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.
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.
OTHER BUTTERFLIES IN THIS SERIES
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…
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.
Photo Credits: Butterflies by Charlie Skinner (except header, Wiki); Caterpillars & Chrysalis by Megan McCarty via Common Licence
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.
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.
FURTHER BUTTERFLIES YOU MAY ENJOY
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…
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.
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.
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.
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
**My spam box is full of suggestions about this
Image credit for open-wing shot on flower: Stranica
BLOOMING MARVELLOUS: FLOWERS OF ABACO
The flowers and plants below were mostly photographed in the grounds of The Delphi Club, Abaco or nearby. I expect most or many are already securely on the SD chips or hard drives of every visitor to an agreeably floral place like the Bahamas. Who can resist a pretty flower? I have confessed in earlier plant-based posts (links below) to a certain lack of aptitude around flowers. They just… are. Let’s see how this pans out – corrections and (for the last two) IDs welcome.
FIRECRACKER PLANT RusseliaMARSH FLEABANE (WITH HONEY BEE) PlucheaHORSERADISH TREE (WITH CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD) Moringa oleiferaBISMARCK PALMBANANASThese were growing just outside our bedroom. Pity they weren’t quite ripe…
I’m beginning to struggle now. The next two plants are probably completely obvious, but I am losing my floral grip. Suggestions welcome via the comment box or email (Bridget on Tilloo, that means you…)
STOP PRESS ID within 24 hours, thanks to Nick Kenworthy who says via the comment box that this bright pink one “is loosely referred to as the Orchid tree (or Hong Kong Orchid Tree) as the blooms are very like an orchid but it comes on a tree rather than a plant”. I’ve checked my cheat books, where it is named Bauhinia pupurea, aka Orchid Tree, Butterfly Tree or (from the leaf shape) Bull Hoof Tree. The tree originates from India and Southeast Asia. Nick has undoubtedly nailed it, for which many thanks. One more to go…
STOP PRESS 2 Nick has solved the second ID as well. His interesting information about this striking waxy plant can be seen in detail in the comments below. The answer, in a word, is ‘Jatropha’, of which there are a great many varieties – and quite a number of informal names, most of which (‘Firecracker'; ‘Star of Bethlehem’) are confusingly assigned to other plant species as well. It doesn’t feature in either of my Caribbean plant /tree reference books, so my amateur eyes didn’t actually let me down this time… This plant (there was were two of three) was in a small park area by the beach at Treasure Cay. I haven’t seen it elsewhere on Abaco.
Here are the links to a couple of my previous Abaco flower / plant posts:
A BUNCH OF FLOWERS (the most recent)
FLOWERING ON ABACO (an expedition with Ricky Johnson)
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
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
COONTIE (Zamia floridana or pumila)
The eggs hatch into these bright red and yellow caterpillars
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
On a very new chrysalis the yellow dots on the back of the caterpillar are still visible
Then as it ages, the chrysalis darkens to a more opaque soft brown that darkens more the older it gets
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 chrysalis
The little spiky brown splotches near the chrysalides are the shed skins of the larvae
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
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
All of these Atala Photographs were taken in Broward County, Florida by ©Stephanie Sanchez
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.”
OTHER LINKS LITTLE BUTTERFLIES (Atala etc page of Barbara Woodmasnsee’s butterfly website. Nice pics!)
Back safely in Blighty at last, and 17 cups of coffee down the line it’s time to take caffeine-trembling hands to the computer. A quick skim through the new batch of Abaco wildlife photos has shown that at least 3 out of (say) 987 have came out adequately, so new material will now be appearing – parrots and other birds, reef fish, plants, bonefishing, and a lot more (including some videos). I’ll make a start with an Atala Hairstreak, a small but unmistakable butterfly that is a creature of delicacy and beauty. It is the one that features in the RH logo above. Here is a live specimen taken deep in the pine forest a few days ago at the Blue Hole known as Sawmill Sink. The colouring is just as it is in real life – there’s been no ‘work’ done on this image. Its little curly tongue shows that it is busy feeding. Click on it to enlarge it.
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
BLOG NEWS UPDATE
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!