20 Dec 2013

Holiday Baubles, Peruvian Style

Posted by Helaine Becker

Ok, I admit it. Despite the fact that I've written a popular Christmas book (A Porcupine in a Pine Tree), December is not my favourite time of year. I hate cold weather - my fingers turn blue and my toes---let's not even mention my toes.

So I tend to head to warmer climes in December and get my Ho Ho Hos at Hot Springs and the like.

Earlier this month, I visited northern Peru. I was delighted to find the Amazonian basin decorated to the hilt for the holidays! Of course, it's always decorated to the hilt - with incredible butterflies, hummingbirds, orchids and more.

The remote Chachapoyas area is one of the most interesting and diverse ecosystems on Earth. Tropical cloud forests drape the Andes mountains, which break up the region into zillions of distinct microclimates. Hundreds of separate habitats  are home to unique species that have arisen in isolation.

Among the living ornaments we spotted on our holiday journey, these were my faves:

The rare clearwing butterfly has absolutely transparent wings. In these species, the scales that gives butterflies their colours are confined  mostly to their wing veins. The glassy wing makes the insect a spectacular sight when perched on a leaf or flower; it's virtually invisible in flight. 

And by the way, don't eat these fluttery gems. They're highly toxic. Unlike other poisonous butterflies that tank up on toxins as caterpillars, clearwings obtain their poison as adults. They drink nectar from flowers containing toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids for a powerful defense against hungry birds. 

The Spatuletail Hummingbird is one of the rarest hummingbirds in the world. It lives only in Peru, and only on the east bank of the Rio Utcubamba. According to Bird-life International, there are fewer than 1000 of these remarkable creatures left in the wild; they are on the "Red List" of endangered birds.

The Spatuletail is only one of the incredible hummingbirds and other birds we saw in Peru. If you're a birder, rush to Northern Peru ASAP to have your mind blown. If you're an orchid enthusiast too, you'll really go nuts. The eastern slopes of the Andes are home to countless species of stunning orchids including this one:

Unlike most orchids, this stunning species is terrestrial, and grows only on rock. You can't remove it from its substrate either; if you wanted to transplant it, you'd have to take the rock too! 

The final ornament in this post brings us to yet another microclimate and mini-habitat: the lowland "jungle" around the Huallaga River. Here's where you find the iconic Three-Lined Poison Dart Frog. Beautiful  but deadly so do not touch!!!!

My idea of a happy holiday is basking in the warmth and beauty of the Amazon. I've enjoyed sharing these rainforest gifts with you, and hope you all enjoy a happy holiday too, wherever you find yourself. 

Best wishes for a wonderful 2014,

No comments: