Pinocchio in the Forest



Eccentric and alien-like creatures abound on Earth, but often times these species are found in very remote and small areas. The Ecuadorian horned anole, also known as the “Pinocchio lizard,” is a species that would likely appear in Discovery Channel’s TV series Life (if it has not done so already).  This curious lizard with a long, malleable nose was found in the Mindo cloud forests of Ecuador’s Pichincha Province in the 50’s. Aside from its peculiar nose, what makes the story more intriguing is that it ‘disappeared’ from human research world for almost 40 years until it was rediscovered by a group of birders (hurray birders!) in 2005. The purpose of the horn and how it moves are still a mystery, but Jason Goldman has written an article for the BBC Earth website that elucidates some of the rare reptile’s habits:

Lucas Bustamante carefully aims his laser pointer at a small branch some 50ft (15m) above the ground. The green spot of light is clearly visible, but I just cannot see the lizard he has spotted: just branches, leaves and moss.

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First Week Of Shade Coffee Research, Ecuador

Typical landscape mosaic of Barrio Nuevo

Typical landscape mosaic of Barrio Nuevo

Isabel and I arrived safe and sound to Barrio Nuevo, Pichincha, Ecuador (0.224063°, -78.559691°) on May 21 to begin our study on a shade coffee agroforestry initiated seven years ago (see my blog for background info). We moved into the home of Juan Guevara, the local coffee promoter, and his family. It’s a simple concrete house with a kitchen and three bedrooms.After settling in, we spent a day with Juan going to the homes of various farmers growing coffee to introduce ourselves.

We spent the next three days conducting surveys with the coffee producers as well as visiting, evaluating, and mapping their coffee plots. As I expected, we quickly learned a lot about the problems with the shade coffee project that was implemented about seven years ago. Continue reading

Who am I and what am I doing in Ecuador?

I ask myself that every so often. My name is Evan Barrientos, I was raised in suburban Wisconsin and I go to school at Cornell University in upstate New York. So why am I on a farm in Ecuador right now? The short answer is that I’m about to begin a study on sustainable agriculture and I thought the readers of Raxa Collective might like to hear about it.

Farmer Evan

Farmer Evan

I’m interested in large-scale conservation solutions that make big impacts. There’s nothing wrong with small changes, I’ve just always been a big-picture kind of person. Continue reading

Birding in Ecuador: Mindo Manakins

As I had a spare couple days on mainland Ecuador before flying to the Galápagos, I took a very brief trip to Mindo for a day and a half, where Mari Gray, a pre-kindergarten teacher at the Tomás de Berlanga school in Santa Cruz, told me I should be able to see lots of cool birds. Perhaps not too coincidentally, my host in Quito had asked me if I’d heard of Mindo just a few hours after Mari emailed me about the town, similarly informing me that the biodiversity was incredible, particularly for birding.


male Club-winged Manakin photographed by the author through binoculars

Even after taking a pretty intense ornithology class at Cornell University and working for the Lab of Ornithology, I don’t really consider myself a birder. When I went on a number of field trips for the class it was the first time I’d really used binoculars with the intent of just spotting birds, and I don’t even know the difference in calls of an American Robin from an Eastern Bluebird, though I can tell you their species, genus, family, and order, as well as those of 149 other common North American birds. Still, when I read that over three hundred bird species reside in the Mindo area, I knew it was an opportunity that nobody should pass up, and this was confirmed by one of my ornithology classmates who knew beforehand over half the bird families we learned. Then I read that the Club-winged Manakin, a bird I’d learned about in class, was fairly easily seen performing its lek courtship display, I knew it was an opportunity I could not pass up.

A lek, although the basic monetary unit of Albania, in this case is the Swedish-based term for a small area where males of a species communally display for females in the hopes of attracting one or more as a mate (the Manakin family, Pipridae, is polygynous, i.e. males have several female mates). Continue reading

From The Galapagos Islands

I am joining Raxa Collective from the Galapagos Islands with the objective of sharing my daily life, project initiatives and global perspectives from this small piece of land that happens to be one of the few places on Earth where sustainable development is still a feasible concept to implement.

But how did I arrive to the Evolution Paradise where Charles Darwin spent important days during his voyage of the Beagle? After getting my B.Sc. in Ecology and Natural Resources Management from Universidad San Francisco de Quito I decided to take a sabbatical year from university studies and became a naturalist guide in the Galapagos. Islanders say that when you drink water from Pelican Bay (a small Bay in Santa Cruz Islands), you will never leave the Islands again. And guess what?…..  It happened to me with the exception that I left the Islands for several years before deciding that this is the place where I want to spend the rest of my life. I am lucky enough to be one of the Ecuadorians that have legal permanent residency in the Islands so I was able to act on that decision. But that is a completely different topic that will be the subject of one of my next dispatches. Continue reading