BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (5): THE UNUSUAL MARTIAL SCRUB-HAIRSTREAK


Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis (Nina Henry) 1 sm

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (5): THE UNUSUAL MARTIAL SCRUB-HAIRSTREAK

I wish I could tell you something useful about this butterfly, but frankly there’s not a lot of info about it to be found. In part that may be because it is not a mainstream American butterfly, being found only in southern Florida. However it is found in the West Indies, and indeed on Abaco – this one was photographed by Nina Henry at Little Harbour. She was walking from Pete’s Pub to the OLD LIGHTHOUSE when she came across this butterfly. She sent it to me as a query and it took me an hour to nail the ID – there are other very similar and more common hairstreaks that threw me off track for a while (I thought it might be a female… oh, ever  mind, it wasn’t).

The Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis ranges from the southern tip of Florida, throughout the Bahamas and Greater Antilles. I’ve never seen one on Abaco, and I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has. As far as I can make out this creature’s range tends to be further south, so I’m guessing they are unusual  for Abaco. Prove me wrong!

Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis (Nina Henry) 3 sm

Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis (Nina Henry) 2 sm

Photo Credit: Nina Henry

‘ATALA FASCINATING’: THE LIFECYCLE OF THE ATALA HAIRSTREAK ON ABACO


Atala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco 6

‘ATALA FASCINATING’: THE LIFECYCLE OF THE ATALA  HAIRSTREAK ON ABACO

I have posted about several of the wonderful butterfly species the live on Abaco, but my favourite will always be the small but beautiful Atala Hairstreak Eumaeus atala. Its ‘look-at-me’ bright orange abdomen, black wings and the curious luminescent bright blue spots that even cover its legs and head are unmistakeable. These butterflies favour the coontie plant – especially for egg-laying – but they can be seen almost anywhere as far as I can see, though I have never seen one right by a beach. 

I’ve posted before about the lifecycle of the Atala, but I have never had a chance to show the complete post-egg process from caterpillar to triumphantly emergent butterfly actually recorded on Abaco until now. Thanks to Rhonda Pearce, her patience and her skill with a camera, the following sequence of photos shows in detail the various stages of metamorphosis.

THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR

  • The little hairs on the caterpillars (larvae)
  • The dark gluey-looking shed skins
  • The delicate silky threads as the chrysalis forms
  • The butterfly emerges upside down, enabling it to uncrumple & spread its wings to dry

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10173638_10152536424683720_8837746952198646203_n10703931_10152539084318720_4254043938657181472_n      10530805_10152539181538720_7306525148033947757_n1800474_10152539184718720_2160773318941097404_n1904051_10152539181463720_3683578272660806029_n10410511_10152536410758720_8834582183802288185_n

 

RELATED POSTS

ATALA HAIRSTREAK LIFECYCLE (you’ll find more info about the process here)

FLUTTER BY, BUTTERFLY

ABACO’S LOVELIEST BUTTERFLY

ABACO BUTTERFLY PAGE (other species found on Abaco)

Photo Credits: All Rhonda Pearce except the header of a full adult imago, RH

PS Sorry, I’ve been very po-faced and not mentioned Halloween. Everyone else is covered in blood, guts and gore, so I reckon the market is saturated. Also I get the wrong end of the ‘Trick or Treat’ stick. I carefully prepare 2 lots of choccy-based sweets. One is delicious. The other contains chilli. If the callers are nice, they get the Treat. If not, they get the Trick. That must be right, surely. I can listen to them hawking and barfing as they run off into the night…. [No children were hurt in the making of this story…]

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

“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

Mr Gordon Sumner

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…

Tarantula hawk + Tarantula (Wiki)

AN ABACO INSECT IS BUGGING ME – WHAT IS THIS CREATURE?


AN ABACO INSECT IS BUGGING ME – WHAT IS THIS CREATURE?

There I was, walking slowly along the Delphi drive trying to locate some small chirruping bird in the coppice – close at hand, chatty, but invisible among the leaves. Then I saw this creature. It’s not an insect I have ever seen before, and I haven’t been able to find out what it is. It’s probably something elementary – an ‘Abaco Black Orange-Feeler Beetle’ – that is familiar to everyone. Except me. I’d just like to know. Any help out there? A response via the Comment box below would be appreciated!

This insect has some interesting features. The feelers are segmented, with 9 joints, so that in close-up the apparent smooth curve is not a perfect one but an articulated series of ‘straights’. It has 4 toes for gripping, and leg spines. It appears to be a voracious leaf-eater. And it can scratch its head. Overall, it looks aggressive and somewhat alien. Imagine if these things were the size of a potcake. Coming at you…