In January, 2020, with Covid19 still a vague rumor, I traveled to Ecuador with three friends to the Mindo Valley area. We spent a few days up in the hills and mountains (as a flatlander, they all look like mountains to me). Aided by Eric, a local guide, our goal was to see frogs and lizards inhabiting the cloud forest habitat found at higher elevations.
Arriving in Quito, we hired a driver with a pickup truck to haul us and our gear up to Mindo. The four of us were not an easy fit in the small crew-cab truck, and it was an uncomfortably cramped journey, and we arrived after midnight, when all the people were asleep and all the frogs were awake.
We stayed at a small birding resort along the edge of Mindo proper, enjoying the antics of a cloud of hummingbirds as we took breakfast on the verandah. As it turned out, we found a number of herps in the town, and on the grounds of the place where we were staying.
Along the stream running through the town we observed a few western basilisks (Basiliscus galeritus), including one along the edge of a restaurant’s outdoor patio. If the sun was shining, these lizards would be out basking, made necessary by the altitude and frequent cloud cover.
Our nights were spent hiking up steep mountain trails and along small streams. Pristimantid rain frogs were very common and we observed a number of species. One of the most common frogs was the Cachabi rain frog (Pristimantis achatinus), a species quite variable in appearance.
Near sunset on our first full day, we began a long hike up into the mountains above the Mindo valley. Dusk found us up in the cloud forest, and far above the lights of human habitations.
A common pristimantid on our long climb was the yellow-groined rain frog (Pristimantis luteolateralis), a small species with dorsal spines and tubercles.
We saw several watchful rain frogs (Pristimantis nyctophylax), a robust pristimantid with very beautiful eyes. It was interesting to note that this species had bright yellow rings circling the eyes, which were only visible when the eyes were wide open.
We found a number of beautiful equatorial anoles (Anolis aequatorialis) sleeping on bushes and low trees along the trail.
Andes anoles (Anolis gemmosus) were also observed along the steep trail, at elevations where the trees were smaller and covered with mosses.
The streams ran fast, with riffles, rapids, small cataracts, spray zones, and everything else that comes with water moving down steep inclines. A number of frog species lived along or above this microhabitat, including hylids-like babbling torrenteers (Hyloscirtus alytolylax), observed perching on tree leaves above the water.
Also along the streams were emerald glass frogs (Espadarana proseblepon), which were also leaf perchers, but somewhat lower, and they seemed to prefer areas with thicker vegetation.
Along the stream bank we encountered a dirty rain frog (Pristimantis illotus), which, despite the name, was a handsome pristimantid.
Equatorial anoles (Anolis aequatorialis) were also common along the waterways, sleeping on leaves and often bedecked with small water droplets from mist or spray.
Most of the pristimantid species we saw were either small and gracile, or large and robust. The blue-thighed rain frog (Pristimantis crucifer) was one of the former and blended quite well with the moss growing on twigs and branches.
Spring rain frogs (Pristimantis crenunguis) were common on the ground and on lower branches and vegetation.
Only a few serpents turned up on this trip. We got a good look at an Ecuadoran toad-head pit viper (Bothrocophias campbelli), a beautiful snake and not a common species in the area.
During the day, Eric took us to a spot where Darwin-Wallace poison frogs (Epidedobates darwinwallacei) occurred. We saw a handful, but this is one of the wariest frog species that I’ve ever encountered – we could not get close to any of them. To get photos, we had to back off and shoot with a long lens, and hope for the best. One tough frog that could comfortably perch on my thumbnail, and one honoring both Darwin and Wallace was icing on the cake.
On another night hike, we walked along a mostly horizontal trail high up in the cloud forest. The most common frog on this night was the W rain frog (Pristimantis w-nigrum). This hefty species is one of just a handful of creatures with a hyphen in their scientific name; taxonomic rules allow the hypen when accompanied by a letter that describes a morphological trait, in this case a ‘W’ pattern of upraised ridges on the dorsum, posterior to the eyes.
The most spectacular frog observed on this hike was the Pinocchio rain frog (Pristimantis appendiculatus), including an amplexing pair. Up in the cloud forest, the trees and bushes are covered with mosses, and the spines and exaggerated fringes of tissue help this frog blend in.
The pristimantids just kept showing up in our flashlights. The number of species was amazing, and the the variation among them, in terms of size, color, markings, and spines, was just remarkable. Some species only appeared in onesies and twosies, like the Spurred rain frog (Pristimantis calcarulatus).
Another cool species was the small El Pahuma rain frog (Pristimantis pahuma), which features small tubercles above the eye. These small frogs were an easy spot as their yellow color stood out in the beam of my flashlight.
The iconic species for this area of Ecuador is the Pinocchio anole (Anolis proboscis), and often they are high in the trees and hard to spot. We were lucky enough to see and photograph a male – truly an amazing lizard.
Getting back to our rooms the last night, we did a little frogging around the small ponds on the property, and came up with a few more species, including executioner clown frogs (Dendropsophus carnifex). This species came in two color morphs – yellow, and a dull, grayish brown.
Also on hand were palm treefrogs (Boana pellucens), found in small numbers among bushes and trees near the water.
Our last Mindo herp was a hippie anole (Anolis fraseri), a large, striking lizard that was sleeping in a tree next to one of the buildings.
I’m looking forward to another visit to the Mindo valley at some point. Herping and hiking at 1500 meters is quite pleasant! More photos and species from our visit are in the slide show below.