Serendipitous Find of Elaphoglossum exsertipes

by Chuck Nishihira

In the distance I heard Emily say that she had found some tadpoles in a pool next to the trail. But my mind was already crawling through an opening between two tree trunks and my body was following. Some light had broken through the thick canopy and was lighting up a beautiful moss-filled area just a few feet away. While all the mosses here were growing at their best, and made thick carpets , most of these species were the same ones growing along the trail. Tucked in the shadows gorgeous plants of various filmy ferns were thriving as well, but again these were species that were already seen and photographed. I was just about ready to turn around to catch up with Emily and Lester and see these tadpoles, when something moved.  It was a colorful little bug actively moving through the moss. Its antennae constantly flicking and it’s legs crawling non-stop. When it would get to the end of the moss it was navigating, it would open it’s wings and fly an inch or two to the next tuft of moss. How curious that it would go through all the trouble just to cover a body length or two.  I followed it with my camera, but getting a good picture wasn’t easy.

Right before I left home for this trip, I was driving around doing some errands and thinking of all the things I would love to see in Ecuador. When it came to plants, for the most part I just thought “surprise me!”.  But there were a few Elaphoglossums that would be really nice to see that came to mind.  While there was at least one close relative that did occur in Ecuador, the only name that I had committed to memory was the Colombian Elaphoglossum gemmatum.  Yes, that would be nice to see, whatever its name is.  In all the years of traveling, I have never been lucky enough to see any of these Setosa types of Elaphoglossum with the retuse apex of the leaf blades.  Such an interesting leaf shape,  it would be exciting to see it in person instead of a  photo of a dried specimen. But, I thought that the chances were slim.

So this bug was starting to get to me, in my mind I was shouting “STAY STILL!” It was uncomfortable to photograph in this position as my belly was getting in the way and made my breathing labored; resulting in a shaky camera trying to capture a small moving target. But with camera pressed firmly against my cheek, the pursuit continued.  In the middle of the chase I remember thinking “huh” and lowering the camera. This precious little bug climbed right along the leaf of an Elaphoglossum with a funny little tip. I could feel the dance welling up inside of me, but years ago I swore off doing the dance because of the Pleurothallis teaguei incident.  Suffice it to say, no good comes from getting too excited while standing in wet muddy forest! Walking deeper into this special spot I saw numerous plants of this Elaphoglossum.  From their retuse tips, new plants would grow. When the leaf starts to die and gets weighted down by the plantlet it comes in contact with the forest floor and a new plant is set on it’s way. This is not common in Elaphoglossums. What a special little fern. For the rest of the hike, I did not see any other specimen of this species.  Funny how some plants can be so localized.  It would have been very easy to miss this species completely. It makes me wonder what other special things have I just walked passed.

Upon returning home, I found out two things.  That this species is most likely Elaphoglossum exsertipes and that I never did get a good photograph of that precious bug.