It’s hard to imagine that a visionary tourism project like Mashpi Lodge is in fact the result of the simple desire – which to many would sound slightly unhinged – to protect the forests northwest of Quito, Ecuador’s capital. But that’s exactly what happened when, in 1999, the Mashpi project began, acquiring 600 of the 2,500 hectares that today make up the Mashpi Reserve. Since then, a highly capable and committed team has continuously developed strategies and actions to guarantee the forest’s conservation, as the perfect complement to the responsible tourism operation at the lodge. One of the pillars of this strategy is scientific research. 

The work of researchers, both from the lodge and allied institutions, allows us to gain a greater understanding of the forest. With and through this knowledge, we can create an unparalleled experience for our guests, while simultaneously working to maintain a healthy ecosystem and a culture of lasting sustainability in the region. 

lucas bustamante mashpi reserve ecuador andean choco

Ecuador is one of the planet’s most megadiverse nations. However, most of us know very little about the work and dedication involved in actually studying and classifying this diversity. To give you an idea of the scale of the challenge and Ecuador’s importance, the country boasts 20% more animal and plant species than the entire United States, a territory 35 times larger!  

In the Mashpi Reserve alone, since the lodge’s opening 10 years ago, we have been part of the description of nine new species for science, including the Magnolia mashpi, Hyloscirtus mashpi and Lepanthes mashpica.

It takes curiosity, scientific rigor, commitment, and teamwork to describe a new species for science. Today we have the pleasure of sharing probably the most beautiful and unique frog in all our reserve: the Mashpi Glass Frog (Hyalinobatrachium mashpi). 

glass frog mashpi ecuador andean choco

In 2014, a team of researchers, including Carlos Morochz, then Director of Research and Biology at Mashpi Lodge, began a diversity monitoring study in the surrounding reserve. In December of that year, after a few hours tramping through and along the banks of the Amagusa River, the light of the team’s flashlights lit up the body of a creature no more than 2 cm big. It was an extremely transparent frog, which the researchers could not identify with certainty, despite their extensive knowledge of these forests and their inhabitants. 

This was the first clue that it might be a new species. 

juan manuel guayasamin researcher mashpi frog
Juan Manuel Guayasamin, researcher (Photo by Lucas Bustamante)

 The intrigue and excitement caused by this first sighting of the frog led to several more outings, at night, in the rain, for hours on end. Once the first year of monitoring was over, doubts about the species remained. Despite all the efforts of the researchers to collect as much data as possible about this elusive frog — which likes to hang out high up in the trees around rivers, not close to the ground — the evidence remained scarce. Without a doubt, more studies were needed to help find answers. 

Finally, in September 2019, the researchers managed to record the frog’s distinct call and thus complete the puzzle — almost five years after finding the first individual! 

Click here to listen to the Mashpi Glass Frog!

With the field data complete and firm evidence to indicate this was a new species, the morphological, acoustic, and molecular analyses were carried out. This research was made possible through the combined efforts of Mashpi Lodge, Fundación Futuro, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, University of California Berkeley, University of Bern, Photo Wildlife Tours, and Tropical Herping. 

It is amazing that in the 21st century, the forests near the most populous city in the country continue to surprise us. The forests of the foothills of the Northwest of Pichincha, especially the protected forests such as those of Mashpi, represent unique natural heritage. They are a living laboratory of speciation. 

The results of the analyses revealed that there were in fact two different species: one from the Cordillera del Toisán and the other from Mashpi, separated by the valley of the Guayllabamba River and the Intag River. Hyalinobatrachium mashpi and its sister species Hyalinobatrachium nouns possess the same morphological characteristics, but, being geographically separated, they have differentiated genetically. This is the wonder of speciation! 

To better understand this evolutionary process, let’s imagine a population of frogs that long ago inhabited the same territory. Due to ancient geological processes, they became separated. Now we have a population on one side of the river and another on the other. These geological events, in a geography as complex as that of the Andes, cause the two populations to lose contact with each other for many years until they differ, to the point that their genes differ. Speciation in the Andes, apart from being intriguing, is a key factor at play, because it generates endemism. In other words, these species live in very geographically-restricted areas. This also makes them highly vulnerable to any change in their habitat. 

species variation glass frog mashpi

We’re very proud that Anderson Medina, who hails from the nearby village of Pachijal and joined the Mashpi Lodge team as a research assistant when he was still in his teens, is today co-author of the description of the Mashpi Glass Frog. People who have known Anderson from his first years at Mashpi describe him as a restless boy, who accompanied the researchers wherever they went of his own accord, and gradually acquired greater and greater knowledge about biology and research. Anderson has known these forests since childhood and now works to protect them. Today, he’s a staff researcher at Mashpi Lodge and a key ally to all researchers who come to investigate the wonders of the Mashpi Reserve, whether Ecuadorian and international. 

anderson medina researcher mashpi ecuador andean choco
Anderson Medina, researcher (Photo by Lucas Bustamante)

The discovery of this new species is undoubtedly important for the scientific community and for Ecuador. It shows the importance of the articulated work between Mashpi Lodge’s Research and Biology team, academia, and local institutions, who, together, continue to add evidence about the importance of protecting the biodiversity and endemism of the Chocó forests. 

Research can also provide new opportunities for local young people to connect with their lands and generate livelihoods for themselves and their families.  

Have a look at these photos of the Mashpi Glass Frog by Carlos Morochz!

Research inspires and nurtures personal and institutional commitments to biodiversity. That’s why research has been a fundamental pillar and a priority since Mashpi’s inception over 10 years ago.  

We would like to sincerely thank each and every one of our guests, who, through their visits to our reserve, not only contribute to the financing of these investigations, but also return home as ambassadors for this globally-important and beautiful ecosystem. 

We also congratulate all the researchers for their scientific article published in the PeerJ journal: Juan M. Guayasamín, Rebecca M. Brunner, Anyelet Valencia-Aguilar, Daniela Franco-Mena, Eva Ringler, Anderson Medina Armijos, Carlos Morochz, Lucas Bustamante, Ross J. Maynard and Jaime Culebras.  

carlos morochz researcher mashpi ecuador andean choco
Carlos Morochz, researcher (Photo by Lucas Bustamante)

You can read the full scientific paper here. 


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.

owl butterfly Mashpi Lodge caligo mariposa buho

Unique Characteristics

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.

Breakfast Life Center Mashpi lodge

Mashpi’s Life Center

Our guests at Mashpi can actually get ridiculously close to the Caligo over at Mashpi’s Life Center.

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.

So, are you ready to see the incredible Owl Butterfly at Mashpi Lodge for yourself? Make a reservation at Mashpi Lodge today!


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 Mashpi Jewel

By: Augusto Rodríguez Flores

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.



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.