February 13, 2019 0

<span class="rt-reading-time" style="display: block;"><span class="rt-label rt-prefix">Reading Time: </span> <span class="rt-time">6</span> <span class="rt-label rt-postfix">minutes</span></span> Discover the wonders of Ecuador's Choco Bioregion from Mashpi Lodge! Learn about how to plan your stay at Mashpi with this blog.


January 7, 2019 0

<span class="rt-reading-time" style="display: block;"><span class="rt-label rt-prefix">Reading Time: </span> <span class="rt-time">8</span> <span class="rt-label rt-postfix">minutes</span></span> 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.


November 19, 2018 2

<span class="rt-reading-time" style="display: block;"><span class="rt-label rt-prefix">Reading Time: </span> <span class="rt-time">6</span> <span class="rt-label rt-postfix">minutes</span></span> Traveling to Mashpi Lodge is a decidedly unique experience. There’s so much to see during the three-and-a-half hour trip that it is often hard to take it all in. To top it off, despite the generally good conditions of the road itself, it curves down and along the Andes like a snake chasing its fleeting prey! But what is the ride to Mashpi really like?


October 3, 2018 0

<span class="rt-reading-time" style="display: block;"><span class="rt-label rt-prefix">Reading Time: </span> <span class="rt-time">8</span> <span class="rt-label rt-postfix">minutes</span></span> Surrounded by towering waterfalls, soaring exotic trees, and seemingly unending, countless tones of green, Mashpi Lodge is located in the very heart of Ecuador´s Choco cloud forest, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. While watching breathtaking videos and looking at beautiful pictures of Mashpi, it quickly becomes evident that it is sometimes sunny, often cloudy, and occasionally raining. So what is the weather really like at Mashpi? Seemingly a simple question, it´s not quite as straightforward as you might think.


September 17, 2018 2

Reading Time: 8 minutes

A Place Apart: The Mashpi Reserve in Ecuador


 The Mashpi Reserve, located in the Ecuadorian Choco (which itself is part of a broader biogeographical region that runs from Panama to the north of Peru), is found along the western slope of the Andes. Located in the northwest corner of Quito’s Metropolitan District, the Mashpi Reserve is a hotspot for biodiversity and offers visitors access to some of the most remarkable, pristine rainforest and cloud forest in Ecuador.

While the Mashpi Reserve easily contends with the Amazon as a top Ecuador destination, most tourists that travel to Ecuador have never heard about this spectacular cloud forest. In the following article, we’ll lay out the characteristics that set the Mashpi Reserve apart and compare it to the more commonly-known Ecuadorian Amazon.


The Mashpi Reserve Complete Package: A Rainforest and Cloud Forest in One

Did you know that the Amazon isn’t the only rainforest in Ecuador?

The Andes mountain range divides Ecuador into three general regions: Pacific Coast, Andes and Amazon. If you were to track how the landscape changes as you travel from East to West (from the Pacific Coast to the Amazon), you’d be surprised to find that there are actually two types of rainforest and cloud forest in Ecuador: Coastal and Amazonian.

In Ecuador, the Mashpi Reserve is one of the few regions that encompasses both rainforest and cloud forest (as well as many other ecosystems). As you descend from the Andes traveling west, the montane forests give way to the cloud forest between 2,200 meters (7,218 feet) and at 900 meters (2,953 feet) above sea level. This cloud forest gradually transforms into a tropical, coastal rainforest that runs nearly all the way to Ecuador’s Pacific Coast. The total area of the Choco region (a major region in which the Mashpi Reserve is located) in Ecuador is approximately 47,000 km2 (18,146 mi2).

Conversely, a visit to the Amazon exposes you to only one type of forest: tropical rainforest. Beginning at the foothills of the Andes’ eastern slope, the Amazon rainforest covers an area almost as large as the continental United States and extends across nine South American countries. It offers an incredible wealth of flora and fauna as well as opportunities to discover indigenous cultures, but reaching it is slightly complex and certainly time-consuming. How much you manage to see during your fleeting vacation is clearly an important factor when choosing a destination. This leads many visitors to decide to focus their journey on the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, which is located in the Ecuadorian Amazon along the Colombian border.

Part of the Amazon Basin, Cuyabeno harbors a large diversity of wildlife within a concentrated area that’s characterized by floodplains at the foothill of the Andes. In a four-day trip, you might see a large part of the animal species on your Amazon bucket list. The downside to visiting this area (beyond time issues), however, is that it isn’t a very exclusive experience, and for every outing you’ll likely have to squeeze onto a small motor-powered canoe with 20+ other tourists.

In comparison, the Mashpi Reserve offers visitors an exclusive experience with access to both the rainforest and cloud forest in Ecuador, guaranteeing numerous wildlife sightings within a short amount of time.


The Great Divide: The Andes Mountain Range

To get a clearer picture of why the Amazon and the Mashpi Reserve in Ecuador are so different, it’s necessary to travel back in time by a few million years. Around 60 million years, to be more precise. At that time, the Andes mountain range began to rise from the continent, reaching its full height around 10 million years ago.

As the Earth’s longest continental mountain range, the Andes functioned as a physical barrier between East and West. This natural “great wall” created geographic isolation between species on either side of the range, preventing their interaction, and leading to speciation (the formation of new and distinct species in the course of evolution). You can check out a cool video about this process below:

This continental barrier is also responsible for the change in climate between the two regions: the Andes blocked the flow of humid air from the Atlantic coast and kept water from draining into the Pacific. The massive amount of humidity and water that accumulated west of the Andes is responsible for the modern-day Amazon Basin and the namesake river that drains into the Atlantic Ocean.

On the western side of the Andes, new high-elevation habitats and environmental conditions were formed. Among these is the Mashpi Reserve’s rainforest and cloud forest.

The rise of the Andes is a fascinating (and controversial) topic that goes beyond the scope of this article. If you’re interested in learning more, then be sure to read this ScienceMag post.


Speciation between Amazon species and the Mashpi Reserve’s cloud forest animals

The process that led to the formation of the Andes mountain range resulted in impressive levels of speciation, with significant differences found when comparing the animals of the Ecuadorian Amazon and Mashpi Reserve cloud forest. However, since many of them share a common ancestor, striking similarities are also apparent. The following three examples provide a small glimpse into some of the evolutionary changes that took place between similar species across both regions:

Choco cloud forest star: the Cock of the Rock

Cock of the Rock

An intriguing example of speciation between the Amazon and the Mashpi Reserve is the Cock of the Rock (Rupicola peruvianus). Known best for its vibrant coloration and fan-shaped crests (in male birds only), the Cock of the Rock is found on both sides of the Andes, with only a subtle variation to its plumage color. In the Amazon, the Cock of the Rock displays a fiery red-orange coloration, while in the Mashpi Reserve it is a solid, and brilliant, red.

In this case, both the Mashpi Reserve and Amazon’s birds are the same species, though they are classified as separate subspecies. As a result of their separation over time, they have evolved only slightly differently.

Long-wattled Umbrella bird

 Another bird with a similar story is the magnificent, and rare, long-wattled umbrellabird (Cephalopterus penduliger).

To attract its mate, the male long-wattled umbrella bird is adorned with a crest and a large throat wattle. If you’ve never seen a throat wattle, it’s time you did. By drawing so much attention to itself, the male umbrella bird makes itself more vulnerable to predators. Fortunately, the length of its wattle can be controlled, and is always retracted in flight.

Between the Mashpi Reserve and the Amazon, the differences between umbrella wattle-bird species were significant enough to classify them as separate species. In appearance, they strongly resemble one another, but the Amazonian species (Cephalopterus ornatus) is noticeably larger.

 You can see the bird yourself at Mashpi Lodge!

3 species you’ll see only in the Mashpi Reserve’s cloud forest

The Amazon’s sheer magnitude manifests in numerous ways.

In breadth, the Amazon rainforest extends over thousands of kilometers, crossing over eight political borders. In depth, the Amazon River can be up to 100 meters (328 feet) deep and, in certain parts, can even be navigated by large steamboats. In height, the Amazon canopy is nearly as high as a 14-story building, averaging a whopping 30-45 meters (100-150 feet)!

Everything in the Amazon is just… bigger, including the animals that dwell there. Among the more popular Amazonian inhabitants are the jaguar, the pink dolphin, the tapir, bird-eating tarantulas, and man-eating piranhas (which, by the way, are generally harmless in spite of their aggressive name).

The Mashpi Reserve’s cloud forest, in contrast, harbors much smaller animal species. Many of these species are endemic to the Choco bioregion (the bioregion that the Mashpi Reserve sits in); that is, they can only be found in the Choco cloud forest region and nowhere else in the world. In fact, among the reptiles and amphibians found in the Choco, nearly 40% are endemic.

The Mashpi Reserve within the Ecuadorian Choco is a pristine, unspoilt tract of the Choco where, if you’re lucky, you might have the opportunity to see a few of the following endemic creatures:

Beautiful tree frog. Photo: Augusto Rodriguez Flores


“Cutin Adornado” (Pristimantis ornatissimus)

Pristimantis ornatissimus is a small tree frog endemic to the north-western flank of the Andes (between 400-1,800 meters [1,312 – 5,905 feet] above sea level).

 Due to its bright yellow coloration, the frog is thought of as a jewel in the forest. This also helps to explain its name: in Latin, ornatus means decorated or ornate. In fact, even the local nickname used to describe the frog, cutin adornado (adorned “cutin”), refers to its decorative colors.

 A nocturnal and arboreal species, Pristimantis ornatissimus lives in large leaves and bromeliads. Unfortunately, as is too often the case these days, it is now on the world’s vulnerable species list due to habitat loss and deforestation and, as an amphibian, it is especially vulnerable to agricultural pollution.

Choco Toucan: a favorite bird to spot at Mashpi Lodge


Choco Toucan (Ramphastos brevis)

 This bright toucan is endemic to the Choco forests, as its name implies. Unlike Pristimantis ornatissimus (described above) frequent sightings of the Choco Toucan attest to the population’s overall health. That being said, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, this toucan’s population appears to be decreasing. The good news, however, is that its species is spread out over a wide region and is therefore exposed to less immediate risk.

The Choco toucan is a large, striking bird. Its yellow and black beak is conspicuous, as well as its call, which sounds more like a croak than an actual call. In the forest, these birds are known to cause quite a racket, especially when flocking together. There’s something about a toucan’s colors, beak and character that delight birders and non-birders alike.

In the Mashpi Reserve, one of the best places to spot the toucan is from the Dragonfly, a cloud forest cable car at Mashpi Lodge that inserts you right into the forest canopy.


The cloud forest in Ecuador is home to beautiful hummingbirds, like this Violet-tailed sylph

Violet-tailed sylph (Aglaiocercus coelestis)

Along the Mashpi Reserves upper cloud forest, at around 900 meters (3,000 feet), birdwatchers may have the distinct privilege of spotting yet another endemic bird species: the violet-tailed sylph. Named after the male’s stunning, long, and resplendent tail, this little bird species maintains a stable population and is not at risk.

Like the other animals on this short list of endemic Choco species, the violet-tailed sylph can only be sighted in the Choco, thriving in its mossy forest. It lives here year-round and can be spotted frequenting the sweet water feeders around Mashpi Lodge.

Wrapping up…

If you hadn’t considered visiting Mashpi Reserve’s rainforest and cloud forest before, it’s time you did.

Only a fraction of the size of the Amazon, the Mashpi Reserve is an important piece of one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world! In Ecuador, the Mashpi Reserve’s natural wealth is concentrated in an accessible and exclusive reserve, just a three-hour drive from the country’s capital.

Are you ready to experience the Mashpi Reserve?

Make your reservation at Mashpi Lodge today.


August 24, 2018 1
Reading Time: 7 minutes

A family vacation at Mashpi Lodge is all about learning!

As the large, wooden gates at the front entrance of Mashpi Lodge swing open and your transfer vehicle rolls in, it’s hard not to be instantly impressed by the freshness of it all: dense foliage drooping with enormous leaves, miniature waterfalls cascading gently beside the road, and the recurring calls of the wild. All of these elements (and countless more) completely surround you within a matter of seconds of going in.

It’s no small wonder, then, that families often refer to this initial moment at Mashpi Lodge as “the Jurassic Park moment” – a mysterious threshold that sees our guests completely intrigued to find out just what, exactly, lies beyond those big, mysterious gates. And those initial 5 minutes upon entering the reserve serve as nothing more than a “red carpet” for what awaits at the end of the gravel road – a modern and elegant structure one would never expect to find in the middle of the Ecuadorian rainforest. And yet there it sits, with its doors wide open.

Welcome to Mashpi Lodge: A one-of-a-kind rainforest hotel in Ecuador that offers the Ultimate Family Vacation. Follow along in this blog as we have a look at what activities we have in store for you and your family, should you choose to come visit us!

Family-friendly activities at Mashpi

Activities for young children

Bringing the young ones to Mashpi Lodge is an absolutely ingenious idea: What better way to expose your kid(s) to the wonders of the natural world than right here, in this pristine rainforest?

Mashpi Lodge is ideal for all ages

At Mashpi Lodge, as soon as you step outside each morning, you and your family will have something to admire, touch and learn about. Together with your loved ones, you can opt to swing from the sturdy vines, play in the gentle creeks, or point out the insects and animals that inhabit the area. Our guides have plenty of experience designing guided tours for families and their children, so you can rest assured that they’ll be focused on providing everyone with a fun and rewarding experience of the Mashpi reserve.

The Mashpi Life Center is an incredible place for young children. Here, families will get to experience the lifecycle of butterflies in real time, watching as this magnificent creature emerges from its chrysalis. Mashpi also has a working laboratory where young children are invited to explore and draw during a creative workshop.

TIP: When bringing younger children that are under the age of three or four, it’s a good idea to bring along a “baby carrier pack” in case they get tired while exploring. Doing so will allow you to comfortably carry them along while you continue exploring the forest trails.

Have you heard about our Mashpi Rangers Adventure?

Fun & Sustainability come together with our Mashpi Rangers activities.

Always keeping in mind that the future of our planet is in the hands of the next generation, Mashpi Lodge invites young explorers (from the ages of 6 and up) to partake in our Young Mashpi Rangers activities!

During their stay at Mashpi Lodge, our young guests are invited to learn about how to explore the forest like true experts, all with the guidance of our Naturalist Guides. Here’s a look at some of the activities that our Young Mashpi Rangers will get to experience with this program:

  • How to mimic the sounds of birds by using tree leaves.
  • How to use wildlife guides to identify animals, insects, and different types of plants.
  • Tutorials on how to safely explore the forest.
  • How to create camouflage for hats using natural resources, so as to avoid disturbing the wildlife.
  • Guided excursions to nearby waterfalls and ponds, night walks, visits to the Life Center and butterfly garden, rides on the Sky Bike, and much more!

At the end of their stay, each of our Young Mashpi Rangers will receive their very own certificate that recognizes the new skills they’ve acquired with these activities!

So relax and feel proud as your kids enjoy these enriching and insightful activities that will help them deepen their understanding, love, and passion for the preservation of their natural surroundings.

If you’d like to inquire or receive more information about this program, please ask our Destination Experts.

Activities for kids at Mashpi

Activities for older children

What sets Mashpi apart from other lodges is the fact that is has several different rides and activities that allow guests to experience the cloud forest in a number of different ways. The following activities are ideal for slightly older children.


The Sky Bike

Riding the Sky Bike is like riding a tandem bicycle through the jungle canopy. It has room for up to two passengers, meaning you can accompany your child if you wish. As you take a ride on the Sky Bike, you’ll get an unparalleled bird’s-eye view of the cloud forest as well as the rivers and gorges below. Depending on how fast you pedal, the ride takes around 10 minutes to get from point A to point B, which are 200 m (655 feet) apart.

Note: Children must be at least 1 meter (3 feet) high to ride the Sky Bike.

Family activities in Ecuador

The Dragonfly

The Dragonfly gondola ride is often times seen as one of the biggest highlights of a Family Vacation at Mashpi Lodge. The Dragonfly consists of an open-air cable car that, on average, glides some 200 meters (656 feet) above the forest floor. Guests are taken across 2 kilometers (over 1 mile) of forest, bringing them within arms-length of the canopy itself at certain points!

Dragonfly Canopy Gondola in the Mashpi Reserve

Night Walks

Night walks are thrilling for everyone, but perhaps even more so for young explorers. Under the cover of night, guests are treated to an entirely different group of animals that only come out at night. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll definitely want to get that flashlight and camera ready to snap some shots of nocturnal snakes, tarantulas, frogs and glow-in-the-dark fungus, all of it in the company of one of our fantastic Naturalist Guides that have remarkable night vision!


Mashpi Laboratory

For the aspiring biologists in your family, our working Laboratory is an exciting place to hang out in. Here, children are invited to examine a wide variety of animal specimens collected from the reserve and can even investigate the structure of butterfly wings through a microscope.

A visit to the lab is also an opportunity to meet Mashpi’s resident scientists who are continually working on projects to learn more about the lives of the plants and animals that inhabit the reserve.

Activities for kids in the cloud forest at Mashpi Lodge

Creative Art Projects

For our young guests with an artistic flair, Mashpi offers activities like painting and printing designs on t-shirts. The kids are sure to find inspiration in the surrounding natural beauty of the lodge and won’t have a hard time getting those creative juices flowing!

Getting creative in the forest

Activities for teenagers at Mashpi Lodge

In addition to all the aforementioned activities, teenagers that are looking to take a break from their remarkable surroundings will be pleased to know that there’s several options available for simple relaxation, too. From a soothing dip in the hot tub, an invigorating stretch on the yoga deck or a delicious SPA treatment (that’s sure to ease those worries away!), Mashpi Lodge will not disappoint. Teenagers are also free to lounge out at any one of the numerous, comfortable nooks throughout the Lodge and enjoy a book or browse the web with our high-speed complimentary Wi-Fi.

All-in-all, the number and variety of activities for families at Mashpi Lodge provides a well-rounded experience that is sure to put a smile on the faces of both kids and adults alike. We are proud of the fact that, at Mashpi Lodge, every member of the family will get to participate in something that, regardless of age, will inspire a child-like excitement for the natural wonders of the Ecuadorian rainforest, right here at this one-of-a-kind eco-lodge!

So, are you ready to give your family the gift of adventure? Make your reservation at Mashpi Lodge today by clicking here!


August 3, 2018 0

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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!


July 11, 2018 0

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Just a plain, brown bird…
(House Wren: Troglodytes aedon)

By: Néstor Paladines

Plain, brown and with an effervescent call, the House Wren is a common backyard bird found across the Western Hemisphere. Listen for its rush-and-jumble song in summer as it zips through shrubs and low tree branches, snatching insects. House Wrens in Mashpi live around the Life Center garden and you can hear their energetic calls throughout the day, all as you enjoy the forest view from the deck.

Handling wild animals

 By: Juan Carlos Narváez

Mashpi is a reserve rich in biodiversity. Here, one can go for a walk and come across an impressive number of different species, from beautiful birds, gentle mammals to even the most fearsome of beasts. In this wonderful environment, our research team encounters an entire universe to study.

A week ago, we ran into some of the most menacing snakes that inhabit the reserve: the Chocoan Bushmaster (Lachesis acrochorda), Anchor Coral Snake (Microrus ancoralis) and the Ecuadorian Toad-Head (Bothrocophia campelii).




These snakes play a vital role in the ecosystem. They hunt small forest vertebrates and help maintain a balance between populations. We were able to capture them temporarily to study their behavior and build on the photographic record we have of the species. Afterwards, we released them.


Forest calls that make us sit up…

By: Anderson Orozco

In the cloud forest, every sound serves a purpose. Some animals emit a particular sound when there is a predator nearby, while other animals sing to woo their partners. A couple of days ago, while walking back from the Hummingbird Garden, an alarming noise stopped us in our tracks. It was made by two Moss-Backed Tanagers (Banqsia edwarsi).

When these birds feel threatened due to the presence of a predator, they emit a piercing alert call.


Upon closer observation, we noticed that there was another species producing a shrill sound among the Tanagers. It was an Andean pygmy owl (Glaucidium jardinii), a species of diurnal owl that feeds on insects and small birds. While owls are generally known as birds with special adaptations to hunt in the dark, these little owls are proof that there are also diurnal hunters among owl species.




Mutualism at its best
Zeledon’s Antbird (Hafferia zeledoni)

By: Néstor Paladines

Ants are known for their tendency to take on anything that stands in their path.

When millions of army ants swarm through the forest, they consume every insect, spider and lizard they come across. Naturally, any animal that hears the ants coming (and they’re very loud) runs the other way.

To capitalize on this, flocks of antbirds will track the army ants as they travel through the forest, prey on insects and other small animals trying to escape, and feed on whatever is left after the ants come through.

Antbirds and army ants enjoy a mutualistic relationship: antbirds benefit from the army ants, but the army ants neither benefit nor are harmed by the ant birds.


June 29, 2018 0

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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.


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