<span class="rt-reading-time" style="display: block;"><span class="rt-label rt-prefix">Reading Time: </span> <span class="rt-time">4</span> <span class="rt-label rt-postfix">minutes</span></span> The Mashpi Reserve is teeming with new and fascnating organisms that are continously being discovered. The Mashpi Torrenteer Frog is one of them!
The giant Owl Butterfly (Caligo eurilochus) at Mashpi Lodge happens to be one of the largest butterflies in all of Ecuador and one of 20 classified species of owl butterflies in the world. The owl butterfly belongs to the Nymphalidae family and Caligo genus – a unique classification of butterflies that can only be found on the American continent, mainly in the tropical forests that run from Mexico all the way to those in South America. In Ecuador, they live in forests at the foothills of both sides of the Andes, up to around 1,800 meters above sea level.
The giant Owl Butterfly, which is also called the Caligo, measures up to 20 cm (7.9 in) in wingspan, making it particularly visible to avian predators. As a result, it has developed a few behavioral and physical adaptations that help raise its chances of survival.
Among its behavioral adaptations, the Caligo has learned to fly small distances at a time so as to give any potential predators a harder time spotting and following them. This butterfly is also most active at dusk, when there are fewer birds out hunting and when visibility is at its lowest.
What makes the giant owl butterfly at Mashpi Lodge particularly interesting is that it employs mimicry, an evolutionary adaptation in which a harmless species copies the colors and patterns of a slightly more dangerous species.
As seen in the pictures of this blog, the Caligo’s wings each have two large circles that mimic the eyes of a much larger animal. This simple adaptation confuses predators and keeps them at bay by tricking them into thinking that the butterfly is a larger, more dangerous animal.
There are a number of theories that try to explain the reason behind this mesmerizing bit of mimicry. As its common name suggests, the Caligo’s wings may be imitating the eyes of an owl so that other species (birds in particular) think twice before attacking. Another theory is that the Caligo’s wings (the corners, specifically) have patterns that resemble a snake, which helps protect it from a number of other predators.
Another well-known example of mimicry in nature is that of the fake coral snake, which mimics the colors of the real coral snake (one of the most venomous snakes in the animal kingdom). Both these mimicking and real coral snake species can be found within the Mashpi Reserve. Fortunately, the poisonous type (the real coral snake) has an incredibly small head, which is designed to prey on smaller animals. As a result of its tiny head, it’s rather difficult for the snake to successfully bite a human.
Doubling as a research station, the Life Center is one of Mashpi’s most successful scientific experiments. It is officially managed by four of our staff members.
For research purposes, our science team regularly collects butterflies that are found throughout the reserve. These butterflies are kept inside the Life Center’s open areas, which allow them to fly about freely and reproduce, even. The fruits of this latter process allows us to easily collect their eggs and study them. In the process of doing so, the butterfly’s life cycle is mapped out: from egg to caterpillar, from to pupa to butterfly. To date, around 300 species of moths and butterflies have been identified at the Reserve, and the team at the Life Center has managed to successfully reproduce around 50 of these. All the information collected is added to a growing database that helps us protect the plants and animals of the Mashpi Reserve.
While the Life Center serves as a laboratory for our scientists, it also serves as an important tool that helps educate our guests about butterflies, their reproductive cycle, and the ways in which we can each help protect these incredible creatures. Here, guests can watch closely as caterpillars gradually transform into butterflies, all of it in real time.
In the Ecuadorian cloud forest there is an army of soldiers ready and waiting, equipped with extensive and resistant armour and many, many feet. Their mission: deal with the endless leaves fallen from the trees, bushes and plants.
Millipedes don’t often live up to their name, but they sure do have a lot of feet. They are arthropods (like spiders, and therefore they are not considered insects) who belong to the class of diplopods. This means that they have two pairs of feet for each segment of their bodies. In extreme cases they might have 700, but the majority of species don’t even reach 100.
In spite of their appearance and similar function within the ecosystem, they are not worms. The major difference is found in the feet (worms don’t have them). They are also similar to centipedes, but the difference is that, rather than having 900 less feet, centipedes belong to a class of quilopodes (Chilopoda). This class of quilopodes in particular only possesses: a.) a pair of feet per segment of the body and b.) oral appendixes through which they secrete venom. This latter feature is used for hunting, as centipedes are carnivores, while millipedes are almost always vegetarians.
There are a multitude of species, with some 12,000 having been identified. However, there are certainly many more species to discover, as they are distributed almost all over the planet, apart from Antarctica. They also inhabit a wide variety of ecosystems, usually forests. They are particularly present in deciduous forests like Ecuador’s cloud forest, or in forests in which a great many leaves fall, providing them with plenty of food. They are very resistant to extremely humid conditions. There are even species that can survive being submerged in water.
The role of millipedes in the ecosystem is very important. They are workers on the ground, in charge of decomposing organic material, which, together with bacteria and fungi, creates fresh, nutrient-rich soil. Such soil is a boon for the plants and trees. Furthermore, they are excellent excavators, meaning that wherever there are millipedes, a good oxygenation of soil and movement of nutrients will be found. Finally, millipedes are a source of food for other cloud forest species, such as insects, mammals, reptiles, birds and even amphibians.
As if their enormous collection of feet and incredible ability to bury themselves and to dig holes was not interesting enough, millipedes also have a trick up their sleeves: an incredible defence mechanism that beats even its bullet-proof armour. Millipedes of Ecuador’s cloud forest are specialised chemists who can create and stock certain substances in their glands, found in the leaves they decompose. They employ these substances to defend themselves against their predators. These substances might be cyanide, terpenes, and phenolic acids, among others. They act as excellent deterrents against would-be adversaries: they smell terrible and even burn upon contact.
More fascinating still is that there are species in Ecuador’s cloud forest that have learned that millipedes are great chemists. They therefore employ them in different ways, as if they were personal pharmacies. Some species of mammals, especially monkeys, have learned to use them as mosquito repellent and wipe their skin with them to ward off annoying bugs.
In Mashpi, you can easily spot different species of millipedes marching with their numerous pairs of legs among the carpet of leaves in the humid forest. It’s even possible to smell the strong substances that emanate from their skin if they feel threatened.
Birds found around the rainforest lodges of Ecuador just love to decorate themselves, especially males who live by the philosophy of the more uncomfortable the adornment, the better. Beauty, for them, knows no pain.
Courtship is a competitive sport for birds, and as the females are so demanding, the males sometimes put on awkward and heavy costumes to catch their fickle eyes.
If the exaggerated embellishments of feathers and crests don’t work, the males become all the more boisterous, trying even harder with elaborate songs and dance routines in which they deploy all their splendid charms and let rip in front of the ladies who peep at them suspiciously through the branches.
It doesn’t seem like a great plan, as with all the commotion and in plain sight of the whole forest they can also attract predators, who could take advantage of the vulnerable state that love brings about in feathered beings – to entrap them.
Even so, evolution has favoured some species that have survived, in spite of their weird, inconvenient, but beautiful adornments, and today they not only present a spectacle to their timid would-be girlfriends, but are also the object of much admiration for many bird-watchers who passionately seek seem out in the forest. Such is the case with the incredibly rare long-wattled umbrellabird (Cephalopterus penduliger), found almost exclusively around the jungle lodges of Ecuador.
The long-wattled umbrellabird, also known as the bull bird, is a species of cotinga that, just like the famous cock of the rock, uses leks to search for a partner. Leks are used by males to make their grand courtship performance where they show off their fine crest feathers, covering their heads up to the beak, like a pompadour coiffed by the most flamboyant of hairdressers. They are also rather like umbrellas, giving them their common name.
During this display of talent, a large and bizarre pendulum extends – from which its scientific name penduliger emerges – that hangs over its chest like a tie, inflating it to show all its splendour with the surrounding short and shiny feathers all erect. The umbrellabirds sing powerful songs in the leks, as if giving a good blow on a horn, a serious and heartfelt cry of love.
The long-wattled umbrellabird only lives in the Chocó, in western Colombia and Ecuador, on the flanks of the Andes, interlinked with the mountain-foot rainforests and lowlands that look onto the Pacific Ocean.
It feeds on lots of different fruits, normally choosing the large fruit of palms from the Arecaceae family, or also on trees and bushes from the Lauraceae and Myrtaceae families.
By eating fruit and then regurgitating it, it is an important species for the forest as it helps to disperse seeds. It also eats insects and little vertebrates like lizards. Outside of the leks it is not usual to spot these birds together; just like the cock of the rock, only the female is in charge of incubating the eggs – normally in nests above palms – and feeding the young. The male is otherwise engaged in decorating his body, singing and inflating his pendulum.
This is an enigmatic Chocó bird, incredibly rare and appreciated by bird lovers. However, in some places, like Mashpi Lodge (one of the best rainforest lodges in Ecuador for birding) there are located populations, so it is easy to see and admire them whether it is after a good walk or from the comfort of the hotel. This species is in a vulnerable state of conservation and its populations are decreasing due to the accelerated destruction of forests generated by the expansion of urban and agricultural limits. But, Mashpi has a great expanse of forest, and all who work there are trying their hardest to conserve and protect it.
No two days are ever the same at Mashpi, eco lodge in Ecuador’s cloud forest. There are days when you can see and hear the common animals that the guests are fond of, but there are also days when you come across species that are so rare that any glimpse of them is a novelty, a great and beautiful surprise for Mashpi’s guests and staff alike.
Such was the case with the Pristimantis ornatissimus, an amphibian species that was seen yesterday by guests and guides on the Lodge’s terrace, who took advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime moment to photograph the extraordinary creature. This beautiful and sweet little frog was found resting on the bromeliad of a tree and immediately grabbed everyone’s attention.
A species endemic to the lowlands of the Chocó and the adjacent hillsides of the Ecuadorian Andes, this frog is nocturnal and arboreal – it lives on large leaves, especially those of bromeliads in the higher parts of the forest. Sadly, this species is now vulnerable due to deforestation, loss of habitat and climate change.
The name of this species is interesting. Its specific nickname (cutín adornado in Spanish, or adorned ‘cutin’) comes from the Latin: ornatus means decorated or ornate. It cannot be confused with any other Ecuadorian frog as it is the most beautiful in its group, which is why it is thought of as a jewel of the Mashpi forest and deserves all our efforts of conservation.
HOWLER MONKEYS ON THE DRAGONFLY
By: Freddy Heredia
Working in Mashpi Lodge is amazing because of what it means to live in such a gloriously natural environment. In my daily work I have been lucky to see various species of animals and so many of the remarkable things that happen in the forest.
Yesterday morning, while I was going about my maintenance work on the cable car, something caught my eye high up in the trees. For a moment I paused in one of the gondolas to see what was happening; suddenly I realised that it was a group of howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata) that had grabbed my attention. Immediately, I took out my smartphone to record the animals as they fed. There was even a baby monkey hanging off its mother as she swung from branch to branch.
All this happened during a sunny morning when these monkeys, whose strong songs or howls can be heard up to 8km away, brightened the day of everyone who was there working on the Dragonfly. The Ecuador eco lodge’s gondola is an amazing attraction, offering its guests the incredible experience of gliding along a 2km-long cable, skimming above the forest.
A rare beast of a bird
By: Wilfrido Basantes
While I was leaving the staff house of the Ecuador eco lodge, I came across a gaudo guan, Penelope ortoni, feeding on the fruits of a miconia. This species is very rare, it only inhabits the Choco ecoregion and is in danger of extinction due to the high rate of deforestation and hunting. These birds are some of the most sought after by bird-watchers. They play a very important role in the dispersal of seeds.
<span class="rt-reading-time" style="display: block;"><span class="rt-label rt-prefix">Reading Time: </span> <span class="rt-time">3</span> <span class="rt-label rt-postfix">minutes</span></span> Due to its privileged position within the Chocó, Mashpi is home to some 400 species in different habitats and stratum, with some 35 registered as endemic.
<span class="rt-reading-time" style="display: block;"><span class="rt-label rt-prefix">Reading Time: </span> <span class="rt-time">2</span> <span class="rt-label rt-postfix">minutes</span></span> These beautiful arachnids have an alarming appearance. On one of our night walks, we came across one of the most known, and feared, arthropods in the world.
<span class="rt-reading-time" style="display: block;"><span class="rt-label rt-prefix">Reading Time: </span> <span class="rt-time">3</span> <span class="rt-label rt-postfix">minutes</span></span> In Mashpi, tanagers are two-a-penny and can be seen anywhere at any time; there are incredible species that merit being sought out at dawn
<span class="rt-reading-time" style="display: block;"><span class="rt-label rt-prefix">Reading Time: </span> <span class="rt-time">3</span> <span class="rt-label rt-postfix">minutes</span></span> Woodpeckers are found almost everywhere around the world. Known in Spanish as carpinteros, or carpenters. Find out more about woodpeckers that easily can be spotted in Mashpi.
<span class="rt-reading-time" style="display: block;"><span class="rt-label rt-prefix">Reading Time: </span> <span class="rt-time">3</span> <span class="rt-label rt-postfix">minutes</span></span> Very few people know of the existence of organisms with of one of the most extraordinary life cycles in nature: parasite fungi of insects.