Here’s a sampling of a dozen of the creatures you’ll see while exploring the cloudforest surrounding Mashpi.
While the Galapagos may spring to mind as the place to see wildlife in Ecuador, Mashpi Lodge is where you come to discover. And it’s true; up in the misty Andean cloudforest, with the sound of trees ruffling in the breeze and the sunshine angling its way in ethereally, guests heading out on nature walks are giddy as kids on a field trip. Here’s a sampling of a dozen of the creatures you’ll see while exploring the forest surrounding Mashpi.
The butterfly garden at Mashpi is dazzling. Here, dozens of butterflies flutter through the air, alighting on leaves and branches before gently taking off again. Stand still and it’s possible they’ll land on your hand, so sylphlike they’re almost imperceptible. The Atthis longwing, aka the false zebra longwing, is endemic to western Ecuador.
Black-Chinned Mountain Tanager
This handsome species of bird is part of the Thraupidae family and is found in the west slope of the Andes in Ecuador and neighboring Colombia. You’re most likely to see it in small groups of up to six. The Black-chinned Mountain Tanager is an omnivore. Its Latin name splits into anisos (unequal) and gnathus (lower jaw) and it is so-named because it has a noticeable overbite. Impress the biologists at Mashpi by referring to it by its Spanish name, Tangara Barbinegra.
Flame Skimmer Dragonfly
The flame skimmer, sometimes called the firecracker skimmer, is part of the Libellulidae, the largest dragonfly family on earth. That these dragonfly are fairly common doesn’t make them any less striking. Female flame skimmers tend to be reddish-brown compared with males, most of whom are entirely dark orange or red, including their eyes and legs. Most flame skimmers are 2-2.5 inches long; look carefully—we suggest borrowing your guide’s binoculars—and you’ll see that even the flame skimmers’ paper-thin wing veins are red or reddish-brown.
The Labiated Rainfrog’s big puppy-dog eyes make it cuter than the average creature you’re bound to come across on one of the night walks at Mashpi. This species of frog is most commonly found in Ecuador and neighboring Colombia. The rain and cloudforests in which Mashpi sits is the Labiated Rainfrog’s natural habitat, where rivers, mountains, and tropical forests meet.
Though this land snail’s name may lead you to picture something out of a sci-fi flick, the adult Giant Snail is roughly the same size as an adult human’s fist. The snail is believed to have originated in East Africa, though now you’ll find it everywhere from Florida to Taiwan. These snails are nocturnal, so keep your eyes peeled (and your feet in check) during one of Mashpi’s night walks.
So named because they’re shaped like turtles, Tortoise Beetles munch their way through various plants like turtles themselves. They’re tiny, about a quarter of an inch long, and though sometimes their bright shells make them easy to spot, other times you’ll miss them completely, as they can change color to blend in with the foliage.
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If there’s one critter you’re likely to recognize, it’s the millipede. Its Latin name is a compound of mille (thousand) and ped (food), though none have quite that many feet. Millipedes are slow, crawling on leaves, trees, and the ground eating plant matter. They come in all shapes and sizes; some are as small as .08 inches, some as long as 14 inches; some have short, squat bodies with fewer than dozen segments while some are longer and thinner with over 100.
This whiptail lizard is so named because of the seven stripes running from its head over its back. Brownish-green in color, it can be somewhat easy to miss because it blends in with the surrounding plants and rocks. Keep your eyes peeled for the Seven-lined Ameiva’s cyan tail, throat, legs, and stomach.
Empress brilliant is a beautiful species of hummingbird found in Ecuador and Colombia. This regal bird lives in both cloud and tree forests and in wet foothills. The females are green on top, white on the bottom, have large green spots, and average 4.8 inches in length. The males, like the one pictured above, are a glittery emerald green, with a small violet patch on the throat and a mid-length forked tale; they’re slightly larger at 5.5 inches long. While some hummingbirds’ wings beat 70 times per second, Empress brilliants are a bit slower, tend to fly lower, and are thus easier to photograph.
The small and cute Anolis Gracilipes is found only in Colombia and Ecuador. They can change color, allowing them to better camouflage themselves, so look carefully when you’re out for walks. Despite sharing this characteristic with chameleons and often being mistaken for geckos due to their size, Anolis Gracilipes are closely related to iguanas.
Katydids are experts at hiding from predators: they’re primarily nocturnal; they can mimic and camouflage themselves so as to be mistaken for leaves. When male katydids shrill, the females chirp in response, releasing what sounds like “katy did,” and thus earning them their name.
The Tettigoniidae grasshopper and the katydid grasshopper are both part of the Tettigoniidae family, one that has 6,400 species. These grasshoppers range in size from less than a quarter of an inch in length up to five inches. You’re most likely to hear and see them at night, especially in summer and early fall.