Shape-shifting frog discovered in Ecuador


Skin texture variation in one individual Pristimantis mutabilis; note how skin texture shifts from highly tubercular to almost smooth; also note the relative size of the tubercles on the eyelid, lower lip, dorsum and limbs. Image credit: Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

From Sci-News.com:

Pristimantis mutabilis: Scientists Discover Shape-Shifting Frog in Ecuador

Mar 24, 2015

Case Western Reserve University PhD student Katherine Krynak, naturalist Tim Krynak of Cleveland Metroparks’ Natural Resources Division, and their colleagues from the Universidad Indoamerica, the University of Kansas, and organization Tropical Herping, have described a unique species of frog from Reserva Las Gralarias, Pichincha, north-central Ecuador. According to the team, the new species – named Pristimantis mutabilis (mutable rainfrog) – changes skin texture in minutes, appearing to mimic the texture it sits on.

Pristimantis mutabilis, described in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, is believed to be the first amphibian known to have this shape-shifting capability.

It belongs to a large genus of approximately 470 frog species found in the southern Caribbean and in Central and South America from Honduras to northern Argentina and southern Brazil.

The scientists believe the ability to change skin texture to reflect its surroundings may enable Pristimantis mutabilis to help camouflage itself from birds and other predators.

Katherine and Tim Krynak originally spotted the small, spiny frog, nearly the width of a marble, sitting on a moss-covered leaf about a yard off the ground on a misty July night in 2009.

The scientists captured one specimen and tucked it into a cup with a lid before resuming their nightly search for wildlife. They nicknamed the frog ‘punk rocker‘ because of the thorn-like spines covering its body.

The next day, Katherine Krynak pulled the frog from the cup and set it on a smooth white sheet of plastic for Tim Krynak to photograph. “It wasn’t ‘punk’ – it was smooth-skinned,” they said.

The scientists found the frog shifts skin texture in a little more than 3 minutes. They then performed morphological and genetic analyses showing that the frog was a unique and undescribed species.

They also studied the frog’s calls, finding three songs the species uses, which differentiate them from relatives.

In addition, team members Dr Juan Guayasamin and Dr Carl Hutter discovered that Pristimantis sobetes – a previously known species of frog with similar markings but about twice the size of Pristimantis mutabilis – has the same trait when they placed a spiny specimen on a sheet and watched its skin turn smooth.

The team plans to continue surveying for Pristimantis mutabilis and to further document their behaviors, lifecycle and texture shifting, and estimate their population, all in effort to improve our knowledge and subsequent ability to conserve this paradigm shifting species. Further, they hope to discern whether more relatives have the ability to shift skin texture and if that trait comes from a common ancestor.

If Pristimantis mutabilis and P. sobetes are the only species within this branch of Pristimantis frogs to have this capability, they hope to learn whether they retained it from an ancestor while relatives did not, or whether the trait evolved independently in each species.

Rare tortoise babies born on Galapagos island


This video says about itself:

5 March 2015

Baby tortoises were born on the Island of Pinzon, something that likely hasn’t happened since 1880. CNN’s Natalie Allen has this story.

From Associated Press:

Scientists cheered by birth of Galapagos tortoises in wild

Posted: Mar 14, 2015 5:33 AM Updated: Mar 17, 2015 8:36 AM

By GONZALO SOLANO

QUITO, Ecuador – For the first time in a century, babies of the endangered Pinzon giant tortoise have been born in the wild in the Galapagos islands, scientists said.

An expedition in 1970 found only 19 adult tortoises on the archipelago’s Pinzon island, averaging 70 years old, so scientists removed them to start a captive breeding program on Santa Cruz island. The program produced juveniles that were transplanted back to the island, which is the only place the species is found.

Danny Rueda, who is in charge of conservation and restoration of ecosystems in the Galapagos, told The Associated Press that in December six infant Pinzons were found to have been born on the island.

He said there are now 650 juvenile and adult tortoises on Pinzon.

Rueda said the reintroduction of the tortoise was helped by the 2012 campaign to eradicate rats that infested Pinzon and other islands in the archipelago after being introduced long ago by passing ships. The rats prevented the reproduction by tortoises and other species.

“Finding the six baby tortoises tells us that the process of eradicating rats succeeded,” he said.

“We have begun to see that the ecosystem has begun to restore itself” on Pinzon, Rueda added. “It is a process that takes a long time. But the first step is the birth of tortoises in their natural habitat, which a century ago did not happen.”

The Galapagos, an Ecuadorean territory in the Pacific about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from the mainland, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978 because of its unique land and marine animals and vegetation. That flora and fauna helped inspire Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

See also here.

Birdwatching in Ecuador, Galapagos islands


This video says about itself:

21 March 2011

A selection of clips from a birding trip in Northwest Ecuador– the Andes Introtour with Tropical Birding (tropicalbirding.com), guided by Andres Vasquez. Taken with a Canon 7D and 400mm f/5.6L lens.

From the Montana Standard in the USA:

Birding Ecuador, Galapagos Islands

March 08, 2015 12:15 am

Birding in Montana is a lot of fun, but when you have 371 of the 428 species, you don’t often find a new one. Last year I did not get a single new life bird in Montana. My life list sat at 1,466 in 2014, and my goal to see one quarter of the world’s birds or 2,588 species remained stagnant.

The best place to find the most birds is along the Equator in both South America and Africa. I have birded South Africa, Kenya, and Belize in Central America, so it was time to bird South America. My wife, Laura, and I and birding friends from Helena chose Ecuador as it is fairly close, safe, and the currency is the U.S. dollar.

The potential birds to see in Ecuador are nearly unlimited with 1,576 species recorded there. In comparison, the lower 48 states have 920 species, and Ecuador is the size of Nevada. We chose to bird the northwest quarter of Ecuador as that area has a high concentration of different species in a relatively small area. We estimated that we had the possibility of seeing around 600 species, but realistically in 14 days of birding we knew we would not see that many. We were extremely pleased that we were able to see 376 species of which 312 were life birds. That is the largest number of life birds I have ever recorded in a single trip. South Africa netted 275 life birds, Kenya 216, and Belize 99.

We flew into the capital city of Quito which lies in a valley of the Andean mountains at 6,500 feet. Quito is a modern city of three million inhabitants. Ecuador has a population of 15 million, with 70 percent of the population living along the west coast of the country in more hospitable climates. The Andean Mountains are much cooler and wetter than the coast.

LAS GRALARIAS RESERVE

From Quito we traveled to the West Andean Mountains and stayed at Las Gralarias Reserve. The reserve is named after the genus of the Giant Antpitta, a bird first photographed there about 20 years ago. The 1,063-acre reserve was purchased by an American, Jane Lyons, in 1999. Lyons and her nonprofit organization restored and reclaimed the area and it is now host to no less than 266 bird species in 44 families. Of these species 30 are endemic (found only at that location) and 13 are considered to be at risk.

At Las Gralarias we were provided with housing, meals, English-speaking Ecuadorian guides and transportation for 11 days. Each day we would bird from around 6 am to 6 pm, then eat dinner, go to bed and rest for the next day’s adventure. We crossed the Equator at least twice daily. Las Gralarias is at 8,500 feet in the Cloud Forest, and days were cool, (in the 60s) wet, and foggy. Nights were cold as none of the buildings has heat, but blankets on the beds made the difference. Annual rainfall in this region is 150 inches, and some years have accumulated as much as 400 inches. It is known as one of the wettest areas on the earth. Thus we birded with raingear and rubber boots. The small town of Mindo, just below Las Gralarias Reserve in the valley, is known as the birding capital of the world. Paintings of birds are everywhere on buildings, brick walls, and football stadiums.

BIRDING BY ELEVATION

Rather than bird different habitats as you do in Montana, such as grasslands, riparian, and coniferous forest, you bird by elevation. Each 1,000-foot change in elevation brings a new diversity of birds to observe. While in the Western Andean Mountains we birded from 4,000 to 15,000 feet finding different birds at each elevation.

There are 131 species of hummingbirds in Ecuador and they are everywhere. We found 44 species, which were most of the species in the area that we birded. Tanagers are another large family of birds in Ecuador. In Montana we have recorded three species of tanagers. Ecuador has 148 species and we found 53 species. We also spent two days in the Eastern Andean Mountains rounding out our birding of the northwest portion of the country.

In the east, we spent more time at higher elevations near a volcanic mountain that was covered with snow above 20,000 feet. We birded the steep grasslands to 17,000 feet. One of the highlights of the trip was finding the Rufous-breasted Seed-snipe, a grouse type bird, at 17,000 feet in high winds, with the rain coming vertically across the stunted and cushion plant terrain of this elevation. Finding the Seed-snipe was one of the wettest and coldest birding experiences I have had in a foreign country.

Rare and hard-to-find birds that we observed and photographed included: Andean Condor, Aplomado Falcon, Andean Lapwing, Cock-of-the-Rock, Rufescent Screech-owl, Oilbird, Choco Trogon, Giant Antpitta, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Scarlet-rumped Cacique and Slaty Finch. Photographs of several of these are included with this article.

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

We next flew to the Galapagos Islands and stayed for our last five days of birding. Politically, the islands are part of Ecuador, but are separated by 800 miles of the Pacific Ocean. The flora and fauna are unique. Islands never have large numbers of bird species, but many species are endemic and Galapagos is no exception. A chain of 12 volcanic and intrusive lava flow islands comprise the Galapagos. Many of the islands are unhabituated, and only three have roads. Ninety-five percent of the islands are within the national park system and are highly regulated to prevent nonnative species from invading and endangering the natural flora and fauna.

We flew to Baltra Island from Quito via the port city of Quayaquil. Baltra consists of desert cactuses and an airport. Four planes a day come and go, exchanging 800 visitors daily. From the airport you are transported by bus to the edge of the tiny island. Here, you transfer to a ferry going to the main island of Santa Cruz, which has three small communities. The largest city is Puerto Ayora on the opposite end of the island some 22 miles from the ferry landing.

In all, Galapagos has a population of 14,000 of which the majority work either in the tourist or fishing industries. We stayed in Puerto Ayora in a six-room hotel that served breakfast. On Santa Cruz there are around 70 bird species with the total species count for all of the islands at 149.

However, only 60 bird species are year-round residents. The rest are migrants, and most of those are shorebirds. Here we birded, using local naturalist guides, pelagic boat trips, and on our own. We were able to find 61 species of which 24 are endemic to the Galapagos Islands.

Land and aquatic lizards and tortoises are another unique feature of the Galapagos. Often we would see two- to three-foot lizards crawling along the sand as we birded. In the wetter highlands, we would encounter what first looked like large rocks, only they would get up and move. These tortoises were three to four feet across the shell and between 100 to 150 years old.

FAMOUS FOR FINCHES

Galapagos is famous for the 14 species of finches upon which Darwin based his theory of evolution, with his 1835 voyage. We were fortunate enough to find all nine finch species that are on Santa Cruz Island. Other endemics that were life birds were Swallow-tailed gull, the only nocturnally feeding gull in the world, Lava Gull, and Galapagos Dove, Mockingbird, and Flycatcher.

A bonus to the birding on the Galapagos Islands was the fresh seafood in the open air restaurants at reasonable prices.

In all, we observed 430 birds of which 337 were life birds. I also added nine bird families to my list. I now have seen 153 of the 254 bird families in the world or 65 percent. In terms of cost, we spent less than $35 a bird, which is reasonable and well worth the time and effort. We pushed hard for three weeks to find 430 species, but we had to rest up for a week after we got back. We have a personal slogan for our retirement years, “When the nest is empty go birding,” and that we did. I know many of my readers enjoy watching birds and I hope you are able to experience birding in a foreign country; it truly is a memorable experience.

Now, I’m studying the birds of Australia for my next big trip. Australia’s has 780 species, of which I have only seen 121. If I’m fortunate I should be able to add another 350 to my life list and be a lot closer to my goal of 25 percent of the world’s birds. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be fortunate and even get to 26 percent!

Galápagos birds expand their eating habits. A new ecological concept called “interaction release” explains how certain island birds developed a taste for flowers: here.

Endangered Andean toad rediscovery in Ecuador


In this video, one can hear and see a male of the recently rediscovered toad species Andinophryne olallai call.

From mongabay.com:

Scientists rediscover endangered Andean toad in Ecuador

By Joanna Parkman

January 30, 2015

In 1970 researchers uncovered the Tandayapa Andean toad (Andinophryne olallai), previously unknown to science, in the Pichincha Province of Ecuador. Given that only a single individual was discovered, even after further exploration in the following years, the toad was soon presumed to be extinct. Forty-two years later, however, a research team rediscovered the species in Manduriacu, Ecuador. Their recently published study in Amphibian & Reptile Conservation describes new knowledge of the cryptic Tandayapa Andean toad, including population status, geographic extent, and natural history.

The Rediscovery

While rediscovering an “extinct” species may appear to be an unusual phenomenon, Lynch says that “…approximately 12 percent of [frog and toad] species previously thought to have gone extinct have in recent years been rediscovered.” This suggests that similar occurrences will increase with additional research efforts, especially in the neotropics. Lynch credits a global initiative created in partnership with the Amphibian Survival Alliance to find these so-called Lost Frogs.

“In response to the global amphibian crisis researchers and conservationists in all corners of the world have increased their efforts to understand and protect amphibian populations before they disappear forever,” he told mongabay.com.

Lynch and fellow scientists conducted stream surveys for reptiles and amphibians throughout the premontane tropical forest—directly below the mountainous zone—and cloud forests of Northwest Ecuador. The survey sites, located along the Western slope of the Andes Mountain range near the Cotacahi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, ranged from 1,100 to 1,400 meters (3,609 to 4,593 feet) in elevation.

Most notably, the research team identified a new locality for the long missing Tandayapa Andean toad: Imbabura Province, roughly 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the location where the species was first discovered in 1970. Across the four stream systems sampled, the group observed 18 individuals, including two froglets, five juveniles, and two pregnant adult females.

Other reptiles

not only reptiles. Also amphibians.

observed during surveys included two nationally endangered species—the Darwin Wallace poison-frog (Epipedobates darwinwallacei) and the spiny Lirecko (Lepidoblepharis conolepis)—and one internationally endangered species—the Ricuarte robber frog (Pristimantis scolodiscus)—as well as multiple species that have yet to undergo an assessment.

The rediscovery of the Tandayapa Andean toad is particularly important to the scientific community, as it demonstrates the value of field research, the continued existence of new and unexpected discoveries, and the capacity of species resilience. Furthermore, rediscoveries illustrate the importance of in-situ conservation, or on-site conservation of naturally occurring populations.

Polar bear, whale and fish conservation news


This video is about a polar bear and her two cubs.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Governments agree on new protections for polar bears

Convention on Migratory Species meeting in Ecuador adds listings for Cuvier’s beaked-whale, and 21 shark, ray and sawfish

Adam Vaughan

Monday 10 November 2014 14.17 GMT

Polar bears are among 31 species approved for greater protections by more than 100 countries, in a move hailed by conservationists as an important step to saving the endangered mammal.

The Convention on Migratory Species conference in Ecuador closed on Sunday, with new listings for a whale capable of the world’s deepest ocean dives, and 21 shark, ray and sawfish. A proposal to list the African lion, however, was rejected due to a lack of data.

The Norwegian proposal to protect the estimated 20,000-25,000 remaining polar bears, which are threatened by melting ice, Arctic oil exploration and hunting, saw the species gain an Appendix II listing. That means countries must work together to put in place conservation plans, as opposed to the stronger Appendix I listing which requires strict protections such as bans on killing an animal.

Dr Masha Vorontsova, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare Russia, said: “We are pleased to see the polar bear joining a growing list of threatened migratory species protected under CMS. Appendix II does not mean that sufficient conservation action will be taken to protect the well-being of polar bears.

“What gives us hope is that this listing means that 120 countries are now recognising the threats that polar bears face from the shrinking of their ice habitat to pollution and hunting. This is an important first step, but it must not be the last if we wish to save the polar bear.”

The top level of protection, Appendix I, was issued for the rarely-seen Cuvier’s beaked-whale (Ziphius cavirostris), which scientists have recorded as diving as deep as 3km below the water’s surface.

The meeting in Quito also agreed that the 120 parties to the convention should pass laws to ban the capture of live whales and dolphins for use in travelling shows and entertainment.

Cathy Williamson of Whale and Dolphin Conservation said: “This very positive development from CMS sends a clear message of international concern about the impact of live captures for the aquarium industry on wild whale and dolphin populations.”

Campaigners praised the new protections for rays and sharks, with countries agreeing to take steps to stop the practice of finning, where sharks are caught and their fins cut off for use as soup at Chinese banquets.

Humane Society International’s Alexia Wellbelove said: “Today’s commitment at CMS by countries to provide greater protection for shark and ray species is an unprecedented step forwards in the conservation of sharks and rays worldwide.”

Governments agreed that the use of lead shot should be cut down to stop the poisoning of migrating birds, despite the UK initially opposing the move. The resolution also called for the phasing out of the veterinary drug diclofenac, and rodenticides, insecticides and poison baits.

Martin Harper, RSPB director of conservation, said: “I would like to congratulate the UK government for its role in helping to find a way forward. The UK showed leadership on the issue of poisoning by providing financial support to set up the CMS Preventing Poisoning Working Group, which produced the guidelines that have been ratified.”

Guidelines were also settled for the first time on how best to protect birds and bats from wind turbines and other forms of renewable energy.

Bradnee Chambers, the convention’s executive secretary, said: “Like never before in the 35-year history of CMS, migratory animals have become the global flagships for many of the pressing issues of our time. From plastic pollution in our oceans, to the effects of climate change, to poaching and overexploitation, the threats migratory animals face will eventually affect us all.”

POLAR BEARS HAD A BAD DECADE The polar bear population dropped 40% in the area north of Alaska and northern Canada. [HuffPost]

Morpho butterflies and young grebes at the botanical garden


This video says about itself:

Blue Morpho Butterfly – Found around 1700m amsl, Cordillera del Condor, South Ecuador.

I saw blue morpho butterflies today. I did not find them in Ecuador; but in the Victoria amazonica hothouse of the botanical garden. Pupae of various butterfly species were there as well.

Before we arrived there, a young great crested grebe swam under a bridge into a canal. A coot then drove it away.

In the botanical garden, near the astronomical observatory, a grey heron on the canal bank.

Another young great crested grebe swims past. Every now and then, it dives.

In the lawn there, the figures 425, formed by autumn crocus flowers; because the garden is 425 years old.