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  • Writer's pictureLuis A Mazariegos

May 2020 - Transylvania Trail: Discovery of Dracula irmelinae

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

Walking the trails at the Mesenia-Paramillo nature reserve (MPNR) is a heartfelt event. Not only because of the joy of being surrounded by such beautiful forests teeming with life, but because your heart begins pounding due to the strenuous walk at high altitude. Though, catching your breath is easy as every few feet one must stop to observe the breathtaking beauty of an orchid. Orchids at the MPNR come in all forms and sizes, from the miniature Andinia, Stelis and Lepanthes, to the larger Masdevallia, Maxillaria and Dracula. Over 100 species have been recorded and a complete inventory is still under way.

Dracula iricolor, the smallest species found at MPNR.

One very special trail at the reserve was named Transylvania by the late Gustavo Suarez. He gave the trail this particular name due to the number of plants of the charismatic Dracula orchids that are found while hiking. The trail reaches an elevation of 9700 feet (2950m) and takes you from montane forests to stunted subparamo vegetation. Several Dracula orchid species can be found on this trail, such as D. gorgona, D. chimaera, D. iricolor, D. andrettae and D. gorgonella.

Dracula gorgona, one of the most commonly found species at the reserve.

It was on this trail that Ubiel Rendon, one of our park rangers, made an outstanding discovery. He found what has now been confirmed and described by two Dracula experts, Nicolas Pelaez and Gary Meyer, as a new species for science, Dracula irmelinae sp. nov. The name Dracula irmelinae is in honor of Irmelin Indenbirken, the mother of actor and philanthropist Leonardo DiCaprio, and constitutes an acknowledgement of Mr. DiCaprio's dedication to the long-term health and well-being of all of Earth’s inhabitants. Mr. DiCaprio supports conservation efforts at the Mesenia-Paramillo nature reserve through donations to SavingNature a unique conservation organization working to increase the survival of threatened species through reforestation and reconnection of fragmented forests.

Dracula irmelinae sp. nov. (close-up photo below).

It is amazing that Dracula irmelinae has escaped discovery in a region of Colombia that has been scoured for Draculas since the time of the Victorian orchid craze. This is possibly due to it being endemic to a small area in the Western Cordillera of Colombia. The total known estimated Area of Occupancy has been calculated not to exceed 500 km2 (193 square miles) and is therefore considered Endangered (EN) according to criteria established by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, 2017).

The MPNR conservation project will allow conserving populations of this new orchid species. The forests contained within the reserve and surrounding areas, constitute a highly biodiverse region hosting other orchid species currently categorized as critically endangered (CR), endangered (EN) and vulnerable (VU). These taxa include species belonging to Dracula and Masdevallia. The Hummingbird Conservancy is very excited to see this new Dracula description in Volume 20, Number 2 issue of Lankesteriana International Journal of Orchidiology, since our park ranger, Ubiel Rendon, will appear as one of the authors. It has been an honor to work with Ubiel (“Uriel” as we call him) a native of La Mesenia village. His work and eye sight have been a blessing to our project, as he has discovered so many wonderful species.

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