Flora and Fauna



The lush montane forests at El Pahuma are home to a large number of rare and endemic species, and in 2004 the reserve was designated an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International. Highlights for birders on the reserve’s list of 155 species include the Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Toucan Barbet, Golden-headed Quetzal, Beautiful Jay, Giant Antpitta, Torrent Duck, Lyre-tailed Nightjar, and many colorful tanagers and hummingbirds.  A species list is available for download in PDF format. Bird surveys are continuing in the reserve and more species are sure to be found. If you visit El Pahuma and have a definitive sighting of any species not yet on our list, please let us know!


Many species of frogs reside in El Pahuma, with several species new to science having been discovered there.  Glass frogs lay their eggs on leaves over streams and guard their eggs until the tadpoles hatch out.  A nightwalk is never complete without sighting one of the many tiny and difficult-to-identify Pristimantis species calling from a twig.  A Ceiba alum, Carl Hutter created an identification card to common amphibians and reptiles of El Pahuma. You can download it here.


Exhaustive inventories of mammals have not been done in El Pahuma, however a camera trap study started by Santiago Molina has been ongoing since 2012.  This study has revealed the presence of large terrestrial mammals of conservation importance including puma (Felis concolor), ocelot (Leopardis pardalis), and the Andean Bear (Tremarctos ornatus). Other mammals sighted include coati mundi, kinkajou, olingo, squirrel, and various opossum species.  The olinguito, recently discovered from a collection nearby, also is likely to occur in the reserve.


The first thing most people notice about the cloud forest is that the trees are festooned with epiphytic plants or “air plants”.  These aren’t parasites — rather they take advantage of trees to get closer to the sunlight and absorb water and nutrients from the damp cloud forest air!  Orchids are the most sought-after family of epiphytes, but many others can be spotted in the trees including many bromeliads like Pitcairnia and Tillandsia, aroids like Philodendron and Anthuriums, gesneriads like Columnea and Alloplectus, and many mosses, liverworts and lichens.  The trees themselves include members of Blakea, Saurauia, Croton, Chinchona, and Clusia to name but a few.  The forest floor has a rich herb community including several species of Begonia, shrubs like Miconia (Melastomataceae), Piper (Piperaceae), Centropogon, Burmeistera (Campanulaceae) and Faramea (Rubiaceae), as well as vines such as Bomarea (Alstromeriaceae) and the bamboo Chusquea.

The one-acre forest garden near the reserve entrance is accessed by an easy loop trail from the Nature Center. The garden celebrates the forest as habitat; no trees were cut to create it, and it has been enriched to showcase native species of orchids, aroids, bromeliads, ferns and shrubs to highlight the diversity and beauty of the region’s flora. The garden is a good place to see native orchids in bloom and learn about the diversity of montane forest plants with the aid of informative signs.