THE GOLD-RIMMED LUCAYAN FLORIDA BATTUS POLYDAMAS SWALLOWTAIL


Polydamas (gold-rimmed) Swallowtail Battus Polydamas (Nina Henry)

THE GOLD-RIMMED LUCAYAN FLORIDA BATTUS POLYDAMAS SWALLOWTAIL

The Polydamus ‘Gold-rimmed’ Swallowtail Battus polydamas is a familiar sight in the Bahamas. It’s known by all the names above, though not all at once to be fair. This is the medium-sized black-brown butterfly with gold accessories and a tasteful selection of red ornamental jewellery. It’s one that hardly stays still for a moment. Its perpetual motion tendencies make it a right little… well, they are hard to photograph. I’ve never taken a totally still photo with no blurring from the creature’s rapid wingbeats.

Polydamas (gold-rimmed) Swallowtail Battus Polydamas (Char Albury)

The  subspecies Lucaeus found on Abaco (where these photos were all taken)and elsewhere in the Bahamas is not confined to the archipelago, and is commonly found in Florida. There it seems to be called (slightly possessively?) the Florida swallowtail. The main species is found more widely. Here’s a helpful range map that shows the butterfly’s range – quite a wide band but latitudinally limited in global terms.

Polydamas (gold-rimmed) Swallowtail Battus Polydamas Range Map

Polydamas (gold-rimmed) Swallowtail Battus Polydamas (Nina Henry)

Mostly, you will see the topside of these butterflies as they do the rounds of sweet-scented flowers, often pausing briefly while still frantically fluttering. Note the rather gorgeous red patterns on the underside of the creatures shown above. Now compare with the open-wing images below. 

Polydamas (gold-rimmed) Swallowtail Battus Polydamas (Rhonda Pearce)

Polydamas (gold-rimmed) Swallowtail Battus Polydamas (Rhonda Pearce) Polydamas (gold-rimmed) Swallowtail Battus Polydamas (Rhonda Pearce)

This butterfly flies year round in the Bahamas (in contrast to its northern range). It breeds throughout most of the year (except on the fringes of its range), which is probably why it is relatively common.

Polydamas (gold-rimmed) Swallowtail Battus Polydamas (Rhonda Pearce)

CAN YOU SHOW US ONE THAT YOU HAVE TAKEN, PLEASE?

Certainly (with reservations). Nice coral hibiscus; it’s a shame that the stamen (if that is the correct term for the sticky-out bit) is in the way. Plus the wretched thing is still on the move. From this weekend, I get the chance to nail one on Abaco, but I’m not optimistic. I think they mistrust me.

Polydamas (gold-rimmed) Swallowtail Battus Polydamas (Keith Salvesen)

WHAT DOES ‘POLYDAMAS’ MEAN?

I anticipated that question, kind Reader. I had thought it was Graeco-Roman for ‘many’ something or other. Wingbeats, maybe. Not being able to consult Linnaeus who originally came up with the word, I did some research. It turns out that Polydamas was a Trojan warrior and friend of Hector. He features a lot in Homer’s Iliad as a kind of ‘Best Supporting Warrior’, though they seem to have differed about battle tactics. Of which digression, enough.

Polydamas tries to stop Hector from attacking the Greeks

Credits: Nina Henry; Charmaine Albury; Rhonda Pearce, Keith Salvesen

Polydamas (gold-rimmed) Swallowtail Battus Polydamas (Rhonda Pearce)

 

 

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (11): LONG-TAILED SKIPPER & NORTHERN CLOUDYWING


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

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (11): LONG-TAILED SKIPPER                        & NORTHERN CLOUDYWING

Two butterflies caught my attention on the same afternoon. The first was a Long-tailed Skipper Urbanus proteus, a species I have featured before. The other was new to me – the Northern Cloudywing Thorybes pylades. New to me in the sense that I have never managed to get near one that stayed still enough to photograph. You know how butterflies are – they use their antennae to detect when there’s a camera about, and redouble their skittishness and wing speed.

LONG-TAILED SKIPPER

Long-tailed skipper have… long tails, and a pretty bluish bodyLong-tailed Skipper Butterfly, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Long-tailed Skipper Butterfly, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Long-tailed Skipper Butterfly, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

NORTHERN CLOUDYWING

Northern Cloudywing Butterfly, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Northern Cloudywing Butterfly, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Northern Cloudywing Butterfly, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Northern Cloudywing Butterfly, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

All photos: Keith Salvesen

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (10) : HAMMOCK SKIPPER


Hammock Skipper - Polygonus leo, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (10)

HAMMOCK SKIPPER

The Hammock Skipper Polygonus leo is quite a small butterfly. We found the ones shown here in the vegetation at the back of the Delphi beach. Having initially thought this was a Northern Cloudywing (and a ‘lifer’ for me), Colin Redfern has kindly corrected my (mis-)ID, and I have made the consequent changes.

Hammock Skipper - Polygonus leo, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

Perhaps unusually for butterflies these skippers are sexually ‘monomorphic’, i.e. very similar in both sexes. Males and females both have completely dark brown wings except for the small white spots.

Hammock Skipper - Polygonus leo, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

We noticed that the spots and patterns were (again, unusually?) not symmetrical as between the wings. [That should probably be ‘not reflectively symmetrical’, as with a Rorschach inkblot.]

 

Hammock Skipper - Polygonus leo, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

All photos, Keith Salvesen; timely ID correction courtesy of Colin Redfern…

BLACK WITCH MOTH: HARBINGER OF DEATH OR LOTTERY BANKER?


Black Witch moths Ascalapha odorata (Charles J Sharp)

BLACK WITCH MOTH: HARBINGER OF DEATH OR LOTTERY BANKER?

Black Witch moths Ascalapha odorata are seriously bad news. Or wonderfully good news, depending where you are and who you talk to. First, lets look at some of the local names for the creature, from which you will get a pretty clear idea of its somewhat negative folklore status, as well as its area of distribution. I do this not to demonstrate how effortlessly I can ‘borrow’ from Wiki, but rather to show how a simple moth can give rise to widespread superstition and even fear. 

12 SCARY NAMES FOR ONE MOTH

  • Mariposa de la muerte (butterfly of death) – Mexico / Costa Rica
  • Pirpinto de la Yeta (something like ‘jinxing butterfly’) – Argentina
  • Tara Bruja (witch moth) – Venezuela)
  • Miquipapalotl (black death moth) – Mexico
  • Taparaco (something like ‘messenger in black’) – Peru
  • X-mahan-nah (‘borrows your house’ [eh? Ed]) – Mayan
  • Duppy Bat (lost soul / ghost /malevolent spirit) – Jamaica, Caribbean
  • Money Moth, Money Bat – Jamaica, Caribbean (including Bahamas)
  • Other names include Papillion-devil, La Sorcière Noire, Mourning moth, Sorrow moth.

These large moths (wingspan up to 7″)  are nocturnal, with females larger than the males. The diagnostic marking is a spot on each forewing shaped like a number nine or a comma (or maybe even ying / yang symbols?). This spot is often green with orange highlights (seen in the header image). The stripey larval caterpillar can grow up to 7 cm in length.

Black Witch moth larva - Ascalapha odorata - wiki

The moth is a migratory species, flying from (roughly speaking) South America as far north as Florida and Texas. The worst luck is believed to come from having one flutter into your house. It will either bring bad luck to the house – or if there is already misfortune there, it will make it worse. There are variations on this belief – e.g. that the more corners of a room the moth visits, the more doomed the household.

Black Witch moths Ascalapha odorata (Julia Gotz)

IS THERE ANY GOOD NEWS ABOUT THIS CREATURE?

Fortunately yes, and it’s high time to dispel the gloom. In some places (e.g. Hawaii), it is believed than when a loved one has died and an Ascalapha odorata is seen soon after, it is the person’s soul returning to say farewell.

More promisingly still, in the Bahamas a far more positive and practical attitude is shown. If a Money Moth (or Money Bat) lands on you, you will receive some money. Or so it is said. Texas, thinking big, takes this several steps further to the prediction that you will win the lottery (I have a feeling this is a very modern theory).

WHY ARE YOU SCARING US WITH THIS THING?

Because until last month I had never heard of these moths, let alone seen one. Then one balmy Delphi evening, at dusk, someone pointed out a large dark smudge on the door-frame. I only had a cellphone, and I had to use the flash. Here is the moth, with its evil little eyes shining in the flash. Luckily, it was outside not inside the building, which I hope diluted the malevolence radiation level (though I didn’t realise that at the time of course, until I’d looked it up in Sibley’s indispensible ‘Compendium of Evil Moths‘). It’s a terrible photo, but it was useful for ID and I feel that taking a quick shot helped to ward off the worst of the unpleasantness. Though now I think of it I did fish badly (even for me) the following day…

        A poor photo but mine own… 

CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE IN LITERATURE

Remember Silence of the Lambs? Well in the book, pupae of the Black Witch moth were placed in the mouths of victims by serial killer ‘Buffalo Bill’ as his calling card – though for the film, the moth species was changed to a Death’s-head Hawkmoth, as featured on the poster.

You can read about Hannibal Lecter’s link to moths, and learn how for the film the pupae were were made from sweets (Gummi Bears ™) so as to be harmless if swallowed, HERE

SO ARE THEY HARMFUL IN ANY WAY AND / OR WILL ONE MAKE ME RICH?

No

Taking one’s life in one’s hands…?Black Witch moths Ascalapha odorata (Charles J Sharp)

Photo credits: Charles J Sharp (1, 5); Wiki (2); Julia Gotz (‘juliatrees’) (3)*; Keith Salvesen (4)   Sources: Julia Gotz (‘juliatrees’), Terry Sovil, , Texasbutterflyranch.com, Wiki, Sibley’s ‘Compendium of Evil Moths

*Julie closed her blog, from which photo 3 comes, in 2010. I’m hoping she won’t mind my resurrection of her image to illustrate the species… Black Witch moth photos are quite rare online

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)

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (8): WHITE PEACOCK


White Peacock Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 1

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (8): WHITE PEACOCK

The white peacock (Anartia jatrophae) is not a rare butterfly in the northern Bahamas. However, until recently I had never – or never consciously – seen one before. Then we came across a few at the Neem Farm, all very frisky and mostly refusing to settle for more than 1/100 second. By the time I have remembered to remove my lens cap, they are 50 yards away.

White Peacock Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 2White Peacock Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 3White Peacock Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 4

I checked out these pretty but unassuming butterflies online because they seemed rather pale and anaemic. As far as I can make out this is because they were still in winter colouring; in summer they are more brightly marked. Here’s a photo of a dishevelled white peacock taken in June at Delphi by Charlie Skinner, which shows stronger colours.

White Peacock, Abaco DSC_4786 (Charlie Skinner)

ARE THEY EVER FOUND LOOKING BRIGHT AND NOT FALLING APART?

Yes, of course, but interestingly, never ever in the field. The one below, non-anaemic and intact, was thoughtfully uploaded to Wiki by Greg Hume. He took it at a butterfly show, where presumably tatty butterflies are excluded…

WhitePeacock (Greg Hume)

Photos: Keith Salvesen 1 – 4; Charlie Skinner 5; Greg Hume 6

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)