Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries on Earth. Although it’s about the same size as the state of Colorado, more than 1,500 bird species have been recorded within its borders along with an incredible number of plants, reptiles, amphibians, and countless varieties of insects. Ecuador’s amazing biodiversity is distributed across various ecosystems but one of the most exciting is the cloud forest.
Cloud forests are subtropical rainforests that are usually found between 1,000 and 2,000 meters in elevation. These lush forests get a large percentage of their moisture from clouds and are thus frequently blanketed in mist and fog. The constant moisture creates an ideal climate for a huge variety of plants, and in addition to hundreds of tree species, there are thousands of varieties of moss, epiphytes (air plants), bromeliads, and orchids that seem to grow on every trunk and branch. The high diversity of plants, in turn, provides habitat for a large number of birds, insects, amphibians, and other types of animals.
Despite the high diversity, many species are naturally rare and/or have excellent camouflage that keeps them hidden from most observers. However, people who go on cloud forest hikes with an experienced guide, and pay very close attention to their surroundings may see exquisite insects hiding under leaves, small, ornate frogs in a bromeliad, or colorful tanagers picking berries off a fruiting tree. The following are animals that are frequently encountered or spectacular species that reside in Ecuadorian cloud forests:
- Andean Cock of the Rock: The cloud forests of Ecuador are an excellent place to see this fancy bird. The populations of males on the western slope of the Andes have brilliant, flaming red plumage with black and white wings, and orange on the legs and bill. These pigeon-sized birds also gather at dawn to display their amazing colors while giving raucous calls.
- Hummingbirds: Velvet-purple Coronet, Booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph, and Fawn-breasted Brilliant are just a few of the fantastic hummingbirds that occur in the cloud forests of Ecuador. These glittering, living jewels can be seen at flowers in the forest and frequently come to feeders for nice photo opportunities.
- Trogons and toucans: These are fairly large, colorful, exotic birds that are commonly seen in Ecuadorian cloud forest, especially when hiking with an experienced guide. The shining emerald and crimson Golden-headed Quetzal is fairly common as is the stunning Plate-billed Mountain Toucan.
- Giant worms: The high amounts of rainfall and humidity in the cloud forests of Ecuador are ideal habitat for huge earthworms. These aren’t your average worm either but meter long, thick worms that look more like a snake! Like their smaller cousins, they tend to come out onto trails and roads after heavy rains.
- Cloud forest frogs: The high humidity in the cloud forest provides excellent habitat for many frog species. Most have very cryptic coloration that keeps them hidden from predators but looking for them at night with an experienced guide could produce sightings of several treefrogs, glassfrogs, and other spectacular amphibians.
- Spectacled Bear: Although South America’s only bear species does occur in the Ecuadorian cloud forest, you would have to be lucky to glimpse one of these rare mammals. You might see their tracks along trails above Mindo, Santa Lucia, or around Maquipucuna but would be very fortunate to see one of these small bears.
Visit the Ecuadorian cloud forest to experience one of the most biodiverse habitats on Earth.