endangered. Though slipper orchids make up less than 2% of all orchid species, they include 37% of all critically endangered orchids.

Slipper orchids are especially vulnerable to overcollection and habitat destruction because most species have specific soil and moisture requirements. Extreme soils with very high or very low pH values are favored, and many species require constant moisture. Habitat for most species is therefore scarce and patchy even in undisturbed areas. It doesn’t take much disturbance to make these populations disappear.

The ladyslippers are instantly recognizable by their pouched flowers. Insects enter the wide mouth of the pouch and then find themselves trapped inside. The inner surfaces of the pouch are mostly smooth but there is usually a ladder made of hairs on itsinside back surface. The insect climbs this ladder, passing under the flower’s stigma and then under one of its anthers in order to escape out one of the two openings at the top of the tube. If the insect is the right size, it rubs against both the stigma and the anther as it escapes, pollinating the flower if the insect already had pollen on its back from another ladyslipper flower. The escape path is clear in this cutaway view of Phragmipedium pearcei, the slipper orchid which grows in our Rio Anzu Reserve.


Top view of the “slipper” or lip of the ladyslipper orchid Phragmipedium pearcei. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A cross-section view of the "slipper". Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A cross-section view of the “slipper” of Phrag. pearcei. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.


Cutaway view of Phrag. hirtzii. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

Slipper orchids have a wide variety of tricks to entice insects into their traps. Some of the most surprising tricks have only been discovered in the last few years. I’ll discuss these below as I survey the different genera of slipper orchids; we’ll see how some of these tricks have arisen independently in slipper orchids on opposite sides of the world.


Cypripedium parviflorum. Photo: Lou Jost.

Many readers will be familiar with the temperate zone ladyslippers, genus Cypripedium, found throughout North America, Europe, and temperate Asia. These include the familiar Pink Ladyslipper and Yellow Ladyslipper of the US and Canada. Genetic analysis shows that this genus is the oldest branch in the ladyslipper family tree. These orchids have thin oval leaves with prominent parallel veins, a trait they share with the next-oldest branch of slipper orchids, the genus Selenipedium, which are today found only in small scattered populations in tropical and subtropical Latin America. The common ancestor of the ladyslippers probably had leaves similar to these.


Cypripedium acaule. Photo Paul Jost.

Cypripedium and Selenipedium, like most slipper orchids, are usually pollinated by bees, wasps, or flies. Some Cypripedium ladyslippers with large slits or openings in their pouches, like the Pink Ladyslipper of the US (C. acaule, above), are pollinated by large queen Bombus bees (see Davis 1986 for observations of Pink Ladyslipper pollination). Cypripedium tibeticum in China (see photo below) is pollinated by queen bees that are not carrying provisions for their young, indicating that they had not yet established a nest. Scientists suspect that the pouch in this species imitates a mouse hole, where queen bees usually build their nests (Pemberton 2014). Several other Cypripedium species have similar morphologies so this might be a more common strategy than people have realized. Even the Pink Ladyslipper may fall into this category, though most previous workers have interpreted them as food-deceit flowers.


Flowers of Cypripedium tibeticum attract queen bees looking for nesting sites. Photo: Wikipedia.

Many Cypripedium species, especially the Chinese species, have very unusual flower morphologies that hint at strange new pollination syndromes. Perhaps the most surprising pollination strategy was recently discovered in the endangered Chinese Cypripedium fargesii. The leaves of this species are spotted blackish green, and each spot has a darker black center. They look exactly like the spots on plant leaves infected by certain fungi. The C. fargesii flower and freckled foliage fool a fly that feeds on the spores of this fungus. It falls into the trap and fertilizes the flower. Full details in “Flowers of Cypripedium fargesii (Orchidaceae) fool flat-footed flies (Platypezidae) by faking fungus-infected foliage”


Cypripedium fargesii has black-spotted leaves which attract fungus-feeding flies. Photo: Wikipedia.

Besides these genera of slipper orchids with thin leaves showing prominent parallel ridges and valleys (“plicate-leaved” genera), there are three genera of slipper orchids with thick smooth leathery leaves whose veins (except for a sharp midvein where the leaf is folded) are not visible (“conduplicate-leaved” genera). These are the Asian genus Paphiopedilum and the closely-related Latin American genera Phragmipedium and Mexipedium. These three genera share a common ancestor that diverged from the plicate-leaved Cypripedium and Selenipedium about 60 million years ago; the New and Old World conduplicate-leaved slipper orchids diverged from each other around 23 million years ago. Some of the species in these genera have evolved pollination strategies similar to those of Cypripedium, but many of them have evolved novel strategies that have no parallel in the temperate zone.

I’ve written once before about the pollination strategy of Phragmipedium pearcei in our Rio Anzu Reserve. The pouch has white flaps at the top, and these are dotted with little fake green aphids and some light brown blobs that might be fake aphid wings. Female hoverflies hunt aphid colonies and lay their eggs on them; their larvae will devour the aphids. These hoverflies try to lay their eggs on the fake aphids and bounce off the white flaps into the open pouch (Pemberton 2014), where they are manipulated by the orchid, effecting pollination (see photos of this species at the beginning of this post).


Phragmipedium pearcei has green fake aphids on the white flaps at the top of its pouch. Syrphid flies have larvae that eat aphids, so the females land on the lip to lay eggs in the fake aphid colony. When they land they slipo and fall into the pouch. Photo: Nigel Simpson.


The staminode above the “slipper” or lip of Phrag. pearcei. At this magnification the green spots on the lip begin to show their true complexity. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Many other tropical American Phragmipedium species have these same green dots and are certainly pollinated in the same way. Our Ecuadorian Phrag. boisserianum, Phrag. caudatum, Phrag. longifolium (which grows in our Dracula Reserve), and Phrag. wallisii, among others, belong to this group. Perhaps the endangered Phrag. hirtzii (which might also grow in our Dracula Reserve) has a similar strategy.


Phrag. boisserianum (var. czerwiakowianum?) Photo: Lou Jost.


Phrag. hirtzii. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

Curiously the Old World genus Paphiopedilum also has many species with a broadly similar floral structure. Some of them, like Paph. venustum below, have some raised shiny yellow dots on the upper flaps of the pouch, and these may imitate scale insects. The green-spotted staminode (the top flap that covers the anther and stigma) may also be imitating aphids.


Paph. venustum. Photo: Lou Jost.


Paph. venustum. Photo: Lou Jost.



Paph. venustum pouch detail. Photo: Lou Jost.

Likewise there are both New World Phragmipedium species and Old World Paphiopedilum species that have evolved another flower form, round-petalled white and pink flowers with yellow staminodes whose function is not yet understood. Phragmipedium schlimii and the critically endangered Phrag. fischeri are two Ecuadorian examples of this syndrome. The critically endangered Asian Paphiopedilum delenatii has evolved a strikingly similar flower. The North American Cypripedium reginae flower is also broadly similar. Maybe they all share a common strategy, perhaps luring bees looking for food, but we don’t really know.


Phragmipedium schlimii. Photo: Lou Jost.


Phrag. fischeri. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.


Critically endangered Asian Paphiopedilum delanatii has the same general pattern as American Phragmipedium fischeri and Phrag, schlimmii. Photo: Lou Jost.

Cypripedium reginae of North America shares the same pattern as Asian Paphiopedilum delenatii and South American Phragmipedium schlimii and Phrag. fischeri. Photo: WIkipedia.


Ecuadorian and Peruvian Phragmipedium bessae is the most brilliantly-colored slipper orchid. Photo: Lou Jost.

The brightly-colored Phragmipedium bessae from southern Ecuador and northern Peru breaks all the rules for this genus. Early speculations about its pollinator (butterflies and hummingbirds were suggested) were poorly concieved and completely wrong. Sometimes our imagination is just too limited. Also, it is difficult for us to take into account the huge differences between insect color vision and our own. It now appears that this bright Phragmipedium attracts a wasp that parasitizes larvae of large beetles (Pemberton 2014). No one has any idea why they are attracted to this flower, though. We also do not know what pollinates the newly discovered Phragmipedium kovachii, the largest and most spectacular member of the genus, which has already been ruthlessly stripped from almost all accessible sites in its limited range in northern Peru.


This is a cultivated hybrid of Phrag. schlimmii and Phrag. kovachii. Photo: Lou Jost.

There is one oddball Phragmipedium, quite common on rocky outcrops near our Banos-area reserves, which is self-pollinated. This species is derived from something like Phrag. wallisii or Phrag. caudatum, which are similar to our Phrag. pearcei but with much longer petals that hang down to the ground. In Phrag. lindenii a mutation has affected the symmetry of the flower. The pouch was converted to an ordinary petal like the other two (the pouch is also a petal, but a highly modified one). In a normal Phragmipedium there is an anther at the base of each of the two normal petals. The mutation in Phrag. lindenii not only adds a third normal petal, it also adds an anther at its base, as in the other two petals. But this third anther grows directly into the stigma, thus fertilizing the flower automatically. Every flower always sets seed. This is a very successful short-term strategy compared to the normal strategy of waiting to attract and fool a pollinator. Most normal slipper orchid flowers rarely set seed.


Phragmipedium lindenii in the upper Rio Pastaza watershed. Photo: Lou Jost.


View of Phrag. lindenii with left petal removed., The left anther and the mutant third anther are visible.; the latter grows directly into the stigma, fertilizing the flower. Photo: Lou Jost.


Phragmipedium lindenii. Painting by Lou Jost.

The ancestor of Phragmipedium lindenii was similar to this Phragmipedium caudatum. Photo: Wikipedia.

The ancestor of Phragmipedium lindenii was similar to this Phragmipedium caudatum. Photo: Wikipedia.

So why aren’t all slipper orchids self-pollinating? Cross-pollination can quickly spread beneficial mutations throughout a population, and can bring together different favorable mutations that arose in different individuals, so a cross-pollinating species will be able to adapt to changing conditions more rapidly than a strictly self-pollinating species. So perhaps these self-pollinating species briefly burst onto the scene and then disappear, while cross-pollinating species have long runs.

The Asian Paphiopedilum slipper orchids are very diverse, and many of them have flowers whose pollinators are complete mysteries. Here are some:


Paphiopedilum argus. Photo: Wikipedia.


Critically endangered Paphiopedilum rothschildianum. Photo: Wikipedia.


Critically endangered Paphiopedilum micranthum. Photo: Wikipedia.


Paph. hookerii. Photo: Wikipedia.


Critically endangered Paph. dayanum. Photo: Wikipedia.


Paphiopedilum charlesworthii. Photo: Wikipedia.


Paphiopedilum bullenianum. Photo: Wikipedia.


Paphiopedilum armeniacum. Photo: Wikipedia.


Paphiopedilum acmodontum. Photo: Wikipedia.

It is easy to see why people fall in love with these amazing plants and become passionate about them. I still remember being entranced when, as a teenager, I found my first wild ladyslippers in Wisconsin. That passion people to try to protect wild populations. Some of the strongest support for our foundation’s efforts to conserve wild orchids comes from people who genuinely love these plants and who grow them responsibly.The Orchid Conservation Alliance is a great example of this. The Slipper Orchid Alliance, the Quito Orchid Society, and the Quito Botanical Garden are other groups with members who are passionate about conserving orchids in the wild and who have helped us do our conservation work.

Remember, horticulturalists who really love these plants make sure they only buy laboratory-grown individuals!

In Part 2 of this series we will announce our plan to protect some of Ecuador’s most endangered slipper orchids.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation




A brief hike in our Rio Anzu Reserve

I found this glowing wing of a Morpho butterfly on the entrance trail. Probably it was eaten by a jacamar , a bird with a long tweezer-like beak. These catch butterflies and beat their bodies against a stick until the wings come off. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Click to enlarge. I found this glowing wing of a Morpho butterfly on the entrance trail. Probably it was eaten by a jacamar , a bird with a long tweezer-like beak. These catch butterflies and beat their bodies against a stick until the wings come off. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A couple of weeks ago I made a short visit to our lowest-elevation reserve, the Rio Anzu Reserve (1100-1200m elevation) in the Amazon basin, to mark some special orchids for a visiting student to study. Lowland Amazonia is the richest habitat on earth for birds and trees, and also hosts a seemingly never-ending parade of crazy insects. A trip to this reserve is always a mind-boggling experience, even though the reserve is very small and lacks larger birds and diurnal mammals due to indigenous hunting pressure in the surrounding area. (However, black jaguars stalk this forest unseen by human eyes, but recorded in several different camera traps…)

Click to enlarge. A large ant with frightening jaws walked across the morpho wing while I was photographing. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Click to enlarge. A large ant with frightening jaws walked across the morpho wing while I was photographing. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.


For a minute or two I saw this Fulvous Shrike-tanager (Lanio fulvus), a core species of mixed-species insectivorous bird flocks here. Lou Jost/ EcoMinga.

For a minute or two I saw this Fulvous Shrike-tanager (Lanio fulvus), a core species of mixed-species insectivorous bird flocks here. Lou Jost/ EcoMinga.

Quite often at the trail entrance of this reserve there will be a big mixed flock of mostly-insectivorous birds scouring the branches and leaves of the forest. On this trip I met with the flock as soon as I got out of the taxi-truck that brought me there. The flock and I seemed to follow the same forest path for a long way, and I enjoyed their noisy company. A particularly sharp bird call alerted me to the “leader” of the flock, a Fulvous Shrike-tanager (Lanio fulvus) an uncommon bird which does not occur at our higher elevation reserves. This is one of the famous “liar” birds (not to be confused with Lyre-birds!) that watches for hawks, etc, and warns mixed flocks of danger, but will sometimes “freeze” the flock with a false alarm call when it sees a bird flush a particularly appetizing insect. It then grabs the insect for itself (Munn 1986). In spite of its occasional duplicity, the presence of this species allows the other flock members to find more food, since they don’t have to waste as much time looking around for danger (they rely on the Shrike-tanager to do that). So a flock will generally cluster around the local pair of Shrike-Tanagers, and they move together through the forest.

Heliconius butterfly in the Rio Anzu. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

This Heliconius butterfly sat on the trail in the Rio Anzu reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Throughout the day fancy butterflies filled the air. My favorite (at least on this day) are the Heliconius butterflies. These butterflies have larva that feed on poisonous passionflower (Passiflora sp.) leaves, and they themselves thus become poisonous to birds. The adults have strong warning colors and patterns, which show a very complex but interesting geographical variation. In any given area, often two different Heliconius species will share exactly the same pattern, but in a different region, the same two species can share a completely different pattern. The geographical variants are intensely studied to give clues about the process of incipient speciation, the possible locations of wet “refugia” during past hot dry epochs, etc. I saw many species that day, but only managed to photograph one.

Passionflower in the forest understory. Photo" Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Passionflower in the forest understory. Photo:Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Appropriately I soon found a giant passionflower plant nearby. This species is a canopy liana but has specialized short clambering flowering stems that often come out near the ground. They are pollinated by hummingbirds.

The crown of white pointy “tentacles” in the center of the flower have an important function. Flowers that attract hummingbirds generally produce a lot of nectar, and this nectar is a tempting resource for other creatures, including many that play no role in pollination. Flowers with better defenses against nectar robbery will leave more descendants than those that don’t, so very elaborate defenses have evolved in many hummingbird flowers, including this one. The white spikes protect the nectar below them. They are easily parted by a hummingbird’s needle-like beak, but a clumsy ant or bee can’t get its head close to the nectar.

The back of the flower also has a defense against nectar robbers. The bracts surrounding the base of the flower have “extrafloral nectaries”, glands that produce a bit of nectar themselves. Ants and wasps like to hang out there and drink this nectar, and these nasty bugs scare away other kinds of bugs that could chew through the back to get to the big store of nectar inside.

Blue-headed grasshoppers were common on the trail. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Blue-headed grasshoppers were common on the trail. Click to enlarge. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The day was full of grasshoppers. I photographed an especially flashy one, but many more escaped my lens. One of the grasshoppers I did manage to photograph was carrying two parasitic mites (ticks) on one leg. Mites are commonly seen on insects in the tropics, but I don’t know much about them.

Mites (one healthy, one dead) on a grasshopper's leg in the Rio Anzu. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Mites (one healthy, one dead) on a grasshopper’s leg in the Rio Anzu. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Along with the grasshoppers were many katydids. Most North American katydids eat leaves, but in the tropics things are more complicated. I found a nasty carnivorous katydid munching the severed torso of a walking stick [male of the genus Oreophoetes, according to Yannick Bellanger’s Comment below], while the walking stick’s mate another walking stick [possibly a new species according to Yannick Bellanger’s Comment below] sat and watched, motionless. The juices of the half-eaten walking stick, in turn, attracted tiny gnats which gathered under the katydid’s head waiting for a chance to steal a mouthful. It was a miniature Serengeti. The annoyed katydid repeatedly swatted the gnats with its forelegs, just like I was swatting the slightly larger gnats that were bugging me. [Edited Dec 1 to reflect my growing doubts that these two walking sticks really belong to the same species. They seem too different from each other. Any experts out there with an informed opinion? Edit June 22 2016: Thanks Yannick Bellanger for the IDs and for answering this question in the Comments. Both are males, of different genera.]

I found this carnivorous katydid munching on a walking stick while the walking stick's mate looks on. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

I found this carnivorous katydid munching on a walking stick while the walking stick’s mate another walking stick looks on. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Victim's head. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Victim’s head. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Note the complex foot pads of the killer katydid. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Note the complex foot pads of the killer katydid. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

This walking stick looked on while the katydid ate the other one.

This walking stick looked on while the katydid ate the other one Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

After a couple of hours I reached the Rio Anzu itself, an easy 15-minute walk if I had ignored the interesting bugs. This is where the ladyslipper orchid Phragmipedium pearcei grows on the wet riverside limestone. The plants are often submerged when the river rises. On this day the river was low and there were many individuals in flower.

A ladyslipper orchid, Phragmipedium pearcei, on the limestone of the Rio Anzu. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A ladyslipper orchid, Phragmipedium pearcei, on the limestone of the Rio Anzu. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The Rio Anzu. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The Rio Anzu. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

At first glance the texture of this ladyslipper orchid flower is unremarkable. It looks smooth like any other flower. I had never given it a second look until that day. A microscope revealed that the flower was a complex mosaic of textures, hairs, glands and stuff I still don’t understand. The hairs were clearly guides for the insect pollinators, which must first land on the white flat rim of the orchid’s pouch or “slipper” (the pouch is called the “lip” in orchid terminology). This white rim has a row of random green spots, and another loosely organized row of larger brown spots. When magnified, the green spots turn out to be many long parallel dark green ridges, separated by greenish brown “valleys”. The effect is almost iridescent. Edit Dec 1: In response to Lisa’s question below, I did some research and found that the pollinator is a female fly that thinks these green spots are actually aphids, the prey of the fly larvae. The female lands on the flower to lay eggs among the “aphids”, and falls into the pouch. My speculations about the spots looking like fly eyes were wrong.

Top view of the "slipper" or lip of the ladyslipper orchid Phragmipedium pearcei. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Top view of the “slipper” or lip of the ladyslipper orchid Phragmipedium pearcei. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The staminode above the "slipper" or lip. At this magnification the green spots on the lip begin to show their true complexity. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The staminode above the “slipper” or lip. At this magnification the green spots on the lip begin to show their true complexity. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.


Under higher magnification the green spots on the lip reveal complex textures and stiff hairs. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Under higher magnification the green spots on the lip reveal complex textures and stiff hairs. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Remarkably complex surface details of the green spots. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Remarkably complex surface details of the green spots. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Closer view of the green spots reveal they are not just smooth spots of color. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Closer view of the green spots reveal they are not just smooth spots of color. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Eventually the pollinator must fall into the pouch (perhaps drugged by the orchid). Once the pollinator enters the pouch, it finds itself trapped, with limited ways out. Most of the inner surface of the lip is only lightly hairy, but one strip is carpeted with long hairs, and this strip leads the insect up to an escape route that passes directly under the stigma and anthers. The insect thus is forced to pollinate the flower if it wants to get out of there.

A cross-section view of the "slipper". Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A cross-section view of the “slipper”. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Closer cross-sectional view. Note the various kinds of hairs. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Closer cross-sectional view. Note the various kinds of hairs. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The variety of textures on this flower make me eager to look more closely at other flowers. Expect to see many more micro-photos here in the future!

A jumping spider watched me photographing the grasshoppers. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A jumping spider watched me photographing the grasshoppers. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lou Jost


Munn, C. A. 1986. Birds that ‘cry wolf.’ Nature 319: 143-145.

Una breve caminata en nuestra Reserva Río Anzu
IMG – Click para agrandar. Encontré esta ala brillante de una mariposa Morpho en el sendero de entrada. Probablemente fue comida por un jacamar, un ave con un pìco largo en forma de pinza. Estos atrapan mariposas y golpean sus cuerpos contra un palo hasta que se les caen las alas. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga
Un par de semanas atrás hice una corta visita a nuestra reserva de menor elevación, la Reserva de Río Anzu (1100 – 1200 m de elevación) en la cuenca del Amazonas, para marcar algunas orquídeas especiales para que un estudiante visitante las estudie. La Amazonía de las tierras bajas es el hábitat más rico del mundo para pájaros y árboles, y también alberga un desfile aparentemente interminable de insectos locos. Un viaje a esta reserva es siempre una experiencia alucinante, incluso aunque la reserva sea muy pequeña y carezca de grandes mamíferos diurnos debido a la presión de la caza indígena en el área circundante (Sin embargo, los jaguares negros acechan este bosque sin ser vistos por los ojos humanos, pero registrados en varias trampas de cámara diferentes…)
IMG – Click para agrandar. Una hormiga grande con mandíbulas aterradoras cruzó el ala morfo mientras yo estaba fotografiando. Lou Jost/EcoMinga
IMG – Por un minuto o dos vi este Fulvous Shrike-tanager (Lanio fulvus), una especie central de bandadas de aves insectívoras de especies mixtas aquí. Lou Jost/EcoMinga
Muy a menudo, en la entrada del sendero de esta reserva habrá una gran bandada mixta de aves, en su mayoría insectívoras, recorriendo las ramas y hojas del bosque. En este viaje me encontré con el rebaño apenas salí del taxi-camión que me traía allí. El rebaño y yo parecíamos seguir el mismo camino del bosque durante un largo camino, y disfruté de su ruidosa compañía. Un canto de pájaro particularmente agudo me alertó sobre el “líder” de la bandada, un Alcaudón-tangara (Lanio fulvus), un ave poco común que no se encuentra en nuestras reservas de mayor elevación. Este es uno de los famosos pájaros “mentirosos” (¡que no debe confundirse con los pájaros lira!) que vigila a los halcones, etc., y advierte a las bandadas mixtas del peligro, pero a veces “congela” la bandada con una llamada de falsa alarma cuando ve a un pájaro arrojar un insecto particularmente apetitoso. Luego agarra el insecto por sí mismo (Munn 1986). A pesar de su duplicidad ocasional, la presencia de esta especie permite que los demás miembros de la bandada encuentren más comida, ya que no tienen que perder tanto tiempo buscando peligros (dependen del Alcaudón-tangara para hacer eso). Entonces, una bandada generalmente se agrupa alrededor de la pareja local de Alcaudón-Tangaras, y se mueven juntas a través del bosque. 
IMG –  Esta mariposa Heliconius se sienta en el camino en la Reserva Río Anzu. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
A lo largo del día, elegantes mariposas llenaron el aire. Mi favorita (al menos en este día) son las mariposas Heliconius. Estas mariposas tienen larvas que se alimentan de hojas venenosas de pasiflora (Passiflora sp.), y por lo tanto, ellas mismas se vuelven venenosas para las aves. Los adultos tienen colores y patrones de advertencia fuertes, que muestran una variación geográfica muy compleja pero interesante. En cualquier área dada, a menudo dos especies diferentes de Heliconius compartirán exactamente el mismo patrón, pero en una región diferente, las mismas dos especies pueden compartir un patrón completamente diferente. Las variantes geográficas se estudian intensamente para dar pistas sobre el proceso de especiación incipiente, las posibles ubicaciones de “refugios” húmedos durante épocas pasadas de calor seco, etc. Vi muchas especies ese día, pero sólo logré fotografiar una. 
IMG – Flor de la pasión en el sotobosque. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga. 
Apropiadamente encontré una pasiflora gigante cerca. Estas especie es una liana de dosel pero tiene tallos florales cortos y trepadores especializados que a menudo salen cerca del suelo. Son polinizados por colibríes.  
La corona de “tentáculos” puntiagudos en el centro de la flor tiene una función importante. Las flores que atraen colibríes generalmente producen un montón de néctar, y este néctar es un recurso tentador para otras criaturas, incluyendo muchas que no desempeñan ningún papel en la polinización. Las flores con mejores defensas contra el robo de néctar tendrán más descendientes que las que no, por lo que se han desarrollado defensas muy elaboradas en muchas flores de colibrí, incluida esta. Las espigas blancas protegen el néctar debajo de ellas. Se separan fácilmente con el pico en forma de aguja de un colibrí, pero una hormiga o abeja torpe no puede acercar la cabeza al néctar. 
La parte posterior de la flor también tiene una defensa contra los ladrones de néctar. Las brácteas rodean la base de la flor tienen “nectarios extraflorales”, glándulas que producen por sí mismas un poco de néctar. A las hormigas y avispas les gusta pasar el rato y beber este néctar, y estos desagradables bichos ahuyentan a otros tipos de bichos que podrían morder la espalda para llegar a la gran reserva de néctar que hay en el interior. 
IMG – Los saltamontes de cabeza azul eran comunes en el camino. Click para agrandar. Lou Jost / EcoMinga
El día estuvo lleno de saltamontes. Fotografié una especialmente llamativa, pero muchas más escaparon de mi lente. Uno de los saltamontes que logré fotografiar llevaba dos ácaros parásitos (garrapatas) en una pierna. Los ácaros se ven comúnmente en insectos en los trópicos, pero no sé mucho sobre ellos. 
IMG – Ácaros (uno sano, otro muerto) en una pierna de saltamontes en el Río Anzu. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga
Junto con los saltamontes había muchos saltamontes longicornios. La mayoría de los saltamontes longicornios norteamericanos comen hojas, pero en los tropicos las cosas son más complicadas. Encontré un saltamontes carnívoro desagradable masticando el torso cortado de un bastón [macho del género Oreophoetes, de acuerdo al comentario de Yannick Bellanger a continuación] se sentó y miró, sin emoción. Los jugos del bastón a medio comer, a su vez, atraían a pequeños mosquitos que se reunían bajo la cabeza del saltamontes esperando la oportunidad de robar un bocado. Fue un Serengeti miniatura. El saltamontes longicornio molesto golpeó repetidamente a los mosquitos con sus patas delanteras, al igual que yo estaba aplastando a los mosquitos un poco más grandes que me molestaban. [Editado el 1 de diciembre para reflejar mis crecientes dudas de que estos dos bastones realmente pertenezcan a la misma especie. Parecen demasiado diferentes entre sí. ¿Algún experto con una opinión informada? Edición 22 de junio de 2016: Gracias Yannick Bellanger por las identificaciones y por responder a esta pregunta en los comentarios. Ambos son machos, de diferente género]
IMG – Encontré este saltamontes longicornio masticando un bastón mientras el compañero del bastón mira otro bastón. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga. 
IMG – Cabeza de la víctima. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga
IMG – Tenga en cuenta las complejas almohadillas de los pies del saltamontes asesino. Click para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga
IMG – Este bastón miraba mientras el saltamontes se comía al otro. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga
Después de un par de horas alcancé el Río Anzu por si mismo, una caminata  fácil de 15 minutos si he ignorado los insectos interesantes. Aquí es donde la orquídea zapatito Phragmipedium pearcei crece sobre la caliza húmeda de la ribera. Las plantas a menudo sumergidas cuando el río crece. En este día, el río estaba bajo y había muchos individuos en flor. 
IMG – Una orquídea zapatito, Phragmipedium pearcei, en la caliza del Río Anzu. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga.
IMG – El río Anzu – Lou Jost / EcoMinga
A primera vista, la textura de esta flor de orquídea zapatilla de dama no tiene nada de especial. Se ve suave como cualquier otra flor. Nunca le había dado una segunda mirada hasta ese día. Un microscopio reveló que la flor fue un complejo mosaico de texturas, pelos, glándulas y cosas que todavía no entiendo. Los pelos fueron claramente guías para los polinizadores de insectos, los cuales primero deben aterrizar en el borde plano blanco de la bolsa o “zapatilla” de la orquídea (la bolsa se llama “labio” en la terminología de la orquídea). Este borde blanco tiene una fila de manchas verdes aleatorias y otra fila poco organizada de manchas marrones más grandes. Cuando se magnifica, los puntos verdes resultan ser muchas crestas largas paralelas de color verde oscuro, separadas por “valles” de color marrón verdoso. El efecto es casi iridiscente. [Edición Diciembre 1: En respuesta a la pregunta de Lisa a continuación, investigué un poco y descubrí que el polinizador es una mosca hembra que cree que estas manchas verdes son en realidad pulgones, la presa de las larvas de mosca. La hembra aterriza en la flor para poner huevos entre los “Pulgones” y cae en la bolsa. Mis especulaciones sobre las manchas que parecían ojos de mosca estaban equivocadas. 
IMG – Vista superior de la “zapatilla” o labio de la orquídea Phragmipedium pearcei zapatilla de dama. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
IMG – El estaminoideo sobre la “zapatilla” o el labio. Con este aumento, las manchas verdes del labio comienzan a mostrar su verdadera complejidad. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
IMG – Con un aumento mayor, las manchas verdes del labio revelan texturas complejas y pelos rígidos. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga. 
IMG – Detalles de superficie notablemente complejos de las manchas verdes. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga 
IMG – Vista cercana de las manchas verdes revela que no son solo manchas suaves de color. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga.
Eventualmente el polinizador debe caer dentro de la bolsa (quizás drogado por la orquídea). Una vez que el polinizador ingresa a la bolsa, se encuentra atrapado, con salidas limitadas. La mayor parte de la superficie interna del labio tiene solo un poco de vello, pero una de las tiras está alfombrada con pelos largos, y esta tira lleva al insecto hasta una ruta de escape que pasa directamente debajo del estigma y las anteras. Por tanto, el insecto se ve obligado a polinizar la flor si quiere salir de allí. 
IMG – Una vista en sección transversal de la “zapatilla”. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.
IMG – Vista en sección transversal más cercana. Tenga en cuenta los distintos tipos de pelos. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
La variedad de texturas en esta flor me hace querer mirar más de cerca otras flores. ¡Espere ver más microfotografías de estas aquí en el futuro!
IMG – Una araña saltadora me mira fotografiando los saltamontes. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano-Flores


Munn, C. A. 1986. Birds that ‘cry wolf.’ Nature 319: 143-145