SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO


SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO

Uli Nowlan has had two beautiful swallowtail butterfly species in her garden at Treasure Cay. These are absolute stunners, with great camerawork to capture the details.

BAHAMA SWALLOWTAIL Papilio andraemonBahamas Swallowtail Butterfly, Abaco (Uli Nowlan)

TIGER SWALLOWTAIL Papilio glaucusSwallowtail Butterfly, Abaco (Uli Nowlan) Bahamas Swallowtail Butterfly, Abaco (Uli Nowlan)

GEE! BEES!! HIVE TALKIN’ ON ABACO


Bees at Delphi Abaco 1

GEE! BEES!! HIVE TALKIN’ ON ABACO

This post concerns the bees of Abaco, with little or no apology for the cultural cross-reference to the dread mid-70’s musical era. If you wish to experience the full horror, scroll straight to the bottom of the page and relive those heady days of Barry, Robin & Maurice… 

The bees on Abaco south of Marsh Harbour are mostly wild. The header photo shows the West Indian Woodpecker nest box near the skiff park at Delphi that has become the exclusive residence of bees. They have a profusion of flowers in the Delphi Club gardens to choose from, but it is not practical to keep hives for them. So they are left to do their own thing. Here they were last month, being busy.

Bees at Delphi Abaco 2

During the past year I have found 2 places between Delphi and MH that keep hives. One is PEPPER POT FARMS - click the name to reach their FB page. You can get their honey direct or in MH for $6.75 a pot. I enjoyed their evidence of why bees are called ‘workers’…

5 FUN BEE FACTS

  • Bees must visit approximately 2 million flowers to make 1 lb. of honey. 
  • Bees have to fly over 55,000 miles to make 1 lb. of honey. 
  • On average a worker bee will make 1/12 teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. 
  • Two tablespoons of honey would fuel a honey bee flying once around the world.
  • Honey bees will visit between 50-100 flowers during one nectar collection trip.

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The other place with hives is ABACO NEEM FARMS, the base for the production of the stock at the Abaco Neem shop on the way into MH from the roundabout [explanation for non-Abaconians - there is only one roundabout on a 120-mile long island, so no need to specify which…]. The owner Nick has installed 2 hives which we had a look at when we took up his invitation to bird-watch there. It is something of a birding hotspot, benefitting from pine woods, coppice, fruit trees and open land over a large area. 

Abaco Neem Farm Hives 1Abaco Neem Farm Hives 2Abaco Neem Farm Hives 3

There was plenty of bee action around the hives on a warm sunny day and plenty of plants for them to feed from. We watched them come and go, the returning bees having filled their trouser pockets with pollen.Abaco Neem Farm Hives 4 Abaco Neem Farm Hives 5

There are both cultivated and wild flowers all over the place, with bees feasting on plants and fruit trees of many kinds. I liked the bright flower chosen by this bee. Abaco Neem Farm Hives 6

I’ll be posting more about the birds and plants of the Neem Farm in a while. Meanwhile, here are a couple of links to previous relevant links.

 TO SEE AN EARLIER ABACO BEE POST, CLICK HERE

TO SEE A CUBAN PEWEE AT THE NEEM FARM CLICK HERE

Finally, here is your chance to roll back the years with the Brothers Gibb. And below it, an excellent corrective!

This excellent Bee Gee parody by the “Hee Bee Gee Bees” called “Meaningless Songs in Very High Voices” is live from Sweden. Well, it still makes me laugh anyway (they also ripped off and ripped into Bowie, Jackson, The Police, Status Quo & many more).

A CUBAN PEWEE AT THE ABACO NEEM FARM


P1010060 - Version 2

A CUBAN PEWEE AT THE ABACO NEEM FARM

This post may be infected with a passing dose of Badworkmanblamingtoolitis. I took a new camera to Abaco, an upgrade on my previous one (which thankfully I kept while testing the new one). I only use a ‘Bridge’ camera, mostly set on auto because it takes me too long to fidget with controls while the bird in front of me chooses the optimum moment to fly off, i.e. fractionally before I have pressed the button…

 

We went to the Abaco Neem Farm, a large acreage of Neem and other trees, with pinewood, coppice and open land. Perfect for birding. The owner Nick kindly gave us a metaphorical ‘Access All Areas’, so we took him at his word. I will post about this trip in due course – as expected, we found much of interest there.

P1010061 - Version 2

Meanwhile, back to the camera. This little Cuban Pewee Contopus caribaeus was quite close, watching me and seeming very relaxed. I hoped that the much-vaunted zoom (“and many other features”) would bring pin-sharp images. This was the first time I realised that this might not be the case. As it has turned out the bird results are a bit disappointing, with images being ‘soft’. A great camera, probably, for general use: not so good for bird close-ups…P1010062 - Version 2

The last photo was a lucky shot, as the bird took hold of a large passing insect (cricket? hopper?). It’s not a sharp shot, but I’m glad I got it!P1010063 - Version 2

DRYAS JULIA (JULIA HELICONIAN): BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (4)


800px-Dryas_julia-02_(xndr)

DRYAS JULIA (JULIA HELICONIAN): BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (4)

A fast-flying butterfly in a fetching shade of orange designed to be off-putting to avian predators. If the colour fails as a deterrent, these butterflies are unpleasant to eat (supposedly), so birds learn to leave them alone.

Dryas Julia Butterfly CS 1Dryas Julia Butterfly CS 2800px-Dryas_julia_2 800px-Dryas.julia 800px-Julia-heliconian-butterfly Dryas_julia_caterpillarCredits: Charlie Skinner & Wiki

OTHER BUTTERFLIES IN THIS SERIES

ZEBRA HELICONIANS

GULF FRITILLARY

COMMON BUCKEYE

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (3): COMMON BUCKEYE


220px-Buckeye_Butterfly_(Junonia_coenia)

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (3): COMMON BUCKEYE

At first glance the Common Buckeye Butterfly Junonia coenia looks unpromisingly drab. However, like many butterfly species, the outside appearance is only one side of the story, a facade to enable it to blend in with the scenery. As the header image suggests, this creature has a more more flamboyant and colourful side to it – a feature not confined to butterflies, and extending even to humans…

Charlie Skinner DSC_7818

As it feeds, or as the sun warms its wings, the buckeye will start to reveal itself DSC_7831DSC_7825DSC_7817 DSC_7823

The bright eye-spots of the buckeye, for which it is named, are designed to deter predators, as much as for decorative purposes. Birds, in particular, are thought to be put off by a creature apparently possessing 3 pairs of eyes.DSC_7829DSC_7822DSC_7830DSC_7832

The caterpillars and chrysalis of this species look like thisCommon_Buckeye_larva_variation,_Megan_McCarty42Common_Buckeye_chrysalis,_Megan_McCarty43

This rather charming illustration of the buckeye species is by Jacob Hübner from his Sammlung exotischer Schmetterlinge Vol. 2 ([1819] – [1827] (Plate32)442px-Hubner1821SammlExotSchmett2Plate32

Also in this series: ZEBRA HELICONIANS and GULF FRITILLARIES

Photo Credits: Butterflies by Charlie Skinner (except header, Wiki); Caterpillars & Chrysalis by Megan McCarty via Common Licence

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (2) GULF FRITILLARIES


BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (2) GULF FRITILLARIES

The GULF FRITILLARY Agraulis vanillae is a so-called ‘longwing’ butterfly species found from South America to central North America, named for its migration route over the Gulf of Mexico.Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 7Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 2

The black and orange patterns of this butterfly are a reminder to predators of the toxicidity of its stripy caterpillar  and birds tend to leave them alone. Just in case. The markings are also similar to other butterflies that are poisonous – for example the Monarch.  Tip of the hat to Wiki for the information that “this species belongs to the ‘orange’ Batesian mimicry complex”. Me neither! It is where an innocuous species resembles a noxious one in order to discourage predators without going to the bother of actually developing its own ‘on-board’ toxins.

Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 4Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 3

File:Gulf Fritillary Life Cycle.svgGulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 1Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 5

The gulf fritillary is common on Abaco, as elsewhere in the Bahamas. I particularly fond of the photo below, in which the whole feeding apparatus can be seen. I haven’t done my homework, I’m afraid. If anyone wants to provide the technical terms (mouth? proboscis? tongue-thing?), that would be welcome. Please use the comment box to spread enlightenment.Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 6

FURTHER BUTTERFLIES YOU MAY ENJOY

ZEBRA HELICONIANS

ATALA HAIRSTREAKS and LIFECYCLE OF THE ATALA HAIRSTREAK

Credits: all amazing photos by Charlie Skinner, except header image Wiki – to which credit also for the graphic and some info in particular ‘Batesian Mimicry complex’, which is definitely one to drop lightly into conversation…

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (1) ZEBRA HELICONIANS


Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 3

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (1) ZEBRA HELICONIANS

The Zebra Heliconian butterfly Heliconius charithonia is also know as the Zebra Longwing.  These striking butterflies roost nightly in large colonies, a species behaviour that is believed to be a protective measure against predation, providing safety in numbers (or at least reducing the probabilities that you will be the one to be eaten). In 1996 the Zebra Longwing was appointed the State Butterfly of Florida.

Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 1Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 2Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 5Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 4Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 6Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 7Credits: all images by Charles Skinner, taken in the vicinity of the Delphi Club, Abaco

FLUTTER BY, BUTTERFLY: ATALA ENCHANTING ON ABACO


Atala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco 7

FLUTTER BY, BUTTERFLY: ATALA ENCHANTING ON ABACO

It’s hard to resist another fly-past for the Atala Hairstreak Butterfly Eumaeus Atala . So I won’t. Once seen, never forgotten. They are small wonders, with their plump orange abdomens and their striking blue-dotted motif; obvious candidates for a signature Rolling Harbour logo for insect posts.

Atala Hairstreak Logo

Atala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco 1Atala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco 4Atala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco 2

This close-up in particular shows clearly that the vivid blue markings are not confined to the Atala’s wings. They are also on the body, the head, and surprisingly on the legs as well.Atala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco 6

It is rare to see the inside of an Atala’s wings. In flight they tend just to look black; then they land with precision and closed wings (zeugma score!). In sunshine the spots of the feeding Atala shine out like small LEDs. They very rarely open their wing to reveal the velvety blue upper sides.As I watched the single Atala, a second one arrived and almost immediately ‘jumped’ the first. By which I mean that, for a few seconds, the new arrival ‘covered’ the feeding Atala in every sense of the word. Please consider this a blurry study of the upper side of an Atala’s wings, and politely ignore the intrusive circumstances. This is not a scandal blog. Yet. Mere moments later, it was all over **. I made my excuses and left.Atala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco 3

These events may have piqued your interest in the life cycle of the Atala. Some months ago I posted in detail about this, with the whole process illustrated from eggs, larvae, caterpillar and chrysalis to the emergent butterfly. At the end of the post are some helpful links. CLICK LIFECYCLE OF THE ATALA HAIRSTREAK

Finally, you may want to get a sense of size for this butterfly – crops and zooms can sometimes give a distorted impression. So here is a normal snap of the butterfly feeding.Atala Hairstreak, Abaco 9

**My spam box is full of suggestions about this

Image credit for open-wing shot on flower: Stranica

“PISHING IN THE WIND”: BIRDING IN A BREEZE AT DELPHI


Abaco Cloud Map 5:29

“PISHING IN THE WIND”: BIRDING IN A BREEZE AT DELPHI

The Bahamas weather has been uncharacteristically dire. Rain and cloud for the past week, and a poor forecast for the next week (see above). I arrived on Abaco yesterday, with the short internal flight from Nassau last night nearly cancelled due to a humungous downpour. Instead, people were boarded in bare feet, having had to wade through 3 inches of water to get to the small plane floating on the undrained concrete. Yet today, there was sunshine at Delphi this morning (though cloud to both north and south). A stiff breeze was keeping the clouds off-shore. The weather is fickle and very local.

ROYAL POINCIANADCB 1.10

I took a small camera and strolled for half and hour for about 200 yards along the Delphi drive and back (for those that know it, to the first corner of the guest drive) to see what the first of June had to offer in the way of wildlife. The birds were clearly enjoying some unaccustomed sunshine, and I have listed those I saw below. Not all were photogenically posed, and many were flicking around the coppice too quickly to capture.

RED-LEGGED THRUSHDCB 1.2

GRAY KINGBIRDDCB 1 3

The smaller birds were unusually responsive to ‘pishing’, the unattractive but effective noise that can bring a bird to the front of woodland or scrub to investigate. A black-whiskered vireo was interested, but flew off just as I pressed the button. He was immediately replaced on the branch by a

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERDCB 1 5

A pair of Western Spindalises (see recent post HERE) joined it in the adjacent treeDCB 1.4

DELPHI 30 MINUTE STROLL BIRD LIST 1.06.13

  • Red-legged Thrush 3
  • Western Spindalis  3
  • West Indian Woodpecker 2
  • Black-whiskered Vireo 2
  • Cuban Emerald 2
  • Turkey Vulture 2
  • Bahama Swallow 1
  • Gray Kingbird 1
  • Loggerhead Kingbird 1
  • Greater Antillean Bullfinch 1
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
  • Bananaquit 1
  • {Heard only} Abaco Parrots 2

The flowers were also enjoying some sunshine after the rainDCB 1.8DCB 1.9DCB 1.12DCB 1.11A couple of other things caught my eye, including a cute baby lizard, before I headed for some restDCB 1.7DCB 1.6DCB 1.1

A TASTE OF HONEY: SPRING BEES ON ABACO


Abaco bees 9

A TASTE OF HONEY: SPRING BEES ON ABACO

There are a number of insects on Abaco that demand human attention. The smallest and most persistent nuisances are the ‘no-see-ums’, tiny sandflies whose near-invisible size belies the effects of their bite. They seem impervious to many standard types of insect repellent. Different things work for different people. My method is to eat marmite (cf vegemite) on plain biscuits daily for 2 weeks before a visit to Abaco, and that does the trick. This year, I had a single bite (of course, if you hate marmite you’ll need another plan). See RECOMMENDED LINKS in the SIDEBAR under SAND FLY  for more on this topic.

There’s a form of yellowish horsefly that can give you a bit of a nip. At the top end of the pain and discomfort scale is the PEPSIS WASP (Tarantula Hawk). I’ve only ever seen one, and if you do come across one be sure not to disrespect it (click link to see why…). 

Until recently, I can’t say I’d ever noticed bees on Abaco. There are plenty of wonderful flowers that are visited for their nectar by the many species of butterfly and  various kinds of bird (hummingbirds, bananaquits). Then, last month, I heard a distinct buzzing in a bush. Bees. Lots of them. I took a few photos, some of which are shown below. Then I began to notice them elsewhere. Everywhere. Compared to the european bees that I am familiar with (check out my BEE GALLERY), Abaco bees are much smaller – see how they look on the individual flower heads in the first few photos. These little creatures were constantly on the move. No sooner had one settled on a flower, than it moved on to the next one…

I kept an eye out for bumble bees, but saw none – indeed, I’m not certain there are any bumble species in the (northern) Bahamas, and I have found no references to their existence. Enlightenment on this topic welcome via the comment box.

Abaco bees 1Abaco bees 2 Abaco bees 3There was plenty of pollen for the bees, though not all of it went into their what’s-the-correct-word-for-their-pouches (EST the Beekeper please can you help here?)Abaco bees 5However most were managing to harvest impressive quantities to take back to the hive. It’s worth saying that these are all wild bees. I know of only one honey-producer in South Abaco (south of Marsh Harbour).Abaco bees 6 Abaco bees 7A successful foraging expedition… somewhat surprisingly this bee was still able to take off…Abaco bees 8This is my favourite photo: there’s something about the expression on that little face that says “Ooooo. More good stuff in this one….”Abaco bees 9

Wild bees find a novel use for a woodpecker nesting box Bees in bird nest box 1

THE LIFE CYCLE OF THE ATALA HAIRSTREAK BUTTERFLY (Eumaeus atala)


Atala Hairstreak Logo

THE LIFE CYCLE OF THE ATALA BUTTERFLY Eumaeus atala

I’ve been planning a post about this lovely small butterfly for some time. I posted a close-up photo of one taken last summer at ATLALA PICS  (worth clicking to enlarge to see its cute curly tongue) but I wanted to find out more about them and their strikingly-coloured abdomens. This led me to the excellent butterfly (& co) website of STEPHANIE SANCHEZ. Click her name to be transported to her intriguingly and Greekly named HEURISTRON pages for a wealth of Florida-based lepidoptera information. With Steph’s kind approval, the following post is based on her Atala work, and includes her amazing images of the life cycle of the Atala with captions. The blue links below will take you  to the relevant pages of Steph’s site, where you will find plenty of advice about Atala-friendly plants.

THE STAGES FROM EGG TO BUTTERFLY

Atala Butterfly lays eggs on Coontie

 EGGS are laid on COONTIE the Atala Butterfly HOST PLANT (clusters of 10 – 50)

LARVAE Red caterpillars with yellow markings, hatch from the eggs and eat the host plant. They shed their skin several times while they’re growing up. (You can look up “larval instar” if you want to get more technical than that.)

CHRYSALIS The caterpillars eat, and grow, and then they hang from the bottom of a leaf on the Coontie, shed their skin one last time, and turn into a chrysalis.

BUTTERFLY Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar turns into the butterfly. When it’s done, it crawls out and hangs upside-down to extend and dry its wings before it flies away.

==========================

Up close, the white rounded eggs have tiny hairs on them

Atala Butterflies lay eggs on Coontie        Atala Eggs on Coontie

COONTIE (Zamia floridana or pumila)

Coontie

The eggs hatch into these bright red and yellow caterpillars

Atala larvae on Coontie                                                          Atala butterfly larvae (caterpillar)

When the caterpillars have eaten and grown enough, they hang under the leaf, shed their skin a final time, and turn into a chrysalis. The one below is undergoing the change; you can see how different it looks from the bright red caterpillars

Atala butterfly larvae making a chrysalis

On a very new chrysalis the yellow dots on the back of the caterpillar are still visible

Atala butterfly chrysalides

Then as it ages, the chrysalis darkens to a more opaque soft brown that darkens more the older it gets

 Atala butterfly chrysalis

Finally, a day or so before the butterfly is ready to emerge, you can start to see the red abdomen through the bottom of the chrysalisAtala butterfly chrysalides

 The little spiky brown splotches near the chrysalides are the shed skins of the larvaeAtala butterfly chrysalis

When they first crawl out of their chrysalis, their abdomen is swollen with fluid and their wings are squished and tiny. They hang upside-down and excrete fluid, and also pump fluid into their wings to expand them

Atala butterfly emerging from chrysalisAtala butterfly emerging

This is a good time to hold them; they can’t fly away. Be sure to let them hang upside-down though, or their wings will dry wrong and they will be unable to fly. Also watch out for the goo they poo because it can stain your clothes

Atala butterfly emerging

emerged Atala butterfly expanding wingsAtala butterfly on fingeremerged Atala butterfly expanding wings

All of these Atala Photographs were taken in Broward County, Florida by ©Stephanie SanchezAtala butterfly on chrysalis

WHY THE BRIGHT RED ABDOMEN? I suppose it’s obvious that this is one of nature’s warning signals. But are these insects inherently toxic, or are the toxins acquired by ingestion or some other process? Lifting wholesale from Wiki, which puts it as well as I could (+ useful links), “The host plants contains toxic chemicals, known as cycasins, and the bright coloration of the adult is believed to be aposematic. Birds and lizards attempt to prey on the adults, but find them distasteful and learn to avoid the brightly patterned butterflies.”

Steph advises “if you want Atala Butterflies in your butterfly garden, you’ll need at least a dozen Coontie plants to keep a colony alive; more is better. They tend to stay close to home, so they’re a fun butterfly to garden for because you can continue to enjoy watching them in your garden after they become butterflies. Some other butterflies tend to emerge and fly off.”

STEPH’S LINKS BUTTERFLIES -∞- ATALA NECTAR -∞- HOST PLANTS

RH LINKS BUTTERFLIES -∞- HEURISTIC  (because I didn’t know what ‘Heuristron’ means… we learn stuff here!)

OTHER LINKS LITTLE BUTTERFLIES (Atala etc page of Barbara Woodmasnsee’s butterfly website. Nice pics!)

A PRAYING MANTIS – AT LAST, MY VERY OWN MANTODEA PHOTOS…


About a year ago, Sandy Walker encountered a praying mantis at the Delphi Club. For technical reasons his photo(s) of it didn’t work out. Undaunted (and because I’d never seen one outside an insectarium) I turned an essentially non-event into a short post SANDY’S PRAYING MANTIS, in the course of which I learnt a bit about these strange creatures. There isn’t a great deal of compelling information to pass on, to be honest. And I still don’t buy their supposed resemblance (for the sober observer) to Eleuthera.

We saw no mantises this summer on Abaco, and I forgot about them completely until a week ago… And there, nonchalantly strolling across an outdoor table where we were staying for a few days in Italy, was the very creature. It obligingly posed for some prayerful snaps, then I put it gently on a balcony railing where it clung upside down and apparently content overnight. It was still there at breakfast, gone by lunchtime, and we never saw it again. But the images live on…*

Please note that the fingerprints in photo 1 are copyright…

“GLIMPSES OF LIFE ALONG A CORAL REEF” A c19 NATURALIST VISITS ABACO


GLIMPSES OF LIFE ALONG A CORAL REEF by F. H. HERRICK

This post is aimed at those with a particular interest in the flora and fauna – especially avifauna – of Abaco and its Cays. It is a naturalist’s account from 1886 of an expedition to Abaco, interspersed with a few line drawings. It’s an easy read if you are interested in Abaco, its history, and the state of natural life on the islands 125 years ago. Those who have come to this site for the photos and / or even the occasional jest are warned to expect neither. However, to tempt waverers I’ll highlight below (by way of a quiz) some intriguing aspects of the 9-page article. I have had to edit it to correct the many ‘literals’ in the open-source material; however the c19 spellings are retained. I’ve also added coloured subject-matter codes as follows: PLACE NAMES; BIRDS; PLANTS; FISH; CREATURES

In 1886, Herrick visited Abaco with a party of naturalists. This trip predated by 3 years the publication of Charles Cory’s groundbreaking ‘Birds of the West Indies‘. There would have been scant readily-available published material about the natural history of the Bahamas, let alone of Abaco itself. Herrick and a friend left the main party and went on their own wider explorations of Abaco with two local guides. Herrick recorded their findings, which were subsequently published in ‘Popular Science Monthly‘ in 1888. In Herrick’s wide-ranging account of the adventure you will find the answers to the following 15 questions. If any one of them whets your appetite to read this historic account, press the link below the quiz!

  • What fruit might you have found growing in fields on Abaco in 1886?
  • What was the local name for the perforated rock at Hole-in-the-Wall?
  • What is an “egg-bird”?
  • What was causing “the gradual extermination” of flamingos?
  • What were “shanks” and “strikers”?
  • To what human use were Wilson’s Terns put?
  • How many eggs does a tropic-bird lay?
  • What law prevented the shooting of tropic-birds, and indeed any other bird, by naturalists?
  • What sort of creature is a “sennet”?
  • Which was rated the better for eating – grouper or ‘barracouta’ (sic)?
  • Who or what is or are “grains”?
  • What common creature had a burning touch like a sharp needle?
  • What bird was reckoned to have the call ‘loarhle-ee’ ?
  • What – or indeed who – was described as a “pilepedick”?
  • What creature laid 139 eggs?

ABACO NATURAL HISTORY Popular Science Monthly Volume 32 January 1888

SPIDER WASPS & TARANTULA HAWKS: DON’T MESS WITH THESE GUYS


SPIDER WASPS  & TARANTULA HAWKS (PEPSIS WASPS)

I recently posted photos of an unknown aggressive-looking INSECT that I found in the coppice on Abaco. I could only get a partial shot of it, and I wondered whether to try to reach it and get a more complete shot. Perhaps I could have stroked its dear little back… or tickled its cute feelers…

I received various ID suggestions, ranging from the entomologically broad hedge-bet “big black beetle” to a more precise “black praying mantis”. I contacted the BNT to see what they thought. I’m glad I did. It turns out that this creature would be the hardest bastard insect on Planet Bastard. It is a SPIDER WASP of the Pompilidae family, almost certainly a TARANTULA HAWK aka PEPSIS WASP. It’s fortunate that I didn’t try to pet it or keep it in a matchbox. Note, for start, the scary eating apparatus… and it’s not nibbling leaves as I had thought, but chopping up a small insect. The leg claws and barbs are for pinning down its prey. You would not believe how unpleasant these little buddies are –  and that’s before we even mention the sting… 

SPIDER WASPS

These wasps (family name Pompilidae) are known in some countries as “horse-killers”. There are many species around the world, with 6 subspecies, one of which being the Tarantula Hawk or Pepsis Wasp – so-called because it hunts tarantulas and uses them in a most ingenious and cruel way… NB The BNT have rightly pointed out that these insects are unaggressive to humans. If you leave them alone, they will spare you. I’ve also read “The tarantula hawk is relatively docile and rarely stings without provocation” Now read on to see if it’s worth provoking one

SCARY CRITTERS & LIVING LARDERS

SPIDER WASPS are ‘Solitary’ insects that feed on ground spiders/ tarantulas by stinging them to paralyse them, then eating them. The females also make use of spiders for breeding purposes. They build a nest in a burrow, find a spider, paralyse it with their sting, drag it to the nest and lay a single egg on its abdomen. Then they seal up the burrow. 

When the egg hatches the larva chews a hole on the spider’s abdomen and enters a living larder. It gradually eat its host as it grows. The spider’s vital organs are left till last, so that the spider stays alive as long as possible until the larva has reached full-size. After several weeks, the larva spins a cocoon and pupates (often over winter). Finally, the wasp becomes an adult, bursts Alien-like from the spider’s abdomen, and tunnels out of the burrow…

Credit: Paul Nylander http://bugman123.com

SPIDER WASPS: MORE FEARFUL FACTS

  • Their hunting improves with experience – the more spiders they eat, the quicker they find, attack & kill them
  • Males use ‘perch territories’ to scan for receptive females from a tall plant or other vantage point, a behaviour known as HILL-TOPPING
  • Adult wasps also feed on a variety of plants for nectar & pollen. They may become intoxicated on fermented fruit, which affects their ability to get around (I think we’ve all been there at some time…)
  • The female Pepsis gets her spider in two main ways: approaching a tarantula causing it to rear up defensively on its legs, thus exposing its abdomen to the sting or
  • She locates a tarantula’s burrow, using her sense of smell. She tricks the spider into emerging by tweaking the web at the burrow’s entrance or ‘intruding’ (see video below)
  • The wasp uses her long stinger to stab her prey. The poison rapidly paralyses the spider. She then drags it to her burrow, lays her egg onto the tarantula’s abdomen, seals the burrow and leaves. Job done
  • The hooked claws and barbs on the wasps’ long legs are weapons for grappling with victims
  • The stinger of a female tarantula hawk can be up to 7 mm (1/3 inch) long – and the sting is among the most painful insect stings in the world (see below)
  • Only the females sting (males may pretend to) because the stinger is linked to the ovipositor (egg-laying organ)
  • You can distinguish females from males by the curled antennae of the female. Mine was therefore female
  • The Pepsis wasp has (unsurprisingly) very few predators, though roadrunners and bullfrogs may tackle them

Here is a hypnotically fascinating 3-minute video of the life-or-death struggle

SPIDER WASP  -v-  TARANTULA 

THE STING

The sting of these wasps is among the most painful of any insect, though the most intense pain lasts on a few minutes. Entomologist Justin Schmidt bravely submitted himself to the stings of various insects and described this pain as “…immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream. Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations.” 

Schmidt produced his SCHMIDT STING PAIN INDEX The pain scale, based on 78 species, runs from 0 to 4, with 4 given for the most intense pain. Spider Wasps of the species Pepsis – i.e. Tarantula Hawks – have a sting rating of 4.0, described as “blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath” Only the bite of the Bullet Ant (not found on Abaco!) is ranked higher, with a 4.0+ rating, vividly described aspure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel”

(Thanks to Erik Carey (BNT), Shelley Cant (BNT) and Dr Paul Deluca for their ID help and interest)

LIGHT RELIEF

1. In 1989, New Mexico chose the Tarantula hawk wasp as the official state insect. The choice seems to have been left to schoolchildren and I’m guessing here (or gender-stereotyping) but I suspect it was the boys’ choice that won…

2. Tarantula Hawk is a “psychedelic progressive metal band” from San Diego, Ca. Their short discography includes their debut Tarantula Hawk (CD/LP, 1998); Burrow (Live CD, 2000, self-released); and Untitled. I’ll just check if… OMG!! you can even get these on iTunes… and (OMG!!!) Am@z@n. The cover of their debut provides the perfect ending for this post, vividly depicting the colour and texture of the swirling fiery pain you could experience (and I don’t really mean from listening to the music…) 

AN ARGUABLY PAINFUL STING

AN ENJOYABLE STING

STOP PRESS 2 or 3 weeks on, I find that this entire post has been translated into Portugese! It can be seen HERE. It’s quite weird to read it, and I am tempted when I have a moment to re-use Google to translate it back into English. The two-way online translation game often leads to amusing results…

HOT SHOTS: WOODPECKER & BUTTERFLY UPDATE FROM DELPHI, ABACO


I have returned from “The Other Delphi” to find that Peter Wesley Brown has provided 3 excellent images, now uploaded to the CONTRIBUTIONS / PHOTOGRAPHS page. Two are excellent pictures of a Gold Rim / Polydamas Swallowtail, dramatically… no, badly photographed by me for the BUTTERFLIES post and later identified by PM; the third shows that THE RELUCTANT WOODPECKER has finally made herself / himself at home in the nesting box… 

ABACO BUTTERFLIES AT DELPHI / CONTRIBUTIONS / BLOG FORMAT CHANGES


As a change from birds, here are some other flying items, mostly from around Delphi itself, with a redesigned logo in their honour.

JULIA LONGWING Dryas Julia (Delphi Beach – plant now ID’d as a Bay Cedar Suriana maritima, much enjoyed by butterflies and bees)

HAMMOCK SKIPPER Polygonus Leo (Delphi Service Drive)

 

GULF FRITILLARY Agraulis vanillae (Delphi Guest Drive)

   

I haven’t nailed the ID of this one yet. Any ideas appreciated. [See later post for ID as GOLD RIM SWALLOWTAIL / POLYDAMUS SWALLOWTAIL     (Battus Polydamus Lucaeus) ]
Seen all round Delphi this March. These are on the move the whole time, and are surprisingly hard to pin down (not a very sensitive way to put it for a butterfly…) The bottom photo looks like a rubbish picture, I know, but in fact the butterfly is at rest (the body / legs / feelers aren’t blurred) while the wings beat fast and constantly while it feeds

AND FINALLY… Pride of place goes to this Atala Hairstreak, photographed during a Delphi outing with Ricky Johnson to one of the Blue Holes in the pine forest. It’s the only place I have seen these small butterflies, and there were only four or five. This one stayed still for just long enough

ATALA HAIRSTREAK Eumaeus Atala

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BLOG NEWS UPDATE 

23.04.11

  • Email Share added to the main pages
  • Pages Menu added to sidebar
  • Contributions received now posted on the appropriate page…

Note I am trying to reorganise this blog to increase accessibility of categories and sub-categories. Struggling a bit… one major accidental deletion so far… proposed pages under construction or at least under contemplation… please bear with me!  

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SANDY WALKER: GOOD WITH BIRDS


This Spring has seen a number of birds – possibly tempted by Gareth’s cuisine – flying hard into the windows / doors of the Great Room and falling stunned onto the verandah. Luckily, Sandy has sometimes been on hand to scoop them up and gently let them come to their senses before releasing them.

WESTERN SPINDALIS (Spindalis Zena) or Stripe-Headed Tanager

   

 

NORTHERN PARULA: one of a large number of yellowy warbler types around Delphi

    

The Parula ID was confirmed by Craig Nash (see side-bar BLOGROLL for his Delphi birding links) and he has supplied his own much better photo of one, photographed in one of the drives – see CONTRIBUTIONS / PHOTOGRAPHS