What plant and animal species can you see at Mashpi Lodge?
Located in the very center of one of Earth’s most biodiverse regions, the Mashpi reserve is literally teeming with life, hosting thousands of plant and animal species. The reserve is home to the Mashpi Magnolia and the Mashpi Torrenteer, two previously unknown species to science, and the team of dedicated biologists working at Mashpi Lodge, along with multiple local and foreign universities, are currently studying more than 15 specific species in depth. However, of the nearly countless species in Mashpi, there are several that are particularly intriguing for different reasons. We’ve put together a list of the top 5 plants, mammals and birds that you’ll have a good chance of seeing on your trip to Mashpi Lodge.
The Top 5 Mammals in Mashpi
Agoutis are small diurnal and nocturnal rodents that have some singular behavioral traits. Sometimes referred to as “jungle gardeners” given their tendency to disperse seeds, they also tend to bury their food – and then forget about it! This leads to further dispersion, greatly aiding the expansion of the cloud forest. Similar to squirrels, Agoutis sit on their hind legs to eat, grasping fruits and nuts in their hands while breaking them open with their very sharp teeth. When threatened, Agoutis raise the hairs on their back and tails in defense, similar to porcupines, despite the fact that they do not have spines! They are very fast runners, though, and have been known to keep dogs chasing them for hours on end. While locals occasionally hunt them for food, Agoutis are protected animals.
Due to their exotic appearance, one of the most common questions asked about Tayras is, “What kind of animal is that, anyway?” Tayras are opportunistic, largely diurnal omnivores related to weasels and martens, but are somewhat larger. Their keen sense of smell compensates for their generally poor eyesight, and once they’ve identified a small rodent or invertebrate, they give chase rather than employing stalking or ambush tactics. Tayras are extraordinarily good climbers thanks to their exceptionally strong curved claws and open, hairless palms, and even leap from tree to tree in search of food. Particularly fond of the plantains found around Mashpi Lodge, Tayras are one of the only animals known to cache unripe fruit, leave it sit for a few days to ripen, then return to eat it.
A member of the racoon family, Coatis have long ringed tails that measure around half of their entire body length. Their tails aren’t as useful as a monkey’s tail, but they often hold their tail high when foraging in groups to be able to keep an eye on each other in the dense underbrush of the cloud forest, and they use it as a visual means of marking territory. Coatis have a singularly long snout and, like Tayras, are opportunistic omnivores, feeding mostly on fruit and small vertebrates and invertebrates, and using their snouts to burrow into the soil in search of tasty morsels. Full-grown males usually hunt alone, and are locally referred to as “walk-alones” due to their solitary behavior.
Mantled Howler Monkey
Contrary to other monkey species found in South American rainforests, Mantled Howler Monkeys are quite large, measuring an average of 600 – 750 mm (2 – 2.5 feet) long, not including their tails, which are generally at least the same length or longer than their bodies. Known as the world’s loudest mammals, the guttural grunting of Howler Monkeys (“howls” to the most optimistic of listeners) can be heard for up to 5 kilometers (3 miles) through the dense brush of the cloud forest. Howling is done to audibly mark their territory and, when threatened, Howler Monkeys jump up and down in the trees where they are sitting, breaking branches in a fascinating show of strength. They often defend themselves by urinating on intruders with uncanny accuracy or even throwing their feces at them! Howler Monkeys are vegetarian, feeding exclusively on tree leaves and sometimes on fruit, making them one of the cloud forest’s main seed dispersers.
The Silky Anteater gets its name from commonly making its habitat in silk cotton trees, and it actually resembles a silk cotton tree pod, helping it to keep camouflaged from predators. One of the smallest and slowest-moving anteaters in the world, the Silky Anteater is nocturnal and rarely strays from the trees it lives among, lazily snacking on up to 5,000 ants and termites per day. Interestingly enough, when threatened it stands up on its hind legs and brings its front claws in front of its face, much like a boxer, and then proceeds to strike out at predators, clobbering them and cutting them with its sharp claws.
The Top 5 Birds in Mashpi
The Moss-Backed Tanager, endemic to the Choco forest and the Mashpi reserve, happens to be the bird found in the logo of the Mashpi Lodge. Small, very colorful birds, the Moss-Backed Tanager is an omnivore that uses its curved beak to reach into small cracks in tree bark to find juicy insects. While abundant in and around Mashpi, it is severely threatened outside of the reserve due to habitat destruction.
The Tropical Kingbird is a large flycatcher found in the Mashpi reserve. Highly territorial and aggressive, the Tropical Kingbird has been seen in Mashpi to even chase hawks out of their territory – in fact, they are locally known as “hawk whippers.” It’s scientific name, Tyranus mellancolicus, comes from its tyrannical behavior and its solitary, seemingly melancholic lifestyle. Avid insectivores, the Tropical Kingbird is particularly adept at taking long, looping flights to snatch insects out of mid-air or hovering near a tree and snacking on slumbering bugs.
A distant relative of the common kingfisher, the Broad-billed Motmot is immediately distinguishable for its brownish red head and emerald-green body. They are easy to spot in the immediate surroundings of Mashpi Lodge, as they feed on the insects that are attracted to the lights on the buildings. The Broad-billed Motmot nests in tunnels dug in the sides of riverbanks or other earthen walls, and is known to live in groups of up to 40 individuals. One particularly intriguing aspect of the Broad-billed Motmot is that it has two long tail feathers that it swings from side to side like a pendulum, believed to indicate to a nearby predator that the Motmot knows that it’s there and will fly away if provoked. This display prevents it from having to spend the energy to flee while the predator avoids a fruitless pursuit that is unlikely to bear results.
Cock of the Rock
Easily recognizable for its brilliant red head and jet-black body, the Cock of the Rock is known for performing elaborate mating dances en masse at specific places called leks. There is a lek located within the Mashpi reserve, although the hike there is recommended for only the most adventurous of guests, as it takes three hours through the virgin cloud forest in the dark of night – the spectacle begins at dawn, so the hike starts at 3 AM! The Cock of the Rock was given its name due to the fact that it nests on rocky outcroppings and looks not unlike a turkey with its brightly colored disk-shaped crest.
Velvet Purple Coronet
One of the most common hummingbirds in the immediate surroundings of Mashpi Lodge, the Velvet Purple Coronet stands out from the rest due to its bright and deep shades of purple, along with bright hues of green, blue, and white. Endemic to the Choco region, the Velvet Purple Coronet is polygamous and, as with most hummingbirds, exhibits sexually dimorphism, meaning that there are significant differences between males and females, including body and wing size, colors, and beak length and shape. An omnivore, the general diet of the Velvet Purple Coronet is 80% flower nectar and 20% small insects.
BONUS: The Crimson-Rumped Toucanet
The Crimsom-Rumped Toucanet is one of the smallest toucans in the world, but it is quite easy to spot in and around Mashpi due to the distinctive shape and size of its beak. Made of keratin, their hollow beaks are extremely strong and can regenerate if broken in a fight. Due to its large green plumage, the Crimsom-Rumped Toucanet can be easily confused with its surroundings, except for its large rump and the tip of the tail which are maroon in color. Its diet consists mainly of fruits, which makes it a great seed disperser, but it also occasionally feeds on the eggs and chicks of other birds.
The Top 5 Plants in Mashpi
Elephant Ear Plants
The Colocasia, commonly known as the “Elephant Ear” plant, is an herbaceous perennial plant with a thin stem and an enormous leaf shaped like a large ear – hence its name. Its sap tends to cause irritation and itchiness when it comes into contact with the skin, deterring insects and animals from eating it. Given the sheer size of its leaves, farmers often use the Colocasia as an umbrella when caught out in tropical storms; thus it is wryly referred to as the “poor man’s umbrella.”
The technical name of this plant family is “Bromelioideae,” a mouthful for even the most avid biologist! While there are several genera and hundreds of subspecies, the Bromelias found in the Mashpi reserve are fascinating for one main reason: they host entire miniature ecosystems in their leaves. Given that they are shaped like inverted umbrellas, the leaves collect a large quantity of water and dead leaves that decompose, providing not only the nutrients that the Bromelia needs, but also refuge and water required by animal species that live in the canopy of the cloud forest. One example are the different species of tree frogs that permanently live in Bromelias given the constant supply of water and small insects that they find in the leaves.
The Cecropia is a pioneer tree, meaning that it grows quickly and aggressively while producing succulent fruit that is actively sought by many of the animals and insects in the Mashpi reserve. This means that not only are they very common throughout the reserve, but they are also among the first trees to occupy areas that have been cleared for pasture, crops, or other human activity. Locally known as the guarumo, some Cecropia species have a fascinating mutualistic and symbiotic relationship with Aztec ants. They provide the ants with a constant source of food and shelter, and the ants vigorously defend the trees from insects and animals seeking to consume its leaves. The ants also protects the Cecropia trees from other encroaching plants that quite literally seek to steal their sunshine.
Copal trees are amongst the tallest in the Mashpi reserve, some of which are more than 30 meters (98 feet) tall. Their name come from the word Copali in the Nahuatl (or Aztec) language, which means “incense” due to its strong aroma. There are around 60 Copal species, but the most common ones around Mashpi are the Dacroides which, when cut, pours its sap out much like tears from human eyes. The resin of these trees has analgesic properties, and has historically been used to treat muscular pain and toothaches. Given the high quality of its wood, it is highly sought after for making furniture, leading the Copal to becoming considered a threatened species.
Also known as “wild plantains,” Heliconia leaves look a lot like the leaves found on banana trees despite the fact that they are not closely related. Heliconia flowers grow in a curved shape, and are therefore only pollinized by rufous-breasted hermit hummingbirds, which also have a curved beak. Heliconias are particularly important host plants for the larvae of some butterfly species, especially the giant Owl Butterflies commonly spotted around Mashpi Lodge.
The Mashpi reserve undoubtedly hosts an astounding variety of plant, animal and bird species, many of which are entirely unique to this incredible hotspot of biodiversity. There is so much to see early in the morning, under the midday sun, and deep into the afternoon, while the dark of night reveals countless other species that simply pass undetected during the day. Maybe the very best advice for visiting Mashpi is simply to keep your eyes open – for the wonders of nature await.