The Making of The Reptiles of Ecuador – Anole Annals

Cover of the Reptiles of Ecuador book

reprinted with permission

How Do You Create a E book about All of the Reptiles of a Mega-diverse Nation?

Reptiles of Ecuador | Story of the e book

By Alejandro Arteaga. August 2023.


Everybody grasps the basic idea of a subject information: a e book designed to help within the identification of species within the wild whereas providing pertinent details about them. Not like encyclopedias, subject guides try to offer details about EVERY species inside a particular animal or plant group in a given geographical space. Area guides could be complete when the variety of species lined is proscribed. As an illustration, a subject information centered on the crocodiles of the Americas would come with solely ten species.

Nonetheless, how do you create a complete subject information a couple of species-rich animal group in a mega-diverse nation?

To reply this query, I’ll inform you the story of the Reptiles of Ecuador e book, a meticulously created subject information that has gained consideration as a result of its expansive scope, novel photographic type, open-access nature, and funding technique.

The concept for a Reptiles of Ecuador e book emerged in 2010 from an informal dialog with a wildlife photographer pal. I posed a query:

Why are there subject guides for birds and mammals of Ecuador, however none devoted to reptiles?

His response was candid: “I’m undecided… you need to contemplate writing one.”

Photographer Andrea Ferrari reading the book Amphibians and Reptiles of Mindo

Andrea Ferrari, editor in chief of Anima Mundi, enjoys studying the Amphibians and Reptiles of Mindo e book. Photograph by Lucas Bustamante.

His suggestion caught me off guard. I had by no means contemplated writing a e book and, regardless that I discovered the idea intriguing, at 18 years previous and simply commencing my research in biology, I didn’t really feel certified for such a process.

All through my childhood, I had drawn inspiration from subject guides spanning various animal teams, starting from bugs to birds, and extra lately, amphibians and reptiles. Consequently, I had a normal thought of how a subject information about herpetofauna ought to appear to be.

However I had no thought how write one.

How may I probably compile a e book encompassing ALL reptile species inside a rustic as biodiverse as Ecuador? The nation boasts a staggering 500 reptile species!

Close-up photo of a coiled Emerald Tree-Boa

There are 500 species of reptiles in Ecuador, together with the Emerald Tree-Boa (Corallus batesii), a snake that lives within the cover of the Amazon rainforest and is seen not more than as soon as each few years. Photograph by Jose Vieira.

Image showing a Northern Caiman-Lizard in its flooded forest environment

Some reptiles in Ecuador, just like the Northern Caiman-Lizard (Dracaena guianensis), should not essentially uncommon, however extraordinarily arduous to catch. Photograph by Jose Vieira.

The query dropped at thoughts a timeless question usually present in kids’s books: how do you eat an elephant?

The reply, because it goes, is: one chew at a time.

This logic resonated with me.

Apparently, throughout an analogous interval in my life, I encountered the idea of the “minimal viable product.” An entrepreneurial thought, it encourages startups to check the feasibility of their venture by making a prototype.

Embracing this idea, I reached out to my photographer pal Lucas Bustamante and my tutorial mentor Juan Guayasamin with an thought: to create a e book concerning the herpetofauna of Mindo, a small valley in Ecuador often known as a vacation spot for birding and journey sports activities. The fauna of Mindo is a a lot smaller subset (=101 species) of the nation’s total range, which allowed for a lot quicker testing of our two hypotheses:

Firstly, does real curiosity exist for a publication targeted on the herpetofauna of Ecuador? Secondly, do we have now what it takes to finish the work and have it revealed?

In a gathering with Lucas and Juan, I articulated the plan: to {photograph} each single species of amphibian and reptile of Mindo in roughly the identical place and on a white background. Accompanying these photos could be complete accounts, full with detailed maps—finally shared on-line and accessible completely freed from cost.

Sample pages of the upcoming Reptiles of Ecuador book

Pattern pages of the upcoming Reptiles of Ecuador e book.

You is likely to be questioning concerning the rationale behind the standardized positioning and white background. In spite of everything, nearly all of herpetofaunal subject guides painting the animals on “pure” substrates and on various poses. My common rationalization facilities on the truth that the white background pictures facilitate the creation of plates akin to these present in birding subject guides. Nonetheless, a extra pivotal motive lies within the aesthetic enchantment of neatly organized photos (I confess I could have an OCD).

Equally, you is likely to be questioning concerning the rationale behind offering info freed from cost. May this not doubtlessly undermine future e book gross sales?

Biologist Sebastián Di Doménico photographing a Chocoan Blunt-headed Tree-Snake

Biologist Sebastián Di Doménico photographing a Chocoan Blunt-headed Tree-Snake (Imantodes chocoensis) at an improvised subject lab throughout an expedition to the Chocó rainforest in northwestern Ecuador. Photograph by Jorge Castillo.

DSLR camera screen showing a viper on a white background

A white background picture of an Eyelash Palm-Pitviper (Bothriechis schlegelii). Images like these have been the purpose of every expedition. Photograph by Jorge Castillo.

Laptop screen showing the website of the Reptiles of Ecuador book

We determined to make the contents of the Reptiles of Ecuador e book obtainable totally free on-line within the type of a dynamic catalogue. Photograph by Lucas Bustamante.

Because it seems, providing the knowledge on-line totally free served as a litmus check to find out whether or not any demand existed for an entire e book about this subject. Astonishingly, demand did manifest! Every day, a number of dozen folks frequented our on-line e book platform.

This impressed us to exit into the sector and discover all of the species.

Earlier than lengthy, we discovered ourselves grappling with the belief that finding the goal reptiles throughout the cloud forest offered not solely an immense problem but in addition demanded a major funding of money and time.

Biologist Alejandro Arteaga explores the rainforest during an expedition for the Reptiles of Ecuador book

Biologist Alejandro Arteaga explores the equatorial rainforest throughout an expedition for the Reptiles of Ecuador e book. Photograph by David Jácome.

Biologist Alejandro Arteaga examines a live ground snake during a night excursion

Researcher Alejandro Arteaga examines a Brief-nosed Floor Snake (Atractus microrhynchus) throughout an evening tour in Mindo. Photograph by Karine Aigner.

Research team congregated around the fireplace

Area workforce congregated across the fire throughout an expedition to the cloud forest. Photograph by Frank Pichardo.

Additionally, it quickly grew to become obvious that each publishers and our personal college have been tired of financially supporting the e book.

In response, considered one of my co-authors and I devised a technique: to determine an eco-tourism firm to fund the important fieldwork in addition to to take guests exactly to the forest localities the place the goal species may very well be discovered.

We named this initiative Tropical Herping.

To our data, we have been pioneers in providing eco-tours targeted on discovering and photographing wild amphibians and reptiles, not less than in Ecuador. Initially, it appeared like there wasn’t a marketplace for such an endeavor. Nonetheless, after a couple of months, our excursions steadily started attracting consideration, finally securing our first purchasers, Italian photographers Andrea and Antonella Ferrari, no much less. They supplied a lot wanted recommendation on the way to enhance our then nascent operation and impressed us to delve into the world of photographic tourism.

Remarkably, our technique labored! By way of these preliminary excursions and the proceeds generated from eco-tourism, we succeeded in photographing nearly all of amphibians and reptiles inhabiting the Mindo area.

Over the following couple of years, we replicated this profitable strategy, progressively capturing photos of almost all 101 species. This even prolonged to species as soon as deemed unattainable to find, such because the Pinocchio Anole (Anolis proboscis)—an elusive lizard believed to be extinct for almost 50 years!

Image of an adult male of the Pinocchio Anole

The discovering of the Pinocchio Anole (Anolis proboscis), a species not seen since 1953, was the main spotlight of the Amphibians and Reptiles of Mindo e book. Photograph by Frank Pichardo.

Field biologist Jose Vieira climbs to the cloud forest canopy in search of lizards

Area biologist Jose Vieira ascends to the cloud forest cover to go looking arboreal lizards. Photograph by Frank Pichardo.

Abruptly, I not felt unqualified for the mission. Moreover, I used to be having the time of my life: exploring the cloud forests alongside mates whereas photographing my favourite group of animals. It was akin to dwelling out a real-world Pokémon.

Then got here the museum half. This stage entailed visiting zoological museum collections to look at alcohol-preserved specimens. The aim was to extract measurements and different pertinent information. Curiously, a lot of this work occurred in museum collections exterior Ecuador, corresponding to in the US and Europe, the place acquiring entry to voucher specimens was extra simple than inside Ecuador.

Researcher Alejandro Arteaga examines alcohol-preserved specimens for the Reptiles of Ecuador book project

Biologist Alejandro Arteaga examines alcohol-preserved specimens at a herpetologial museum assortment in Quito. Photograph by David Jácome.

Researcher Alejandro Arteaga examines alcohol-preserved specimens for the Reptiles of Ecuador book project

Biologist Alejandro Arteaga examines alcohol-preserved specimens on the American Museum of Pure Historical past, New York. Photograph by Jorge Castillo.

Various team members working on the writing phase of the Reptiles of Ecuador book

A lot of the preparation of the e book’s written content material occurred throughout expeditions. At that time, we have been spending about 50–60% of the time within the subject, so anywhere with a roof and a few electrical energy grew to become our “workplace.”

But, the writing course of for the e book posed essentially the most formidable problem. It consisted of extended days and nights spent both ensconced throughout the library or seated earlier than a pc display screen.

The work included compiling info from scientific papers, books, or from on-line databases. It additionally necessitated phone conversations with individuals who had seen the assorted species. I found that placing collectively a complete species account would take wherever from a day to at least one week of dedication.

“That is going to take ceaselessly,” I assumed. Furthermore, the knowledge nonetheless wanted to be edited by consultants on every species group, a course of recognized in tutorial circles as peer-review.

After a span of 4 years, we arrived on the publication section.

Regardless of our preliminary success, we by no means obtained the monetary help of a writer. Consequently, we opted for self-publication. Our funding technique consisted on providing sponsorships (basically emblem in e book) to numerous establishments. To our shock, 10 establishments (from a whole bunch approached) stated sure. Whereas not all supplied financial help for the publication, some prolonged in-kind help, together with lodging/meals throughout expeditions or a venue for the e book’s premiere.

Researcher Juan Guayasamin reads the book Amphibians and Reptiles of Mindo

Co-author Juan Guayasamin studying the Amphibians and Reptiles of Mindo e book. Photograph by Lucas Bustamante.

Self publishing this primary e book was the most effective choice we made (or, to place it extra precisely, have been compelled to make). Within the absence of a writer, we had no possibility however to promote the books ourselves. Would anybody purchase them?

To our amazement, the primary day noticed a whole bunch of copies bought. Over the following yr and a half, 3,000 copies have been bought. The minimal viable product labored!

Three good issues arose from controlling the gross sales of the e book.

  1. Patrons supplied direct suggestions to enhance future variations of the e book.
  2. We established long-term relationships with customers of the e book.
  3. Funds that might in any other case acquired to the writer have been allotted in direction of the following e book.

Having accomplished this mission, we set our sight on the reptiles of the Galápagos. Though a relatively low variety of species (58) inhabit the enchanted islands, photographing them proved to be essentially the most formidable problem we had encountered.

Christmas morph of the Marine Iguana on Española Island

The Galápagos Islands is residence to 58 species of reptiles, together with the enduring Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus). Photograph by Lucas Bustamante.

Persuading the Galápagos Nationwide Park Directorate to even contemplate our proposal to {photograph} the reptiles of the islands took a whole yr.

To our profound dismay, the response was PROJECT DENIED with out rationalization. Our pleas for clarification went unanswered for weeks. Lastly, a nationwide park officer advised us: “You can be The Pope, however we are going to by no means will let you lay a hand on a Galápagos Iguana, a lot much less use a pair of flashes to {photograph} them.”

This verdict was calamitous! There was no approach the Reptiles of Ecuador e book may very well be revealed with out photos of the Galápagos species.

Absolutely, we needed to do one thing.

The point out of The Pope gave us an thought. What if we go on to the President of Ecuador? Absolutely, he can endorse our venture.

Though we had no approach of reaching the pinnacle of state immediately, we discovered a method to finagle a gathering with its Ministro de Ambiente (=Minister of Atmosphere), additionally recognized to be the President’s “proper hand.”

Presidents of Ecuador and Colombia receiving their copy of the book Reptiles of the Galápagos

The heads of state of each Ecuador and Colombia holding the e book Reptiles of the Galápagos. Photograph by Lucas Bustamante.

The Ministro grew to become enamored with the Mindo e book and the concept of a broader Reptiles of Ecuador monograph.

He affirmed he would endorse our proposal contingent upon our dedication to additionally publish a e book completely concerning the reptiles of the Galápagos.

We gladly accepted.

Having secured permits for each analysis and pictures within the Enchanted Islands, a brand new difficult actuality confronted us: a single Galápagos expedition to {photograph} 1–4 species costed between $5,000 and $10,000.

How on Earth have been we going to obtain the funds essential to {photograph} all 58 species?

Although we submitted functions to greater than a dozen analysis grants, none was accepted.

Then, an thought took form: crowdfunding.

At this level, we had develop into used to sharing our e book marketing campaign’s progress on social media. We routinely posted pictures and movies of each Pokémon discovered as a method to present their magnificence. A number of thousand folks have been following our work every day and lots of selected to contribute in direction of reaching our crowdfunding purpose.

Sponsorships and institutional affiliations additionally helped.

Lastly, Tropical Herping had developed into a longtime tourism company, providing month-to-month excursions and thereby in a position to contribute to funding a portion of the fieldwork.

We approached tour businesses, NGOs, Zoos, and universities and provided sponsorships that included numerous books to assist offset the prices of their monetary help.

It labored!

Biologist Jose Vieira dives inside the burrow of a Pink Land-Iguana

Biologist Jose Vieira dives contained in the burrow of a Pink Iguana on the rim of Wolf Volcano, Isabela Island, Galápagos. Photograph by Lucas Bustamante.

Close-up photo of a Pink Land-Iguana

The seek for the Pink Land-Iguana (Conolophus marthae) was essentially the most iconic expedition of the Galápagos chapter. Photograph by Jose Vieira.

After three years intensively exploring the Islands, we efficiently captured photos of 55 species of Galápagos reptiles, together with the lately deceased Lonesome George, the enigmatic Wolf Leaf-toed Gecko, and the enduring Pink Land-Iguana. By this time, subject biologist Jose Vieira had joined the workforce full-time and did many of the heavy lifting within the subject.

In some way, we even satisfied the GIGANTIC Galápagos tortoises onto the white background for a snapshot or two.

Biologist Jose Vieira photographs a Wolf Volcano Giant-Tortoise

Biologist Jose Vieira images a Wolf Volcano Large-Tortoise (Chelonoidis becki) on the rim of Wolf Volcano, Isabela Island. Photograph by Jorge Castillo.

The three-year Galápagos chapter costed over $200,000 and almost claimed our lives, greater than as soon as. At one level, our workforce was left stranded on an Island. On one other, two of us narrowly averted drowning whereas trying to seize a sea turtle. Lastly, on Santa Fe Island, I by accident stepped on a sea-lion at night time (my headlamp was damaged) and plummeted off a cliff when the big male pinniped bellowed and scared the dwelling hell out of me.

However it was all value it. In 2019, our efforts culminated within the publication of Reptiles of the Galápagos, a e book that set the stage for the next four-year endeavor to finish the excellent Reptiles of Ecuador e book.

Authors of the Reptiles of the Galápagos during the book’s premiere in Puerto Ayora

Authors of the Reptiles of the Galápagos on the e book’s premiere in Puerto Ayora in November 2019. Photograph by Milton Bustamante.

Gabriela Morales and Nathaly Padilla during the book’s premiere in Puerto Ayora

Gabriela Morales (Alejandro Arteaga’ spouse) and Nathaly Padilla (Lucas Bustamante’s spouse), supported us throughout all the e book creation marketing campaign in addition to on the premiere in Puerto Ayora in November 2019. Photograph by Milton Bustamante.

Very similar to the Mindo e book, the Reptiles of the Galápagos was self-published, and all the print run bought out inside a mere few months. This allowed us to gas a part of the following stage of the broader Ecuador e book, although not completely.

Photographing the remaining almost 400 species (out of 500 in whole) demanded an extra three years and necessitated a completely revolutionary crowdfunding strategy. The explanation? Some mainland Ecuador reptiles are so uncommon that quite a few expeditions to the identical website are wanted to search out even one particular person.

As an illustration, two species of presumed extinct lizards have been rediscovered as a part of this e book’s venture. Previous to this effort, neither had been photographed alive (learn press launch right here).

Discovering the Orcés’ Blue Whiptail required interviews with native folks, organising pitfall traps with drift fences, and securing people for a conservation program. Pictures by Jose Vieira.

Close-up photo of an Orcés’ Blue Whiptail

First ever picture of an grownup male Orcés’ Blue-Whiptail (Holcosus orcesi), thought-about by the IUCN to be the lizard species closest to extinction in Ecuador. Ten subject journeys to the sort locality have been wanted to {photograph} a single particular person. The primary 9 expeditions yielded solely rumors and a flash sighting. Photograph by Jose Vieira.

Put collectively, these recurrent expeditions would show extra expensive than these within the Galápagos.

To deal with this problem, alongside our established fundraising strategies (sponsorships and social media crowdfunding), we launched the “Undertake a Reptile” marketing campaign. By way of this initiative, supporters of the e book may symbolically undertake their favourite Ecuadorian reptile. Although unconventional, this concept achieved large success and facilitated funding for quite a few expeditions.

Remarkably, after 13 years of exploring Ecuador, sure species proceed to elude our cameras. A notable instance is the Southern Eyelash-Boa (Trachyboa gularis), which has remained unseen for 3 many years. Our seven expeditions to seek for this boa failed.

1861 illustration of a Southern Eyelash-Boa

Illustration of a Southern Eyelash-Boa (Trachyboa gularis) created in 1861. This species was final seen alive 30 years in the past by a farmer close by the city Vinces, Los Ríos Province, Ecuador.

Herpetologists sampling a swamp in search for dwarf boas

Herpetologists Amanda Quezada, Jose Vieira, and Eric Osterman pattern a swamp the place people of the Southern Eyelash-Boa had been collected prior to now. Photograph by Frank Pichardo.

Research team carrying an anaconda found in Yasuní National Park

Lucas Bustamante and Jose Vieira carrying a Inexperienced Anaconda (Eunectes murinus). The grownup of this species was photographed throughout later phases of the e book as a result of logistics of inserting such a big snake on a white background. Photograph by John Martin.

Contemplate the next: some reptile species in Ecuador, corresponding to fossorial snakes, are so uncommon that they’ve NEVER been photographed alive. Only a few weeks in the past, we photographed one such species, which had been cataloged as “misplaced” for many years. The image of this legendary snake will probably be revealed for the primary time ever within the Reptiles of Ecuador e book.

Fortunately, the e book’s workforce has expanded past the unique three authors, amplifying the prospects of encountering uncommon species. Area biologists corresponding to Frank Pichardo, Amanda Quezada, and Eric Osterman have efficiently situated many elusive species. Additionally, every expedition is normally assisted by volunteers, park rangers, members of indigenous communities, and even kids.

We’ve additionally established a community of “mates of the Reptiles of Ecuador e book,” by which companions residing in distant areas notify us at any time when a “legendary Pokémon” makes an look. Amongst this group of allies, three people, Diego Piñán, Regdy Vera, and Eduardo Zavala, stand out for having discovered some species of snakes that have been deemed unattainable to search out.

Regardless of these efforts, white background images of roughly 35 exceedingly uncommon species will in all probability not be featured within the first version of the e book.

Instead technique, artist Valentina Nieto is reviving these misplaced species by scientific illustration, and the outcomes are exceptional.

Whereas we have now now photographed or illustrated Ecuador’s total herpetofauna, the venture stays unfinished. Roughly 30% of the species accounts are but to be written. That is essentially the most arduous drawn-out section of the e book creation and requires 1000’s of hours of literature analysis, museum work, modifying, and peer-review.

Valentina Nieto showing a scientific illustration of the Loggerhead Turtle

Artist Valentina Nieto illustrated the Loggerhead (Caretta caretta), a sea turtle that has solely been noticed 4 occasions in Ecuadorian waters.

Illustrations created by artist Valentina Nieto for the Reptiles of Ecuador book

Illustrations created by artist Valentina Nieto for the Reptiles of Ecuador e book.

Illustration of the Southern Eyelash-Boa by artist Valentina Nieto

Artist Valentina Nieto created stunningly detailed illustrations depicting the 35 Ecuadorian reptile species we couldn’t {photograph}. As a approach to assist the e book’s fundraiser, supporters of the e book can declare one of many remaining illustrations signed by the writer with the certificates of authenticity.

Curating the content material, coding the accompanying web site of the e book, and publishing the fabric on-line accounts for 50% of our time and value expenditures throughout this later stage of the venture.

Nonetheless, buying funding for literature evaluation and coding doesn’t possess the attract of promoting the idea of an expedition to {photograph} the Pink Iguana.

Nonetheless, we discovered an answer.

All through this story, I’ve indicated that there are 500 species of reptiles in Ecuador, however this isn’t completely correct.

The reason being the next.

Within the means of exploring Ecuador’s herpetofauna for the previous 13 years, our workforce has unveiled the existence of about 10 new reptile species.

These reptiles should not solely completely new species; some are completely gorgeous, so gorgeous that it’s exceptional they remained undiscovered till now.

Close-up photo of the Marley’s Snail-eating Snake

The Marley’s Snail-eating Snake (Sibon marleyae), named after conservationist Brian Sheth’s daughter, was found on account of the expeditions of Reptiles of Ecuador e book venture. Photograph by Frank Pichardo.

Photo of a new species of dwarf gecko standing on a human thumbnail

This new species of miniaturized leaf-litter gecko (genus Lepidoblepharis) is among the new species found through the expeditions for the Reptiles of Ecuador e book venture. It’s nonetheless unnamed. Photograph by Alejandro Arteaga.

The belief that Ecuador harbors charismatic but unnamed reptiles sparked an thought: to supply philanthropists the chance to selected the title of those new reptile species in trade for contributing to the e book and the analysis essential to formally describe these creatures.

This revolutionary funding strategy has swiftly develop into our hottest technique, propelling us in direction of the end result of the ultimate one-third of the e book’s written content material.

Okay, I do know what you might be considering: when will the e book be accomplished?

This can be a query I obtain every day and one to which I reply: “Rome was not inbuilt at some point.” We’re making every day progress (up to date every day right here) in direction of finishing the remaining 30% of species accounts and want your assist elevating the funds wanted for such an exercise.

How are you going to contribute?

  1. Undertake a species
  2. Pre-order the e book
  3. Buy an unique illustration
  4. “Declare” a brand new species

…and even assist us in finding one of many lacking legendary Pokémons. Discover a Southern Eyelash-Boa and I’ll embody your photograph with an enormous THANK YOU someplace within the e book (and I guarantee you, I’m completely critical about this).

E book’s fundraiser

You possibly can play a serious function within the publication of the Reptiles of Ecuador e book. Your donation will assist compile the remaining species accounts in addition to assist cowl modifying and printings prices.

$44,156 pledged of $50,000 purpose.


254 backers. 2 days to go.

Jonathan Losos
Newest posts by Jonathan Losos (see all)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *