ABACO PLANTS & FLOWERS: AN ORCHID MYSTERY


Orchid Eulophia graminea, Abaco, Bahamas (Lucy Davies)

ABACO PLANTS & FLOWERS: AN ORCHID MYSTERY

Recently I was contacted by someone who had found an unusual orchid on Abaco and wanted to find out more about it, starting with ID. Lucy, an English botanist who has been visiting Abaco with her husband for many years, discovered a strange wild orchid species that did not appear in any of her books. So she turned to Detective Harbour who, unknown to her, is mostly paralysed with hopelessness when it comes to plant ID (except hibiscus, obvs). But he can sometimes find the people who know these things…

Orchid Eulophia graminea, Abaco, Bahamas (Lucy Davies)

Lucy’s photos showed a striking, tall-stemmed plant growing from an exposed round root. She found 3 plants in Cherokee near Watching Bay; and another growing randomly beside the road at the airport – ‘bizarrely’, as she points out. She (and I) assumed the orchid to be a native species, and hopefully a rare one. I couldn’t track it down online so I got the views of Mark Bennet at the Leon Levy Preserve, and the BNT plant expert Ethan Freid. Both agreed that the orchid is Eulophia graminea

Orchid Eulophia graminea root, Abaco, Bahamas (Lucy Davies)

Disappointingly, this orchid species turns out not to be a rare native one at all – which explains the problem of searching for it in books and online as a Bahamas species. It is in fact a non-native invasive plant from south east Asia. It has apparently been spreading through the Bahamas over the last 10 years or so, having originally been introduced into the region in south Florida. So, while of interest, the orchid does not really ‘belong’ – unlike Encyclia Inaguensis which Laine Snow has helpfully identified as the most similar Bahamian orchid.
Orchid Eulophia graminea, Abaco, Bahamas (Lucy Davies)

This raises the ‘Brown-headed Cowbird Conundrum‘. The plant is here on Abaco. By rights it has no business to be. It has probably arrived from Florida, where it has no business to be either. So the big question is, does its presence impact on native flora species in any adverse way?

  • Is it a benign addition to the plant species of the Bahamas, that in 100 years time will be fondly viewed as a native and appearing in books / online as local.
  • Or is it an unwelcome intruder, quick to spread and slow to eradicate, aggressively gaining an increasing hold on the precious soil and water resources on Abaco and exterminating the native orchid species in the process (cf in the UK Himalayan Balsam / Giant Hogweed / Japanese Knotweed).
  • Or somewhere in-between – not exactly welcome and trouble free, but something the local flora can get along with, without unacceptable levels of damage to the local species. Just about tolerable.
 
Orchid Eulophia graminea, Abaco, Bahamas (Bob Peterson Wiki)
SO, WHICH OF THE THREE IS IT?

Well, I’m afraid Eulophia graminea is in category 2 – the real brown-headed cowbird category. It was first discovered in Miami in 2007. The bulbs from which the plants grow are hard to dig up. They are covered in little roots, each one of which has the potential to become a new plant. Already it has spread rapidly in Florida, and has now been found growing in most types of plant habitat, from maritime to rockland. In other words, it is not at all good news.

OH NO! WHAT’S TO BE DONE?
Well, first I would not advise unilateral action… I take a tough line, though, on potentially damaging non-natives – namely, remove them before they spread uncontrollably and ineradicably. In this case I’d suggest that if you see this plant, note and mark the location and report it to the BNT and ask their advice. They will no doubt have a general policy on invasives, or make one on a case-to-case basis.
 Orchid Eulophia graminea, Abaco, Bahamas (Scott Zona Wiki)
FUN (?) FACT

The word ‘orchid’ comes from the Latin Orchis or orchideæ, and Greek ὄρχις (orkhis). This means a testicle, and is based on the shape of the root. In medieval England, orchids were called ballockwort. To this day the surgical procedure known as an orchidectomy refers to the removal of one or both testicles. Moving swiftly on…

Credits: Lucy and Mark Davies (1 – 4); Bob Peterson Wiki (5); Scott Zona Wiki (6); Mark Bennet, Ethan Fried & Laine Snow for ID; University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences,  Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, Plant Directory for research; Online Etymology Dictionary for Orchid definition…

THE ‘ABACO’ PARROTS OF NASSAU: FEEDING TIME


Abaco (Cuban) Parrots in Nassau - Melissa Maura

THE ‘ABACO’ PARROTS OF NASSAU: FEEDING TIME

New Providence, Bahamas – specifically in Nassau itself – now has a small population (c.15) of Cuban parrots. Their origin is debated, since the only known Bahamas breeding populations of these birds are on Abaco (underground nesting in limestone caves) and Inagua (conventional nesting).  There’s more on the (probable) provenance of the New Providence birds HERE and HERE.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrots in Nassau - Melissa MauraAbaco (Cuban) Parrots in Nassau - Melissa Maura

Whatever the location, the nesting arrangements or the precise origin, one fact is certain: these beautiful birds are prodigious eaters of fruit. Here are a couple of the Nassau parrots tucking in with relish on a sunny day. Soon they will fly off to other fruit trees nearby, emitting their loud excited squawks, to continue their day of feeding…

Note the wide businesslike spread of the clawsAbaco (Cuban) Parrots in Nassau - Melissa Maura

All photos: Melissa Maura, with thanks as always – and for a great new parrot header image…

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (9): GULF FRITILLARIES


Gulf Fritillary, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (9): GULF FRITILLARIES

It’s been a while since any papilionidae made an appearance on these pages – and much longer since a Gulf fritillary  Agraulis vanillae flew in. These very pretty butterflies are far from rare, but like the ATALA hairstreak, they are always a pleasure to see. Here are a few to enjoy.

Gulf Fritillary, Abaco (Charles Skinner)Gulf Fritillary, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)5Gulf Fritillary, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)2Gulf Fritillary, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)1Gulf Fritillary, Abaco (Charles Skinner)10386393_10152656788408720_3995568288186763659_nGulf Fritillary, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Credits: Charles Skinner (1, 2, 6, 8), Rhonda Pearce (7), Keith Salvesen (3, 4, 5)

CUBAN PEWEES AT THE NEEM FARM, ABACO


Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 5

CUBAN PEWEES AT THE NEEM FARM, ABACO

The Abaco Neem Farm just off the highway about 20 minutes south of The (one and only) Roundabout is about much more than the neem plants and the resultant products sold at the well-known shop in Marsh Harbour. The many varieties of fruit tree, the grasses and the wild flowers, the coppice, the pine forest, the open land and the pond that make up the extensive property provide a wonderful haven for birds, butterflies, moths and bees (there are hives too). It’s a great place for birding, and the owner Nick is rightly proud of the peaceful ambience of the farm. On a bright day, the place is alive with birdsong. 

Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 6

Among my favourite small birds found there are two species that are so tame and inquisitive that it is often possible to move slowly right up to them. The blue-gray gnatcatcher is one. The cuban pewee is another. This pewee was flitting about the edge of the coppice, hawking for insects and quite unconcerned by our presence. Sadly I only had ‘hated camera’ with me, having thrown ‘beloved camera’ into the sea a couple of days before, photographing shorebirds (and thence into the trash bin). So I’m not wholly pleased with the results, either for clarity or for colour. Needless to say, hated camera always has the last laugh…

Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 2

Identification of the various flycatcher species e.g. CUBAN PEWEE, LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER, LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD and GRAY KINGBIRD can be tricky. The simplest way to distinguish the cuban pewee is to remember that it is a small bird (so, not a kingbird); and that its informal name is ‘crescent-eyed pewee’ due to the very noticeable white crescent behind the eye. And as Liann Key Kaighin reminds me in a comment, these little birds also answer to the name Tom Fool…

Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen)Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 3

A quick check of the sky for predators? Or maybe just for rain…Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 8

All photos: RH. Thanks to Nick Maoulis for his tolerance of people armed with cameras and binoculars.

PS I don’t go in much for beauty products (far far too late), but the Neem Salve is fantastic for minor injuries: cuts, grazes, bruises, small burns and so on. Well, it works for me.

BELLA MOTHS: COLOURFUL, POISONOUS & PROMISCUOUS


Day-flying_Bella_Moth_(Utetheisa_ornatrix) on Rattlebox Blossom (Bob Peterson, Florida)

BELLA MOTHS: COLOURFUL, POISONOUS & PROMISCUOUS

Today’s offering is a creature I have never seen before on Abaco, or anywhere else for that matter. We saw it at the Neem Farm when we were looking for birds, butterflies and Spring flowers. I didn’t have moths in mind at all until I saw this one. For a start, moths are considered creatures of the night, so midday would not be an auspicious time for moth-hunting. As it turns out, the moth we found is, most unusually, active in day-time (‘diurnal’). 

Bella Moth, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 1

The BELLA MOTH Utetheisa ornatrix is also known as the ‘ornate moth’ or ‘rattlebox moth’ (after its favourite plant Crotalaria  – me neither). The one we saw was pink, with bright pink showing on the wings in flight. However these moths come in other vivid colours ranging from pink to red or orange, and yellow to white. Their black wing markings have many patterns.

Bella Moth, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 2

The bright coloration is, as in many species, nature’s way of saying ‘leave me alone’ and in particular, ‘I am very unpleasant to eat’. It is called APOSEMATISM.  Quite simply, the larvae feed on plants that contain poisonous alkaloids – in particular the yellow rattlebox plant Crotalaria, rendering them, as adult moths, extremely unpalatable. Bella adults may cannibalise eggs, pupae or larvae to counter alkaloid deficiency. Bella Moth, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 4

BELLA MOTH SEX LIVES: “IT’S COMPLICATED”

  • Sexual encounters are dictated by females, who compete with other females for males
  • Females seeking to mate always outnumber available males
  • A female bella will release powerful pheromones at dusk to lure males
  • Related females uniquely engage in collective pheromone release
  • This is termed “female pheromonal chorusing”
  • Several males will give the female chemical ‘nuptial gifts’ of poison and sperm
  • The female chooses the best of her suitors, and copulates with 4 or 5 of them
  • The whole process of copulation may take up to 12 hours…
  • In some way I don’t understand, she is then able to select her preferred sperm
  • Humans: do not try any of this at home, in the office, in Maccy Ds or when driving

Ornate_moth_(Utetheisa_ornatrix) Charles J Sharp wiki

Utetheisa_ornatrix (Dumi, Jamaica)

Credits: Header (on rattlebox blossom Crotalaria), Bob Peterson; 3 frankly rather feeble photos RH & Mrs RH; sharp photo by Charles J Sharp; open wings by Dumi

“HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU”: DO SOMETHING GREEN!


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Delphi, Abaco (Craig Nash)

“HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU”: DO SOMETHING GREEN!

Today is the 46th Earth Day, a global event to encourage ecology and conservation, and to discourage the spoiling of the planet by mankind. What becomes lost now may never be retrieved. Plant a tree. Grow some bee- or butterfly-friendly flowers. Clear a patch of beach of plastic trash. Recycle stuff. That sort of thing. 

Atala Hairstreak Eumaeus atala – DelphiAtala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Gulf Fritillary Agraulis vanillae – Neem FarmGulf Fritillary, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I’d lined up some horror-images of plastic-filled birds, entangled turtles, damaged reefs and so forth, of which I have a depressingly large archive. Then, in a spirit of *vogue word alert* positivity I scrapped that miserable idea and decided instead to celebrate some of the natural wonders that can be found on Abaco. 

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT – one of Abaco’s 5 ENDEMIC BIRDSBahamas-Great Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer

CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD (f) preening – Gilpin PointCuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Some signal species serve as a continuing tribute to those who work to conserve them. The gorgeous ABACO PARROTS, now saved from the brink of extinction – and currently establishing a new colony on New Providence. The rare PIPING PLOVERS that find a safe home to spend their winters on Abaco’s beaches. The 5 ENDEMIC BIRD species. The WHALES & DOLPHINS that populate the waters. The west-indian MANATEES, until very recently almost unknown for Abaco yet now providing a curious addition to the scene as they visit their favourite haunts.

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALE (m) approaching the BMMRO research vesselBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 14 (Keith Salvesen

BOTTLENOSE DOLHIN, Sandy Point (about to dive under the boat)Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 7

Habitat protection has been provided over substantial areas on both land and sea by the creation of natural parks and preserves. These have very recently been extended by the establishment of 4 large PROTECTED AREAS for East Abaco Creeks, Cross Harbour, the Marls and the South Abaco Blue Holes, a wonderful reward for a great deal of hard lobbying by conservation organisations and by many concerned individuals. 

QUEEN ANGELFISHQueen Angelfish ©Melinda Stevens Riger / G B Scuba

BANDED CORAL SHRIMPBanded Coral Shrimp ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

Scientific research and conservation work is continuously carried out in Abaco waters. The CORAL REEFS that form the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world; the BLUE HOLES that lead to wonderful caves and cathedral caverns of crystal; the vast area of the MARLS and the species that rely on the mangrove swamps; the MANGROVES themselves: all these are watched over and monitored for ways to protect them best for future generations. 

PIPING PLOVER pair, Delphi (taken last month)Piping Plover pair, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

PIPING PLOVER on AbacoPiping Plover, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

I’ve mentioned trees and plants. There are a variety of well-known sources for both on Abaco – on the mainland, anyway, and maybe some cays. Any will advise on bee and butterfly attractants. Thinking of which, bird seed feeders and hummer sugar water feeders are cheap and guarantee the interest of garden and coppice birds, and during the winter months some brightly coloured migrants such as buntings and grosbeaks. 

HIBISCUS – DelphiHibiscus, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

 BOUGAINVILLEA  – DelphiBougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Bird of Paradise flower STRELITZIA – Marsh Harbour (seemingly on a steep slope!)Bird of Paradise Flower (Strelitzia) Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU!

RALPH’S CAVE South AbacoRalph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk)

Credits: all images RH except: Abaco parrot, Craig Nash; Bahama yellowthroat, Gerlinde Taurer; Angelfish & Shrimp, Melinda Riger; single piping plover, Bruce Hallett; Ralph’s Cave, Brian Kakuk

MANGROVE DIE-BACK IN THE ABACO MARLS: THE FACTS


Mangroves, The Marls, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen, Rolling Harbour)

MANGROVE DIE-BACK IN THE ABACO MARLS: THE FACTS

For some time now, there has been understandable concern about the increasing evidence of mangrove die-back in the Abaco Marls and elsewhere in Abaco waters. Scientific investigations are ongoing and you will find some of the survey results so far on the excellent Abaco Scientist interactive map HERE. You’ll find other relevant and authoritative mangrove material if you check out the BLOG menu of the website.
Abaco - The Marls

The ‘200 sq. miles’ in my map is debatable, depending what one includes. Other estimates are of 300 or even 400 sq. miles. Whichever, the Marls cover a massive area of mangroves, islets, flats, channels and wonderfully diverse wildlife. A large proportion of the many species – fish, birds, turtles etc – depend on the complex ecology of the mangroves for food, shelter and breeding. Depletion of the mangroves from whatever cause will have a direct effect on the creatures of the Marls.

Stingrays Abaco Marls 6

Ryann Rossi, a PhD student with North Carolina State University, has been researching the worrying phenomenon of mangrove die-back in the Marls this summer. She has written an interesting and informative  account (conveniently in the RH ‘Facts about…’ style) that was published in Abaco Scientist last week. The blue links will take you to the ABSCI site for further information on each topic. I’m grateful to Ryann and ABSCI for permission to use the material.

Five Things to Know About the Mangrove Die-back in The Marls (at this point, anyway)

1. This die-back appears to be the result of multiple stressors acting together. Think of it in the sense of our own body – when our immune system is down, we are often more susceptible to getting sick. The same thing is likely happening to the mangroves.Mangrove Die-back 1 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi)

2. It appears as though a fungal disease may be taking advantage of already stressed mangroves and causing die-back. We did preliminary surveys across Abaco and found fungal lesions nearly everywhere. However, the fungus was present in different densities in different areas. In the die-back area nearly all the leaves remaining on trees have lesions. We think that this pathogen capitalized on the mangroves being weakened by other stressors such as hurricanes, which cause extensive leaf drop, change in the movement of water, change in sedimentation and erosion.

Mangrove Die-back 2 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi) jpg

3. We are still working on identifying the pathogen associated with the lesions we’ve found. We are confident that it is a fungus and are currently growing fungal cultures in the lab to examine defining morphological characteristics in addition to using DNA sequencing to identify the culprit.

4. We have documented the presence of the Robust Bush Cricket (Tafalisca eleuthera) in the die-back areas as well as other areas with high densities of lesions. These crickets are documented to consume Red and White mangrove leaves. As such, we were concerned about their potential role in die-back. We set out a caging experiment to exclude the crickets from certain dwarf Red mangrove trees to see just how much grazing they may be doing in the die-back area. This experiment is ongoing.

Mangrove Die-back 3 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi) jpg

5. The take home: there is likely more than one causal agent of the die-back in The Marls. Many factors govern mangrove productivity and functioning: nutrient availability, salinity, sedimentation rate, herbivory, and disease are just a few of the factors that contribute to overall mangrove function making it very difficult to pin point which factors may be driving the die-off. On the bright side, we are confident that we have a lead on the causes and we are working hard in the field and laboratory to fully understand what is going on in The Marls.

By Ryann Rossi|August 26th, 2015|Disease, fungus, Insects, Mangroves and Creeks, The Marls
All pics below taken while fishing on the Marls except Melinda’s shark (I’ve never got a good one)
Hawksbill Turtle, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)Bonefish Abaco Marls 4Shark 4 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyOsprey - Abaco Marls 1 Reddish Egret (White Morph), Abaco MarlsRoyal Tern, Abaco, Bahamas (Marls) 3Willet, The Marls, AbacoSouthern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 4)
FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT has also included an article on die-back by Ryann in its latest Newsletter:

Mangrove Die Off on Abaco by Ryann Rossi, NCSU

This summer Stephanie Archer and I continued research efforts focused on determining the cause of the mangrove die-off in The Marls (work funded by the National Science Foundation). Our efforts were predominantly focused on the fungal pathogen we found associated with the die-off site. We created a small citizen science and outreach project to document the presence or absence of the pathogen across Abaco. This project consisted of short surveys and leaf collections. In total, 92 areas were surveyed including locations from Abaco and San Salvador. We also took this outreach project to the annual Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF) teacher training conference.  There we disseminated survey packets to teachers from islands throughout The Bahamas who will help us collect more data on the presence (or absence) of this pathogen on other Islands.

3 men on a skiff, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen : Rolling Harbour)

Three men on a skiff – Abaco Marls

On Abaco, we constructed an experiment to investigate the role of grazing and the presence of fungal lesions on Red mangroves. We simulated grazing using crafting scissors to cut small sections on 600 leaves in 4 different mangrove creeks. We observed the leaves for 28 days to determine if cutting leaves predisposed leaves to fungal infection. At these sites we also trapped for insects to gain an idea of what kind of grazers may be chewing on the leaves. We also did a series of disease incidence surveys that will be routinely monitored for disease progress over the next 2 years. These surveys will allow us to systematically track the progress of the disease. In addition to our field work, we spent many hours in the laboratory isolating fungi from leaves to grow in culture. These cultures were brought back to North Carolina State University and will be sequenced in order to help us identify the fungal pathogen responsible for making the lesions on the mangrove leaves.

Mangroves, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: Source material Ryann Rossi; Abaco Scientist; all photos © Keith Salvesen @ Rolling Harbour except those by Ryann / ABSCI in the main article and Melinda Riger’s cool shark

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