What Lives in Bromeliads High in Trees in the Rainforest?

Anolis transversalis. Photo by Bejat McCracken.

Anolis transversalis. Photo by Bejat McCracken.

AA reader Shawn McCracken writes:

While conducting ground-level herpetofauna surveys at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador’s Yasuní Biosphere Reserve, I was lured to the canopy by the cacophony of what had to be undiscovered species coming from the bromeliad, orchid and epiphyte microhabitats. This led me to think how many possible new species may be living in this new frontier? While birding at the canopy towers I saw the Tropical Thornytail Iguana (Uracentron flaviceps) and Banded Tree Anole (Dactyloa [Anolis] transversalis) scurrying about in some of the adjacent trees, amongst other anoles I could not quite identify, there was no doubt I was headed up. Of all the available microhabitat in the canopy, the big tank bromeliads caught my attention the most – little swamps, everywhere at 20+ meters off the ground. Surely there had to be herpetofauna using these as a resource and refuge in the harsh canopy environment.

Aechmea zebrina, the bromeliad species examined by McCracken and Forster.

Aechmea zebrina, the bromeliad species examined by McCracken and Forster.

Before the next field season, I decided I needed to get up into the canopy and collect some bromeliads to have a look inside. After a self-taught crash course in tree climbing, I returned to Tiputini, but quickly realized I didn’t have a long enough rope or the skills to get to those big bromeliads. Packing plenty of rope and a greater confidence in my climbing abilities, I returned for another field season the next year. This time was a success. Along with my assistants, we collected 40 bromeliads representing three species that we sealed in 55-gallon trash bags and carried back to camp. Once we began dismantling the bromeliads, we realized we had hit a treasure trove of invertebrates and herpetofauna. Now several years later and a total of 240 bromeliads collected, we have a pretty good idea of the herpetofauna utilizing canopy tank bromeliads in northwestern part of Yasuní. In this latest publication, we summarize the herpetofauna of one high canopy tank bromeliad species, which includes the gecko Thecadactylus solimoensis and two anoles, Anolis ortonii and A. transversalis.

Some other bromeliad denizens

Some other bromeliad denizens

About Jonathan Losos

Professor and Curator of Herpetology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. I've spent my entire professional career studying anoles and have discovered that the more I learn about anoles, the more I realize I don't know.

5 thoughts on “What Lives in Bromeliads High in Trees in the Rainforest?

    1. We only collect 5 bromeliads from trees with a large number of individuals on them. We have counted more than 150 A. zebrina on a single tree. This way we avoid decimating any bromeliad community.

  1. Thank you for sharing your details about the habitat area you are so passionate about! I would love to share more with my class of eager students!
    If you are ever in the Houston area on a Wednesday from 9:30 to noon we invite you to share your research at the Environmental Institue of Houston?
    Looking forward to your response,
    Sheila Grigsby Brown
    Habitat Curriculum Specialist

  2. The species found in these bromeliads would also be good candidates for additional species capable of parachuting/controlled aerial descent. Several colleagues and I documented parachuting behavior in Scinax ruber, one of the species found in these bromeliads, about 10 years ago (Herp Review 36:308-309), and Robert Dudley and colleagues summarized a number of other cases of parachuting in frogs and other herps (AREES 38:179-201).

  3. An observation recorded in Bowersox et al. (Bull. Chicago Herpetol. Soc. 29(3):54–55) of Osteopilus dominicensis apparently parachuting from a height of over 11 m was overlooked by those summaries. Parachuting apparently is a widespread strategy used by arboreal frogs.

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