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’).
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.
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 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
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
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.
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 caterpillar
Urbanus proteus on Man-o-War Cay
Two non-Abaco examples
Abaco Neem Farm (with beehive)
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)
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…
As it feeds, or as the sun warms its wings, the buckeye will start to reveal itself
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.
The caterpillars and chrysalis of this species look like this
This rather charming illustration of the buckeye species is by Jacob Hübner from his Sammlung exotischer Schmetterlinge Vol. 2 ( –  (Plate32)
Apart from the plentiful bird species to found all around the Delphi Club, there’s the strange half-way house between insect and bird that is the HUMMINGBIRD MOTH Hemaris Thysbe, also known as Hummingbird Clearwings. These can be seen – and heard – especially at dusk hovering around the flowers in the garden, sipping nectar. In the half-light they are sometimes confused for tiny birds. I have seen them most clearly when they are busy among the flowers in the beds on either side of the lit main staircase. So far I have not managed to get a reasonable photo of one – a situation I hope to put right in May. Meanwhile, I have found some wonderful pictures, not from Abaco, on a website related to a Research Program at Miami University . They were taken by Dr Hays Cummins, to whom thanks for use permission. These and other outstanding images can be found at his comprehensive website, for which CLICK===>>>HERE
This very pleasant walk somehow seems more satisfactory taken clockwise, turning left at the front gateway and wandering along the guest drive. The straight service drive is less interesting and feels less ‘in the coppice’. The distance is about 2 miles. You can walk the circuit briskly in about half an hour. The birds will see you, but you won’t see them… So preferably take it easy. Here is a fantastic aerial view of the drives (courtesy of DCB)
The start of the route – trees as far as the eye can see
From a birding point of view, as you walk down to the gateway, keep an eye out on both sides. There are plenty of birds in the bushes and trees, though they are not always easy to see. You might see a western spindalis, bananaquits, black-faced grassquits, warblers, northern parulas, loggerhead kingbirds, vireos, cuban emerald hummingbirds or a bahama woodstar if you are lucky, amongst many others. When you get to the main drives, have a look straight ahead into the coppice – in fact anywhere along the guest drive is worth pausing to investigate.
This cuban emerald was just opposite the drive gateway (credit Xeno-canto.org)
The gumbo limbo trees are very popular with many birds, including the Abaco Parrots, so it’s good to check them out as you pass by (and if you have unfortunately touched a poison-wood tree, they provide the antidote – conveniently the two trees tend to grow next to each other). Here are a couple of Thick-billed Vireos proving the point. And their song, which you will hear a lot around the Club itself.(credit Xeno-canto.org)
Hairy Woodpeckers seem to favour dead trees for drilling practice – and perhaps for feeding on the sort of bugs attracted to dead wood. Here’s what they sound like (a call and response with 2 birds) (credit Xeno-canto.org)
There are plenty of small birds all along the way, some more vivid than others…Black-faced grassquit (not a warbler, as earlier suggested. Thanks CN)
Antillean Bullfinch(not, as previously alleged, an American Redstart. Thanks CN)
If you look at the base of the trees in certain places, especially on the the left hand side of the guest drive (facing the highway), there are some small but deep holes in the limestone. If you drop a stone in, you can hear it splash in water – and the ferns growing inside them suggest a continuously moist environment.
As you progress, you move from the hardwood coppice to the pine forest.This photograph was taken just as the forest fires in March were petering out. The theory was that the fires that raged through the pine forest would stop where the coppice began, and not sweep on to engulf Delphi… and so this photo shows. The thick pine forest with its flammable vegetation and undergrowth gives way here to damper and less combustible coppice-wood which has halted the progress of the flames. The pines you can see are the last few outliers of the pine forest.
Here is an example of the drive having acted as a partial firebreak.
The pines, even burnt ones, are a good place to see West Indian Woodpeckers
When you reach the top of the guest drive it is worth carrying on to the highway. For a start you can admire Sandy’s gardening effort on the south side of the ‘white rock’, and maybe do some weeding. You are quite likely to see Turkey Vultures on the telegraph posts and wires, as here. You may also see Bahama Swallows on the wires, and perhaps an American Kestrel on a post.
I have seen a raucous flock of Smooth-billed Anis in this area, but it is hard to get close to them. Listen out for this unmistakable noise (credit Xeno-canto.org)
Returning from the road to the fork, to your right is the way you have come – seen here as the fires burnt out. There had been thick, indeed impenetrable, bright green undergrowth all along only 3 or 4 days earlier.
To the left is the service drive and your route home
Because this route is more open, there seem to be fewer birds. Again, you may see kestrels on the posts. Halfway along we heard the loud and very melodious singing of a Northern Mockingbird some distance away. CLICK on image (as you can with all, or most, of these photos) and you can see it singing!CLICK BUTTON to hear song of a Northern Mockingbird (credit http://www.bird-friends.com)
On either drive you will see butterflies. They seem to like the vegetation around the piles of stone and rubble. GULF FRITILLARYAgraulis vanillae
It is also worth looking out on either drive for epiphytes, or air-plants, growing on their host trees. They are so-called because unlike say, mistletoe, they are non-parasitic and do not feed off their hosts.
And so back to Delphi, a well-earned swim… and an ice-cold Kalik in the hammock…
For another angle on the circuit walk, have a look at a proper professional-looking blog by Craig Nash, already trailed in the BLOGROLL. This link will take you specifically to his fourth Delphi post, featuring this stroll. At the risk of stitching myself up here, I should say that you’ll get plenty of seriously good photos… PEREGRINE’S BLOG 4
SANDY & BILL VERNON have provided a number of wonderful photos from their stay at Delphi earlier this year. The images convenientlycoincide with various categories already posted, to which the headings below link (supposedly – I will sort out any problems in due course, the general rh policy being to upload pictures first then worry about details later…)
I have returned from “The Other Delphi” to find that Peter Wesley Brown has provided 3 excellent images, now uploaded to theCONTRIBUTIONS / PHOTOGRAPHSpage. Two are excellent pictures of a Gold Rim / Polydamas Swallowtail, dramatically… no, badly photographed by me for theBUTTERFLIESpost and later identified by PM; the third shows thatTHE RELUCTANT WOODPECKERhas finally made herself / himself at home in the nesting box…