THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE BAHAMAS: A FIELD GUIDE


Roseate Spoonbill, New Providence Bahamas (Elwood 'Woody' Bracey)

Roseate Spoonbill, New Providence – Dr Elwood ‘Woody’ Bracey

THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE BAHAMAS: A FIELD GUIDE

On October 15th Cornell University Press publishes the first-ever comprehensive field guide to the terrestrial natural history of the Bahamas*. This monumental study has been years in the devising, researching, writing and production. The five authors are all eminent natural scientists in their specialist fields, and well-known far beyond the Bahamas. They combine to bring authoritative yet accessible scholarship to the pages. This book will undoubtedly become the go-to standard field guide for the Bahamas for decades. Furthermore, its breadth of scope will reach adjacent territories beyond the archipelago. *With a few exceptions for ‘signal species’, ocean-life is not included

The new guide comprises an encyclopaedic 464 pages with 768 colour photos plus line drawings, maps, charts and tables. The subject-matter begins with a detailed introduction that encompasses Geology, Climate, Habitat, Biogeography, Human History and Conservation. This establishes the wider context for the pages that follow.

Merlin, Abaco Bahamas (Becky Marvil)

Merlin, Abaco Bahamas – Becky Marvil

The guide is then divided into discrete sections that cover Fungi, Flora / Plants, Invertebrates, Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds, and Mammals (of which there are very few in the Archipelago, and few of those endemic). As a general observation, you simply will not believe how many species and subspecies there in some of the categories.

Wild Pig or Hog (f) on Abaco Bahamas (Dana Lowe)

Wild Pig or Hog (f) on Abaco Bahamas (Dana Lowe)

In expressing my enthusiasm for the new guide, I ought to declare my interest. From a fairly early stage of the project, I helped in two ways: sourcing / supplying images; and helping with proofing / editorial work of the sort common to all such diverse reference works.

Nassau Grouper, Grand Bahama (Melinda Riger)

Nassau Grouper, Grand Bahama (Melinda Riger)

Right now, in the aftermath of the disastrous impact of Hurricane Dorian, the northern Bahamas (Abaco & Grand Bahama) are still at the very earliest stages of a return to normality. Some areas are still without reliable water or power. The extent of the devastation suggests that the new ‘normality’ will inevitably be rather different from the past. It is sobering to consider that, since this field guide went to press, the balance of nature on two of the most diverse islands for wildlife in the archipelago has already changed significantly – and in some instances that change may well be for good.

Gull-billed Tern in flight, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

Gull-billed Tern in flight, Abaco Bahamas – Alex Hughes

I have a hope – and there are some signs already – that people’s interest in the wildlife around them provides a degree of comfort in hard times. Further south in the Bahamas, the other islands will each have had their own similar extreme weather experiences many times. The wildlife is varied but with similarity throughout the extensive chain of 700 islands that make up the Bahamas, with a vertical length of over 500 miles and covering more than 8000 square miles of land and sea. The familiarity of many of the plants, trees, butterflies, and birds binds the diverse islands together to create a common experience.

West-Indian Manatee, Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

West-Indian Manatee, Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

For more information on this new publication CORNELL U P FIELD GUIDE

Credits as captioned, with thanks to all concerned

Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

SPIDER WASPS & TARANTULA HAWKS: STEP AWAY FROM THIS INSECT


Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk Abaco Bahama (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

SPIDER WASPS  & TARANTULA HAWKS (PEPSIS WASPS)

I’ve recently had a flood of online hits for a creature I wrote about several years ago. It’s an aggressive-looking insect that I found in the coppice on South Abaco. I have revisited and revised the original article, with some better images than my own original ones. I could only get a partial shot of the insect, and I wondered whether to try to reach it and get a more complete shot. Perhaps I could have, but very fortunately for for me (as it later turned out) I didn’t touch it.

Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk Abaco Bahama (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

This creature turned out to be a Spider Wasp (aka Pepsis Wasp), of the Pompilidae family. The insect is familiarly known as a Tarantula Hawk, for reasons give in unsparing detail below. For it turns out that this creature would be the hardest bastard insect on Planet Bastard in the Galaxy Bastardium. 

Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk - TheCrotalusfreak

It’s lucky that I didn’t try to try to collect it to keep it in a matchbox (if those even exist now).  Note, for start, the scary eating apparatus… and it’s not for nibbling leaves as I had thought, but chopping up small insects. 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 IN ACTION

These wasps 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 that “The tarantula hawk is relatively docile and rarely stings without provocation” Now read on to see if it might be sensible to provoke one or not.

Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk - astrobradley

SCARY CRITTERS & LIVING LARDERS

(Trigger Warning: this is really rather gross)

SPIDER WASPS are ‘solitary’ insects that feed on ground spiders/ tarantulas by stinging them to paralyse them, then eating them. In the most sinister way, the females also make use of spiders for breeding purposes. Hear this! They build a nest in a burrow, find a spider (a tarantula for choice), paralyse it with their sting, drag it to the nest and lay a single egg on its abdomen. Then they seal up the burrow. 

Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk mshandro

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 (deftly evading Ripley), and tunnels out of the burrow… 

Do NOT try this at home or more than 10 yards from a medical centre Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk _ Paul Nylander

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 apparently 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 awarded 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 – and the sting of the Warrior Wasp – is ranked higher, with a 4.0+ rating, vividly described as pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel”

LIGHT RELIEF AFTER THE PAIN

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. 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…) 

UNDOUBTEDLY PAINFUL EXPERIENCE

ARGUABLY PAINFUL STING

Mr Gordon Sumner

AN ENJOYABLE STING

Credits:  Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour (1, 2, 7); TheCrotalusfreak (video clip) (3);  astrobradley (4);  mshandro (5); Paul Nylander (6)


Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk Abaco Bahama (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

FORAYS WITH MORAYS (6): WELL SPOTTED…


Spotted Moray Eel (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

FORAYS WITH MORAYS (6): WELL SPOTTED…

I was always taught ‘keep your mind open and your mouth closed’. Bad advice. Such bad advice. The worst. So many reasons to be exactly the opposite in these troubled times…

Spotted Moray Eel (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Spotted Moray eels Gymnothorax moringa, however, seem to have their own rules to live by. They appear to be open-minded and fairly sensible creatures around the reef. They tend to keep themselves to themselves, hanging out unassumingly in holes and crevices in the coral.

Spotted Moray Eel (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

They do tend to stick their necks out a bit, but unless provoked (see below) they seem to be reasonably amiable (except maybe to the small fish and crustaceans that make up their diet).

Spotted Moray Eel (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

They do keep their mouths open a lot, though. And as you can see, they have sharp-looking teeth that you mightn’t want too near to you. I say that because their bite can be dangerous and should be avoided. To start with, the teeth are slightly backward-facing, so that when they bite there is a ‘pull-back’ effect when you react (not unlike a barb on a fish hook). They are not aggressive as such, but they know how to deal with unwanted interference in their lives…

Spotted Moray Eel (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Apart from the unpleasant bite and associated pain that moray eels can inflict in defence, they are also poisonous (as opposed to venomous). Specifically they can release toxins into the wound; and in some species their skin contains toxins as well**. Serious infection may result.

Spotted Moray Eel (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

CAN YOU GIVE THE POISONOUS / VENOMOUS DISTINCTION AGAIN

I could, but ace natural history cartoonist Rosemary Mosco makes a better job than I can:Toxic: poison v venom cartoon (Rosemary Mosco)

**Before I leave the topic, maybe I ought to mention one bit of research I have just come across at Dove Med, from which I take away the message that you definitely don’t want to annoy a moray eel or get bitten by one. Ever. They are fine and interesting denizens of the reef, to be admired from a respectful distance…

Spotted Moray Eel (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Photo credits: all amazing photos courtesy of Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba; cute yet educative cartoon by Rosemary Mosco. Check out her website HERE – and birders, she v good on your specialist subject…

Spotted Moray Eel (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

HUTIAS: ABACO’S EXTINCT RODENTS LIVE ON… ELSEWHERE


Bahamian Hutia (Cole Fiechter)

HUTIAS: ABACO’S EXTINCT RODENTS LIVE ON… ELSEWHERE  

The Bahama hutia (Geocapromys ingrahami) has the distinction of being the only indigenous land mammal in the Bahamas. Historically found on a number of islands, the species is now confined to very limited locations. Abaco is, sadly, no longer one of them; they are officially shown as extirpated here from about 1600. Hutias had been recorded on Great Abaco by early explorers from Europe, but their survival was already threatened by hunting and land clearance as the human population expanded.

Bahamian Hutia (Cole Fiechter)

Further evidence of their long-term existence on Abaco – prehistoric, even – comes from research carried out by divers in the land-based Blues Holes. SAWMILL SINK has been a particularly rich source of the remnants of early creatures, including well-preserved skeletons, carapaces or other remains of crocodiles, turtles, birds, bats – and hutias. These date from the Pleistocene epoch of the Quartenary period, spanning roughly 2.5m years and ending some 12,000 years ago. You can see some of these treasures in the wonderful Natural History Museum at Friends of the Environment in Marsh Harbour.

A c20 hutia from the Exumas on display in the museumBahama Hutia Museum Exhibit (FOTE, Abaco)

Exhibits in the museum – there’s even a dead parrot for Monty Python fansMuseum of Natural History, Abaco Bahamas

The population of the extant Bahama hutia species Geocapromys ingrahami became so depleted that by the 1960s they were considered to be extinct. Then in 1966 a colony was discovered on East Plana Cay. Some have since been relocated (see below) and the overall population is now confined to a handful of locations, for which reason the Bahama hutia is IUCN listed as vulnerable. All the usual man-caused threats to their survival apply, as well as predation by dogs and feral cats. One place to find them is in the Exumas, but because they are mainly nocturnal creatures and there are few of them, a sighting is a rare event, let alone getting a decent photo op. 

A ‘Demarest’s Hutia’ – not the Bahamian species, but very similarDemarest's Hutia (Yomangani, wiki)

The terrific header image and the second image were taken by teenager Cole Fiechter while on a sailing trip with his parents and brother in the excellently named ‘Truansea’. On the beach of the Exumas Land and Sea Park at Warderick Wells, they encountered “a guinea pig with a rat’s tail”: a hutia. Cole’s photograph will hopefully grace the forthcoming Field Guide to the Natural History of the Bahamas, now in the late stages of production, and with which I am peripherally involved.

MARK CATESBY‘s take on the hutia in the c18, where he describes it as a rabbitHutia by Mark Catesby (c18)

The BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST notes that “Bahama hutias occur naturally only on East Plana Cay (located between Acklins and Mayaguana). Historically however, they were found on ten Bahamian islands. In a move to protect the species, a small Bahama hutia population was transplanted to two locations – Little Wax Cay and Warderick Wells (Exumas). These three locations now host the only known populations of this particular species in the whole world”

It looks as though Warderick Wells might be your best bet to see a Bahama hutia if you are visiting the Bahamas. Don’t be too confident of coming across one – but if you do see one, you will have had the pleasure of seeing a very rare creature.

Bahamian Hutia Drawing (Princeton UP)

A HUTIA’S TAIL (very different from a rat…)

IMG_7500

Credits: Cole Fiechter (1, 2); Keith Salvesen / FOTE (3, 4); ‘Yomangani’ wiki (5); OS (6); Princeton UP (7). Research credits PNAS, BNT, FOTE

PIGGYVILLE: HOME OF THE SWIMMING PIGS OF ABACO


piggyville-adam-rees-scuba-works-copy

PIGGYVILLE: HOME OF THE SWIMMING PIGS OF ABACO

No Name Cay has a name. Which is ‘No Name’. Which is a logical paradox.  Since I last wrote about it, the Cay has acquired a new nickname in honour of its only permanent residents: Piggyville. You can find swimming pigs on Exuma, of course – they are a famous and well-promoted tourist attraction. Abaco’s own population of feral swimming pigs is much less well-known, even now.

swimming-pigs-of-no-name-cay-abaco

When I first posted about the pigs a couple of years ago, several people – including locals – contacted me in surprise and wonderment. And people still get in touch to ask (1) if there are really swimming pigs on Abaco and (2) “how do I get to see them?” (a short boat ride from Green Turtle Cay). Now the word is spreading, and indeed the piggies even have their own FB page HERE.

swimming-pigs-of-no-name-cay-abaco-tim-mantle

swimming-pigs-of-no-name-cay-abaco-patricia-labarta-douglas

swimming-pigs-of-no-name-cay-abaco-barefoot-sailor

Recently, a reliable replenishable water supply system was introduced to No Name Cay to ensure enough fresh water for the denizens. You’ll find more about nutrition and other vital porcine matters in Amanda Diedrick’s excellent post on LITTLE HOUSE BY THE FERRY, a wonderfully informative blog for Abaco in general and Green Turtle Cay in particular.

swimming-pigs-of-no-name-cay-abaco-claire-towningSwimming Pigs, No Name Cay, Abaco (Craig Russell)

WHERE IS NO NAME CAY WHEN IT’S AT HOME?no-name-cay-copy

swimming-pigs-of-no-name-cay-abaco-copy swimming-pigs-no-name-cay-abaco-craig-russell

Craig Russell, Pig Guardian of No Name CayCraig Russell, Abaco Swimming Pig Whisperer on No Name Cay

swimming-pigs-of-no-name-cay-abaco-lynn-collinsswimming-pigs-no-name-cay-abaco-samantha-regan

Credits: Adam Rees / Scuba Works (1); Craig Russell / FB (2, 7, 8,9, 10); Tim Mantle (3); Patricia Labarta Douglas (4); Barefoot Sailor (5); Claire Towning (6); Lynn Collins (11); Samantha Regan (12); Ruth Albury / Destination Abaco for Piggy PDF [link removed]

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (7): LONG-TAILED SKIPPER


Long-tailed Skipper Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 1

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (7): LONG-TAILED SKIPPER 

The Abaco Neem Farm is run by Nick Miaoulis with a passion and commitment to the environment matched by few. The farm products can be found in the excellent Abaco Neem shop in Marsh Harbour. This is wonderful place for birding. Besides fruit trees of many kinds, there is a perfect mix of coppice and pine-forest to satisfy the most habitat-pedantic species. 

Long-tailed Skipper Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 3

Around the fruit trees, wildflowers are encouraged to thrive. These attract bees (Nick also has hives) and of course butterflies – not forgetting moths. Amongst the fluttery creatures, we found a long-tailed skipper (Urbanus proteus), a butterfly found in tropical and subtropical areas. It is a striking creature, with iridescent blues on the body and two long tails extending from the hindwings. The caterpillar is said to be a crop and ornamental plant pest; the butterfly is described as uncommon (maybe for the Bahamas, anyway).

Urbanus proteus: the caterpillarUrbanus_proteus4 (Mike Boone Bug Guide)

Urbanus proteus on Man-o-War CayLong-tailed Skipper - Abaco Butterfly (Charmaine Albury)

Two non-Abaco examplesLong-tailed_Skipper_Butterfly_(Urbanus_proteus)_1 (Jonathan Zander Wiki)Common_longtailed_skipper_(Urbanus_proteus_domingo)_female (Charles Sharp)

Abaco Neem Farm (with beehive)Bee Hive, Neem Farm, Abaco (Mrs RH)

Credits: Keith Salvesen (1, 2); Wiki-pillar (3); Charmaine Albury (4); Non-Abaco Wiki-Skippers Jonathan Zander (5) and Charles Sharp (6); Mrs RH (7)

HIP! HIP! HIPPOCAMPUS: LET’S CELEBRATE SEAHORSES


Seahorse (Bahamas) 4 ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba

HIP! HIP! HIPPOCAMPUS: LET’S CELEBRATE SEAHORSES

Melinda Riger, doyenne of the deep and photographer to the stars (brittle stars, basket stars, starfish etc), undertook her 5000th dive a few days ago. She swims with sharks almost daily, and points her lens at the varied reef life she encounters along the way. Her gold prize for the dive turned out to be one of the smallest creatures she encountered: the seahorse. Hippocampus (Ancient Greek: Ἵππος, horse and Κάμπος, sea monster) is a unique fish, deriving from the pipefish, with more than 50 species known worldwide. I can feel a Rolling Harbour fact list coming on…

Seahorse (Bahamas) 3 ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba

10 SEAHORSE FACTS TO DAZZLE YOUR FRIENDS WITH

  • Only seahorses and razorfish swim upright / vertically all the time
  • Their tails are prehensile and enable them to moor on coral, seagrass etc
  • They have no scales, but skin stretched over bony plates arranged in rings
  • The ‘coronet’ on a seahorse’s head is unique to the individual
  • Seahorses are pathetic swimmers: the slowest have a top speed of 5′ per hour
  • They feed by ambush, rotating the head and sucking prey in with their snout
  • A seahorse’s eyes can move independently of each other, like a chameleon 
  • The Bahamas is home to H. erectus and the dwarf seahorse H. zosterae
  • Despite rumours, they don’t mate for life. Some may stay together for a season
  • The smallest seahorse in the world – the pygmy – is a maximum of 15mm long

Seahorse (Bahamas) 2 ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba

MAKING BABY SEAHORSES: A MOST UNUSUAL ARRANGEMENT

There’s no getting round it: seahorse courtship and reproduction is highly unusual. Here is a summary of how it goes (there’s a lot more to it, but life is short):

  1. COURTING This may last for many days. They may change colour; they swim together; they entwine tails; they attach themselves to the same strand of coral or seagrass and turn slowly round it in unison (a so-called ‘pre-dawn’ dance). The final courtship dance may last several hours while the male & female prepare for the next stage.
  2. EGG TRANSFER When the time is right the female transfers her eggs – hundreds of them – via her ovipositor  to the male, in the process of which they are fertilised. Handily, he has inflated a special egg pouch located on his abdomen. She then buggers off.
  3. GESTATION The fertilised eggs grow inside the egg pouch of the male and develop into baby seahorses. This process may take from 10 days to a few weeks. During this time, the female will visit for a short ‘morning greeting’ and some intertwining action.
  4. ‘BIRTH’ In due course the male ejects the baby seahorses from his pouch using muscular contractions. These may number from five to (get this!) 2,500 at a time; on average 100–1000. Job done. Then the tiny seahorse babies are on on their own…

Seahorse (Bahamas) 1 ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba

THREATS TO SEAHORSES

The attrition rate of baby seahorses through predation is high (as for most fish species), but the prolific breeding rate reduces the effect on the overall populations.  As so often, there are human-related threats, not least habitat destruction, overfishing and pollution. There’s a less expected problem: the importance of seahorses in Chinese medicine.  Their presumed healing qualities are used to treat impotence, wheezing, enuresis, pain and to assist labour. For these purposes, some 20 million seahorses a year are caught and sold. Increasingly they are reduced to pill or capsule form. 

Seahorse values depend on the species, but weight for weight dried seahorses retail for *unbelieving face* more than the price of silver and almost that of gold in Asia, from US$600 to $3000 per kilogram. Ours not to reason why.

anagram

USELESS SEAHORSE FACTS

  • Seahorse is an anagram of seashore
  • The Seahorses were an English rock band, formed in 1996 by guitarist John  Squire following his departure from The Stone Roses. They split in 1999
  • Devendra Banhart’s song ‘Seahorse’ contains these inspiring lyrics:
    I wanna be a little seahorse
    I wanna be a little seahorse
    A little seahorse
    I wanna be a little seahorse
    I wanna be a little seahorse
    I wanna be a little seahorse
    I wanna be a little seahorse
  • I’m losing the will to live. Let’s meet Otis.

Introducing Otis, Melinda’s seahorse that lives under her dockSeahorse (Otis), Bahamas ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

SEAHORSE MATING DANCE (4 MINS)

MALE SEAHORSE GIVING BIRTH

All photos: many thanks to Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; sources, many and manifold including Wiki which is pretty good on this kind of thing! Fab seahorse gif by Alex Konahin 

Seahorse by Alex Konahin copy

A QUARTER OF A MILLION GLIMPSES OF ABACO…


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Abaco, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)

A QUARTER OF A MILLION GLIMPSES OF ABACO…

Well here’s a rum do. About four years ago, this somewhat minority interest blog emerged ‘mewling and puking’¹ into the world, guided by an incompetent male midwife whose basic training had been about 4 weeks of exposure to Abaco, its fishing, its wildlife, its geography and its history. ‘Bananaquit’ might as well have meant taking up a plantain-free diet. ‘Grassquit’ might have been the local word for ‘keep off the lawn’. And that’s before all the flowers. And the reef fish. And everything else that turned up during the storm-wracked voyage of discovery via polydamus swallowtails, manatees, spider wasps and batfish that led slowly to the calmer waters of ‘rather better informed (if no wiser)’. 

Anyway, at midnight last night some unknown person kindly made the 250,000th visit to the blog, a target that once seemed inconceivable. In the past month, the 1000th person also signed up as a follower, another source of amazement. The reality is that despite Abaco being a sparsely-populated microdot island in a huge world, there are a great many people on the island or associated with it who are passionate about it and its extraordinarily diverse natural history. That knowledge makes curating this blog both easy and pleasurable. 
RH Stats clip

I checked my stats for the last year to find out where hits from the top 10 countries – and for fun the bottom 1o – came from. Here’s the answer. Rather shamefully there was also a country I had never knowingly heard of, Palau (Micronesia). There follows a selection of a few photographs that have been popular over the years, mostly my own but the underwater ones are from Melinda Riger and Virginia Cooper of Grand Bahama Scuba.

Top 10                                                                   Bottom 10
Top 10 countries jpg   Bottom 10 countries jpg

Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)Western Spindalis, Abaco, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco  (Keith Salvesen)Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)French Angelfish (juv), Bahamas (Melinda Riger)Four-eyed Butterflyfish ©Melinda Riger @GBSCowfish ©Melinda Riger @ GB ScubaOctopus ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama ScubaNassau Grouper, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)Blacktip Shark ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba copy 2Curly-tail Lizard, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Atala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Bird of Paradise Flower (Strelitzia) Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Hibiscus : Polydamus Swallowtail, Delphi Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Yellow Elder Hope Town, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

SEARCH TERMS

The most popular searches – omitting posts about hurricanes, which always generate a lot of traffic – have concerned Abaco Parrots, Lignum Vitae, Sea Glass, the Loxahatchee poster series, Tarantula Hawk Wasps, Sea Biscuits / Urchins, Yellow Elder, Parrotfish, Shipwrecks, Hutias, Hole-in-the-Wall, Lionfish, Remora, and Abaco Maps. The most leftfield search of all was ‘How dispose of dead bodies?’, by someone who had clearly strayed into the wrong category of website…

A FEW OF THE MOST POPULAR POSTS / PAGES
SEA SHELLS
SPIDER WASPS & TARANTULA HAWKS: DON’T MESS WITH THESE GUYS    
ABACO FACTS (including likelihood of adverse shark encounter or shipwreck)    
ABACO MAPS    
LIGNUM VITAE – BAHAMAS NATIONAL TREE    
YELLOW ELDER – THE BAHAMAS NATIONAL FLOWER    
SEA URCHINS & SEA BISCUITS – BEACHCOMBING TREASURES ON ABACO    
ABACO FOOD & DRINK (cook hog / bonefish; clean a conch; sip an Abaco cocktail / Goombay Smash)
ABACO & HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, BAHAMAS: A SHORT HISTORY IN MAPS    
PINEAPPLES: SYMBOLS OF WELCOME & WEALTH (ALSO, DELICIOUS)    
ABACO ISLAND BOA: THE ONLY ABACO SNAKE    
WHALES & DOLPHINS    
ABACO PARROTS    
FLORA

It would be strange to end this little celebration without a tip of the hat to Peter Mantle, old friend and genial doyen of the Delphi Club, for his wholehearted encouragement and support for the production and publication of THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO. This hefty tome, published in March 2014, showcases the wonderful and varied avian life on Abaco and has proved very popular – indeed well beyond our expectations. Although I appear nominally as author on the cover, it is in fact an extraordinary collaborative effort by some 30 people. The book’s success further demonstrates the commitment of Abaconians and other who love the island to Abaco’s rich natural heritage in an age of  rapid change; and provides another good incentive for me to continue with the blog. Next stop: 500,000!

¹ © W. Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet Act 2 Sc. 7

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FORAYS WITH MORAYS (2): SPOTTED IN THE BAHAMAS…


Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba)

FORAYS WITH MORAYS (2): SPOTTED IN THE BAHAMAS…

I’ve been neglecting the moray eels. It’s ages since I did a post about them, and it’s time to put that right. Specifically, time to take a look at Spotted Morays Gymnothorax moringa. These eels can grow up to 2 meters, and live mainly in the sub-tropical waters of the Atlantic. They are solitary creatures, most often seen with just their heads protruding from holes and fissures reefs and r0cks. They have interesting dental arrangements (see below) and their bite is one that, all things being equal, is probably best avoided… Here’s what to look for.

ADULT SPOTTED MORAYSSpotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba)

TOOTHSOME CRITTERS (FANGS FOR THE MEMORY…)Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba)

WICKLE BABY MORAY. MORAYKIN?BABY Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba)

Photo credits: all amazing photos courtesy of Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; Props to ‘Earl the Eel’ who appears in some of them!

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


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

CETACEAN SENSATION: SPERM WHALES & DOLPHINS ON ABACO


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CETACEAN SENSATION: SPERM WHALES & DOLPHINS ON ABACO

July has been ‘Whale Camp’ month for the BMMRO, when a small group of lucky youngsters get to spend time out at sea searching for whales and dolphins, and learning the intricacies of data recording and research. One target was the sperm whale, a species that may be found off the coasts of South Abaco. This is a favoured place because the deep trench of the Great Bahama Canyon throws up the food these whales need (see map below).

After some time spent searching, the BMMRO reported  “the sperm whales are back! We found a single animal yesterday, and finally in the evening found the rest of the group, 10+ animals including 3 mother-calf pairs, and dolphins at Rocky Point!” Here are some of the photos from the trip.

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) Sperm Whale, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) Sperm Whale, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)

This map of the northern Bahamas shows the V-shaped tails of the Great Bahama Canyon, and explains why the east coast and (in particular) the shallower south-west coast between Hole-in-the-Wall and Rocky Point is so attractive to feeding whale species.

Great Bahama Canyon

The dolphins were quite prolific in July, in particular bottlenose and spotted dolphins. These photos were mostly taken while the search for sperm whales was going on: the BMMRO posted “lots of dolphins up at Gorda Cay yesterday… still not hearing any sperm whales in the area, has been a couple of weeks without sign of them so they should be showing up again soon…” As they obligingly did!

Bottlenose Dolphin, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) Bottlenose Dolphin, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)Spotted Dolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)

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Today is the first day of the crawfish season and Facebook Abaco has been crawling with crawfish for a couple of days in feverish anticipation. So I decided to stick with whales and dolphins instead because there are enough crawfish images out there to keep anyone happy. However I did particularly like this offering today from Albury’s Ferry Services, always a byword for tastefulness and decorum. I’ve borrowed their picture (they borrow mine sometimes) – I wondered if it need a little more exposure, then decided there was probably quite enough already….

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Photo credits: all cetaceans, BMMRO; Crawfish Ladies, Albury’s Ferries; ‘Keep Calm’, Mariah Sawyer

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 . 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 DOG’S LIFE: POTCAKES AT SANDY POINT, ABACO


Harvey the Potcake Puppy Dog, Abaco

A DOG’S LIFE: POTCAKES AT SANDY POINT, ABACO

The POTCAKE DOG is a mixed-breed dog type from the Bahamas & TCI. Its name comes from the congealed rice and pea mixture that local residents traditionally fed dogs. A while ago I posted in more detail about these dogs including TEN VITAL FACTS HERE and about the potcake RESCUE SCHEMES HERE. An updated and expanded list is shown below. Although great favourites as pets, there are sadly a huge number of strays on Abaco that wander, ownerless, around the settlements. Although generally well-tempered as a breed, these feral dogs can occasionally seem aggressive. Many are found, as adults or as pups, in a bedraggled, underfed or injured condition. The lucky ones become rescue dogs and are re-homed (the ‘header dog’ is Harvey, an abandoned puppy that found a happy home). An active spay-and-neuter programme has been established to prevent the spread of unwanted and uncared for dogs. Details of a number of relevant organisations are given below.

NEW See video of Potcake Pup Rescue from the Coopers Town Dump below.

Meanwhile, let’s go to Sandy Point for lunch at Nancy’s. At some stage 2 or 3 dogs are likely to come close, hoping for tit-bits. Some look in poor condition, and it is easy to feel sorry for them. These animals may nevertheless lead companionable and playful lives. After lunch a sandy walk around the point is always an inviting prospect. Recently, we were preceded by 3 dogs that had been near us while we ate. It was great to watch them ahead of us, playing happily together on the narrow beach. Here they are…

“LAST ONE IN IS A WUSSY CAT…”Potcakes at Sandy Point, Abaco 1

“HEY GUYS! I’VE FOUND A CONCH SHELL TO PLAY WITH”Potcakes at Sandy Point, Abaco 4

“LOOK AT ME! I’M FISHING!”Potcakes at Sandy Point, Abaco 3

DOG TIRED…Potcakes at Sandy Point, Abaco 2

ABACO SHELTER Comprehensive one-stop site for info, advice, details of clinics, adoption and donations

POTCAKE RESCUE BAHAMAS  A Facebook Page that includes an Adopt / Donate facility (via Paypal)

BAHAMAS HUMANE SOCIETY Details of spay /neuter programs, clinics, adoptions, and a donation link

THE POTCAKE FOUNDATION  TCI-based, with facts, advice and potcake-tastic merchandise…

ABACO WILDLIFE CHARITIES Rolling Harbour page with links to diverse wildlife charities

If you know of other relevant organisations, I’d be pleased to add them to the list – please COMMENT or EMAIL

NEW Thanks, Melinda from DIVE ABACO, for suggesting adding these links

ROYAL POTCAKE RESCUE FB page – Re-homing Abaco potcakes in the US; RPR website  (Judy Marshall).

LITTLE HOUSE BY THE FERRY Amanda’s excellent GTC blog recently posted about the plight of potcakes. Her blog deserves a closer look – there’s a great deal of fascinating information there, both historical and current.

NEW Hollie suggests HUMANE SOCIETY OF GRAND BAHAMA which helped her re-home a potcake

NEW Little House by the Ferry (GTC) has an interesting post about a SPAY CLINIC

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STOP PRESS By complete coincidence I came across this excellent video of the rescue of some Potcake pups on Abaco within 24 hours of posting the article above. 
NEW ADDITION Part 2 of the Coopers Town Dump Potcake Pups story  [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nW-WPohlnG4&feature=youtu.be&app=desktop]

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE… CURLY TAIL LIZARD KIND


CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE… CURLY TAIL LIZARD KIND

These little lizards are irresistible. They sun themselves. They scuttle. They blink. Their tails curl. What’s not to like. Here’s one I got close to… Double click and you can get even closer. Look! Tiny Claws!

Curly-tail Lizard, Delphi, Abaco

CURLY-TAIL LIZARD, ABACO

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


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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

“WONDROUS TAILS”: CURLY TAIL LIZARDS ON ACACO


“WONDROUS TAILS”: CURLY-TAILED LIZARDS ON ACACO

There is no known connection between ‘curly tails’ and the festive season. So trotting out a few of these charming little creatures in any season is a good idea. Are reptiles inherently repellent? Not these ones, for sure.Curly Tail Lizard, Delphi, Abaco CS2Curly Tail Lizard, Delphi, Abaco CS1Curly Tail Lizard, Delphi, Abaco

TIME FOR A CHANGE OF OUTFIT…Curly Tail Lizard, Delphi, Abaco CS3Curly Tail Lizard, Delphi, Abaco 1

I AM A DRAGON… GRRRRRRRRRRR (note the remarkable finger length)Curly Tail Lizard, Delphi, Abaco RH

AWWWWW… A VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU TOO!Curly Tail Lizards, Delphi, AbacoCredits: Charlie Skinner (including the sloughed skin) & RH (including the ‘tired’ pair)

A GHOST CRAB’S DAY AT THE SEASIDE AT DELPHI, ABACO


Crab, Delphi Club Beach, Abaco

A GHOST CRAB’S DAY AT THE SEASIDE AT DELPHI, ABACO

Crabby the Crab lived amongst the greenery at the very back of the Delphi Club BeachGhost Crab Delphi Beach 1

It was a very beautiful beach indeed. Lucky Crabby!Delphi Beach + Shell

One day Crabby decided to go down to the sea for a swimGhost Crab Delphi Beach 2

He scuttled across the sand towards the sound of the wavesGhost Crab Delphi Beach 3

He passed the burrow of his friend Sandy. Sandy was very busy tidying his house.Ghost Crab Delphi Beach 4

“Would you like to come for a paddle?” asked Crabby. “No thanks”, said Sandy, “I’m busy today”Ghost Crab Delphi Beach 5

So Crabby carried on towards the water’s edge. He got closer, to where the sand was wet…Ghost Crab Delphi Beach 6

…and closer, to where the water tickled his toes…Ghost Crab Delphi Beach 7

…and closer, to where the tide ripples reached.  Crabby waved his claws with excitementGhost Crab Delphi Beach 8

Finally, he was paddling in the warm water. It was just perfect. Whoops! Don’t fall in, Crabby!Ghost Crab Delphi Beach 9

Very soon Crabby was in the water, right up to his eyes. What a beautiful day for a swim!Ghost Crab in surf.Delphi Club.Abaco bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy

See ‘Crab Run: The Movie’, starring Crabby the Crab

CREDITS: header & beach, RH; last image, Tom Sheley; the rest, Charlie Skinner. DEBITS: pre-Christmas nauseatingly anthropomorphic tomfoolery and video – blame me. No crabs were harmed or even mildly embarrassed during this photoshoot.

LAND CRABS: THE ILLUSTRATED ‘WHAT, WHERE, HOW, & WHY’


Land Crab 1LAND CRABS: THE ILLUSTRATED ‘WHAT, WHERE, HOW, & WHY’

The Loxahatchee River District organisation produces excellent informative posters on wildlife and environmental themes. With their approval, I have a dedicated page for these: CLICK LOXAHATCHEE. You will find posters about Bonefish, Tarpon, Lionfish, Nassau Grouper, Spiny Lobster, Coral Reefs, Elkhorn Coral, and Seagrasses. I’d be surprised if each one didn’t contain at least one interesting factual nugget that you didn’t know before. The range of subjects is gradually being expanded and one of the latest concerns the Land Crab. Click the poster twice to enlarge it and make it legible.Blue Land Crab - Loxahatchee Poster jpg

My factoid nugget from this poster is that juvenile bonefish predate on larval crabs. I suppose it’s obvious, but I hadn’t thought about it. From the fisherman’s angle a very good reason to protect, and ensure the proliferation of, adult land crabs!

For photos of these crabs and a short video demo of how they use their claws, here are links to two previous posts about them

LAND CRABS ON ABACO HOW TO STALK AND WRESTLE THEM

ABACO LAND CRAB vs RICKY JOHNSON ROUND 2 (VIDEO)

Land Crab BPS 2lrd-patch3

A BAHAMAS CRAB FEAST ON ABACO & BEYOND


Land Crab 2

A BAHAMAS CRAB FEAST ON ABACO & BEYOND

The photos below show a sample of the types of crab that may be found in and around the island of Abaco, both in the sea and on land. The wonderful underwater images were taken in adjacent waters by Melina Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba. The rest were taken by landlubbers at Rolling Harbour on the Delphi beach and rather closer to the building than one might expect. The last crab (and the header image) was a crab hooshed out of the coppice by Ricky Johnson to demonstrate its fighting prowess. I have put links to 2 posts featuring this fine specimen (including a video) at the end.

ARROW CRABArrow Crab ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

Arrow Crab ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

HERMIT CRABHermit Crab ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Hermit Crab 2Hermit Crab 3Hermit Crab 1

HORSESHOE CRAB (LIMULUS)Horseshoe Crab (Limulus), Delphi Beach, Abaco Bahamas

COMMON GHOST CRAB (Ocypode quadrata), DELPHI BEACHBeach Crab 1

PET CRABS PROTECTING MY ROD OUTSIDE OUR ROOM (note second crab behind it) AND ADVERTISING HARDY PRODUCTS. Rick Guest has pointed out that the crab is not protecting my rod at all. As if! “The crab in the foreground is the male guarding “his” female, distinguished by the small, abdominal triangle. The wide margins of the female’s abdomen are evident.” So that’s how to tell the sex of a land crab. Crabs & rodCrab & rod

BLUE LAND CRAB (Cardisoma guanhumi) WITH ATTITUDELand Crab 1

LAND CRABS ON ABACO: HOW TO STALK & WRESTLE THEM

LAND CRAB vs RICKY JOHNSON: ROUND 2 (VIDEO)

PS thanks to Nick Kenworthy for species comments + knowing the Latin names; also Clare for the Limulus

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