I visited Ecuador in 2008, 2009 , 2010 and 2012. Espcially in 2008 and 2011 i spent most of the time for hunting tarantulas. Deailed information about the country and the spiders i found in 2008 and 2011 are published in the following edition of the Arachne Magazine:
To order click here : www.dearge.de/arachne/nachbestellung.php
Ecuador is a rather small country but it has due to its geographical characteristics a highly diverse fauna and flora.
Beginning of my first travel in 2008 was the biggest city of Ecuador : Guayaquil. But even though this area is home to more tan 2 million people it is possible to find tarantulas just a few km outside the city. Within the Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco it is possible to see a piece of dry forest which dominated the landscape before urbanisation.
For information on the National Park click here: www.bosquecerroblanco.com/#
At the Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco i was able to find 3 different Theraphosidae spp. until now including one very large Pamphobeteus sp. .In this region the rainy season lasts from January until end of Mai. It is possible to find afult males around June and the females produce eggsac in September while in November these spiders prepare to molt.
This Pamphobeteus sp. and the other large Theaphosid species do not use silk to close or protect its retreat beneath stones or tree roots. Furthermore these spiders can be observed with their eggsacs more than one meter outside their shelter at daytime. This is interesting because at the same habitat it is possible to find also a large species of Pepsis ( Tarantula wasp ), one of the natural enemies of these spiders.
Here a picture of the Pepsis sp. at Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco:
Habitat of these spiders
typical shelter beneath a tree:
Retreat beneath a stone:
Sometimes it was possible to find them in burrows , but that was rare
Pamphobeteus sp. with eggsac:
adult female Pamphobeteus sp.
( Foto donated by Jorge Penafiel )
( Photo donated by Jorge Penafiel )
Pamphobeteus at the entrance of its retreat:
Within the same habitat it is possible to find another very large Theraphosid species.
These have a different type of hair and the adult males are also very different from+
the Pamphobeteus sp. These large spiders are quite agressive.
I was also able to find the adult male of a small Theraphosid species. Furthermore
I took a picture of a small female Theaphosid, although i don`t know if the male and the
female belong to the same species.
Adult ( old ) male of an unknown Theraphosid sp.
freshly molted adult male
unknown female Theraphosid spider:
There are also more mygalomorph spiders at the Bosque Protector. It is possible to find many Linothele cf macrothelifera between trees roots
Linothele cf. macrothelifera:
A Nemesidae sp. can be found in burrows
Nephila clavipes is common in this area too
These lizards can be found in high numbers within the habitat of the Pamphobeteus sp. so that it is possible that might be a major prey of these spiders.
After Guayaquil i visted Vilcambamba in the south of Ecuador. This is a small village at an altitude between 700 and 2028 above sea level and perfect for trekking tours.
Surrounding of nVilcabamba:
Top of Mt. Mandango with 2028 Metern.
Mountains around Vilcabamba
Different kinds of succulent plants adopted to the climate:
Of course i was looking for tarantulas while trecking. But also other arachnids like these scorpions live around Vilcabamba.
Only in Cactus trees it was possible to find this nice Argiope sp.
Concerning tarantulas i made a interesting discovery. Beneath stones i found this medium sized unknown Theraphosid which showed a sexual dimorphism within juvenile specimen. The males had a very different colouration from the females.
Shelter of this species beneath a removed stone:
Burrow of an adult female under a removed stone.
After seeing Vilcabamba i moved on to Loja and Zamora to visit the Podocarpus National Park. The Park is divided into two parts. Near Loja it consists mostly a landscape called Paramo with cold conditions while the part near Zamora is almost tropical with dense forest.
First i went to see the part around Loja.
Before reaching the Paramo one has to cross cloud forest.
The trees are covered with Epiphytes:
At higher altitude the vegetation changes quickly. Especially here in this cold area I found some interesting spider species.
Trekking at this altitude is rather exhausting...:
In silk covered burrows I discovered a large mygalomorph spider . It seems to be Linothele gaujoni which has been described from this area.
Because of the use of silk it was easy to differntiate the burrows of Linothele gaujoni from another ground living spider at this altitude. This Lycosidae sp. was very abundant in this area :
But I was also lucky to discover another unknown Theraphosid sp. a few km outside the Podocarpus NP at an altitude of around 2000 meters . I found this species in shallow pits under stones. Around Loja the species Cyclosternum gaujoni was described but it is not sure if this is really this species.
Habitat of this Theraphosidae sp.
After Loja I went to Zamora to see the other part of the National Park. Besides the park there is not much to do in this town. This is a view on the "main road " in the city center :
I did not find any tarantuals during my one day visit but anyways the nature was amazing. The trees are covered with different Epiphytes and moss:
I had to cross some hazardous looking bridges....
Due to the high amount of rainfall there are plenty of waterfalls
Forest, home to many spiders :
In the rain forest i found many funnel webs typical for Agelenidae which looked exactly the same but were occupied by two different spider species.
Most of the nets were occupied by this species:
But in between there was also another more colourful species:
It was also interesting to see that the first species carries its eggasc like a Lycosidae sp. :
There were hundreds of these spiders all over the forest:
Also different Gasteracantha spp. live at the Podocarpus NP
A amazing experience for me was to discover one of Ecuadors social spiders. At podocarpus i found Theridion nigroannulatum. It nice to see how hundreds of spiders share one nig net and work together to catch prey .
Besides spiders one of the most interesting animals are the leaf - cutter ants ( Atta sp. ). On the following video you can see how they transport fresh leaves inside and rubbish outside their nest.
Queen of an Atta sp.
One of my highlights during my visit to Ecuador in 2008 and aslo 2011 was a trip to the amazonian rainforest. It is unbelievable how many different insects, reptiles etc. can be found just on a short walk into the forest at night with a torch.
Sunset in the amazonian Rainforest:
Butterflies were everywhere....
At night it is better to have a look before touching a tree....
Some examples of odd looking insects i found just a few meters away from each other at night:
Most of the many kinds of different frogs were difficult to find :
Frog just before finsihing its metamorphosis
Poison dart frogs, this is Allobates femoralis
There are also many reptiles at night
and other amphibians
Of course there are many kind of spiders in the rainforest and I also found some surprises. One was a Cyrtophora sp. These spiders are normally described from Asia, Europe and Africa and should not exist in South America even though they had been introduced to Columbia in 1996. Anyways i found this one in the middle of the forest far away from any civilisation.
There was a big variety of Araneae sp.:
A Psecas sp. eating a male of the same species:
Another colourful Salticidae sp.
Salticidae sp. eating an Opiliones sp.
Sparassidae spp. were just everywhere.
This speciman always appeared at the same banana tree
another colourful Sparassidae sp.
unknown large spider ( Sparassidae sp. ? )
This species always stayed near water
One of the most colurful spiders i have seen so far:
unknown Nephila sp.
Ancylometes rufus , well camouflaged within the foliage:
Also Amblypygi appear in the rainforest:
As well as Scorpions
My main interest was of course into finding tarantulas. Especially on wild banana trees it was possible to see Avicularia huriana at night:
Only on high trees i found this very shy unknown Tapinauchenius sp.
In 2011 I was able to find another Tapinauchenius sp. at a different location within the jungle
The area i stayed sees a lot of rainfall all around the year. Further flooding occurs in most parts of the forest. Therefore I didn`t expect to find tarantulas living on the ground. The more suprised I was to find two different species, both unknown. One of them lived in burrows about 30 cm deep. Also this species showed a sexual dimorphism.
2011 I found a quite similar species at a diffeerent place. I was a bit larger and not as dark as the species above
One night i was able to find another tarantula species in shallow pits around tree roots. it was possible to see the spiders from meters away as the pits were not very deep and i counted up to four adult females around one tree. This species used its urticating hairs immediately after being disturbed.
Home of this spider species:
2011 I also took pictures of this Theraphosid at another place, this time i found them in burrows within the forest. I juvenile was living in a dead tree trunk, 1,5 m high
Also in 2011 I was able to find another large Theraphosid spider. This one didn`t live in burrows but between tree roots etc. and it was only possible to find them at night. It was almost as large as a Theraphosa blondi
When I was not hunting for spiders i spent my time with fishing or catching caimans:
In June2010 I had time for a few days to look at some parts of Ecuador i haven`t seen so far and the first place was the town of Zaruma east of Machala at an altitude of 1200 meters.
The vegetation mainly consists of cloud forest
Ca. 35 km from Zaruma it is possible to visit an untouched part of cloud forest. Around the forst I was able to find two different unknown tarantulas sharing the same habitat.
Here a few animals living in the cloud forest:
Big Araneae sp.
The forest was full of Epipedobates anthonyi
The cloud forests are home to different butterflies and humming birds:
The tarantulas i found both lived in horizontal burrows. Both didn`t use any silk in or around the tunnel. The first species was rather small and very docile...
Burrow, about 20 cm deep:
First unknown tarantula species:
The second species from the same habitat lived within deep burrows and this species was very defensive and with a bodylength of 5 cm rather large.
Entrance to the burrow:
When disturbed they tried to bite immedately. They made no use of their urticating hairs.
This species was not shy and so it was possible to bait them with some gras also at daytime:
Juvenile , just in front of the door of the house i lived in.
Just some centimeters away there were some other unknown mygalomorph spiders.
Habitat of both tarantula species:
The visit in 2010 and 2011 I also used to search for a Pamphobeteus sp. living in the mountains near Alausi about 1500- 2000 meter above sea level. I knew from a friend that there is a big Theraphosidae sp. in this area and so i tried to find of what kind it was.
The vegetation is very different from the dry forest near Guayaquil where the other Pamphobeteus sp. lives even though it is just 3 hours away ( by car ).
After quite a while of unsuccessful search for the spiders we finally found one ... crossing the road.
It was a female Pamphobeteus sp.
At dusk it was possible to see many adult males roaming the mountains. Unfortuntely people killed most of them immediately when they appeared on the roads. So lots of the males looked like this:
Bulbus of an adult male :
Habitat of this Pamphobeteus sp.
In the same area it is possible to find a brownish Theraphosid spider. Around September it is time for producing eggsacs
At another place there was a large Dipluridae in it s typical nets
Also a nice Lycosidae sp. lives around Alausi:
Nephila clavipes is very common as in whole south west of Ecuador. On the video you can see a huge colony of these spiders with hundreds of individuals.