‘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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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…]

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

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!)