THE LIFE CYCLE OF THE ATALA HAIRSTREAK BUTTERFLY (Eumaeus atala)


Atala butterfly on chrysalisAtala Hairstreak Logo

THE LIFE CYCLE OF THE ATALA BUTTERFLY Eumaeus atala

I’ve been planning a post about this lovely small butterfly for some time. I posted a close-up photo of one taken last summer at ATLALA PICS  (worth clicking to enlarge to see its cute curly tongue) but I wanted to find out more about them and their strikingly-coloured abdomens. This led me to the excellent butterfly (& co) website of STEPHANIE SANCHEZ. Click her name to be transported to her intriguingly and Greekly named HEURISTRON pages for a wealth of Florida-based lepidoptera information. With Steph’s kind approval, the following post is based on her Atala work, and includes her amazing images of the life cycle of the Atala with captions. The blue links below will take you  to the relevant pages of Steph’s site, where you will find plenty of advice about Atala-friendly plants.

THE STAGES FROM EGG TO BUTTERFLY

Atala Butterfly lays eggs on Coontie

 EGGS are laid on COONTIE the Atala Butterfly HOST PLANT (clusters of 10 – 50)

LARVAE Red caterpillars with yellow markings, hatch from the eggs and eat the host plant. They shed their skin several times while they’re growing up. (You can look up “larval instar” if you want to get more technical than that.)

CHRYSALIS The caterpillars eat, and grow, and then they hang from the bottom of a leaf on the Coontie, shed their skin one last time, and turn into a chrysalis.

BUTTERFLY Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar turns into the butterfly. When it’s done, it crawls out and hangs upside-down to extend and dry its wings before it flies away.

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Up close, the white rounded eggs have tiny hairs on them

Atala Butterflies lay eggs on Coontie        Atala Eggs on Coontie

COONTIE (Zamia floridana or pumila)

Coontie

The eggs hatch into these bright red and yellow caterpillars

Atala larvae on Coontie                                                          Atala butterfly larvae (caterpillar)

When the caterpillars have eaten and grown enough, they hang under the leaf, shed their skin a final time, and turn into a chrysalis. The one below is undergoing the change; you can see how different it looks from the bright red caterpillars

Atala butterfly larvae making a chrysalis

On a very new chrysalis the yellow dots on the back of the caterpillar are still visible

Atala butterfly chrysalides

Then as it ages, the chrysalis darkens to a more opaque soft brown that darkens more the older it gets

 Atala butterfly chrysalis

Finally, a day or so before the butterfly is ready to emerge, you can start to see the red abdomen through the bottom of the chrysalisAtala butterfly chrysalides

 The little spiky brown splotches near the chrysalides are the shed skins of the larvaeAtala butterfly chrysalis

When they first crawl out of their chrysalis, their abdomen is swollen with fluid and their wings are squished and tiny. They hang upside-down and excrete fluid, and also pump fluid into their wings to expand them

Atala butterfly emerging from chrysalisAtala butterfly emerging

This is a good time to hold them; they can’t fly away. Be sure to let them hang upside-down though, or their wings will dry wrong and they will be unable to fly. Also watch out for the goo they poo because it can stain your clothes

Atala butterfly emerging

emerged Atala butterfly expanding wingsAtala butterfly on fingeremerged Atala butterfly expanding wings

All of these Atala Photographs were taken in Broward County, Florida by ©Stephanie SanchezAtala butterfly on chrysalis

WHY THE BRIGHT RED ABDOMEN? I suppose it’s obvious that this is one of nature’s warning signals. But are these insects inherently toxic, or are the toxins acquired by ingestion or some other process? Lifting wholesale from Wiki, which puts it as well as I could (+ useful links), “The host plants contains toxic chemicals, known as cycasins, and the bright coloration of the adult is believed to be aposematic. Birds and lizards attempt to prey on the adults, but find them distasteful and learn to avoid the brightly patterned butterflies.”

Steph advises “if you want Atala Butterflies in your butterfly garden, you’ll need at least a dozen Coontie plants to keep a colony alive; more is better. They tend to stay close to home, so they’re a fun butterfly to garden for because you can continue to enjoy watching them in your garden after they become butterflies. Some other butterflies tend to emerge and fly off.”

STEPH’S LINKS BUTTERFLIES -∞- ATALA NECTAR -∞- HOST PLANTS

RH LINKS BUTTERFLIES -∞- HEURISTIC  (because I didn’t know what ‘Heuristron’ means… we learn stuff here!)

OTHER LINKS LITTLE BUTTERFLIES (Atala etc page of Barbara Woodmasnsee’s butterfly website. Nice pics!)

A BUNCH OF FLOWERS (& PLANTS) FROM ABACO, BAHAMAS


Royal Poinciana (Poinsettia) Abaco DCB 1.10A BUNCH OF FLOWERS (& PLANTS) FROM ABACO, BAHAMAS

Time to face up. Time for flora. This post has been… er… post-poned several times. When I first started this blog, it was an adventure into the unknown. Basic computer skills. Zero blog experience. Scant knowledge about  much (any?) of the subject matter. Looking back at early posts there is evidence – plenty – of floundering and general incompetence while I gradually learnt more. The birds and other wildlife came quite easily; the flora not so. Apparently I even carry a bunch of flowers in an odd way (opines Mrs RH), under one arm like a rugby ball. Don’t all men? Oh! Just me, then. Anyway, it’s time to try again and brave the land of petal, stamen and pistils at dawn. Here are 20 plants that you will come across on Abaco. Many were photographed at Delphi or in the nearby coppice and pine forest. A couple were in Marsh Harbour, 2 more were at Sawmill Sink Blue Hole. The beautiful Cannas are from Hope Town, with thanks to Abaco Island Artist Brigitte Carey. Some will be known locally by different names – I’d be interested to hear them via the ‘comment’ box.

ANGEL’S TRUMPET (Datura Candida) CANNASCOCONUT WHITE FRANGIPANI (Plumeria)YELLOW FRANGIPANI (Plumeria)YELLOW FRANGIPANI (Plumeria)MARSH PINK (Stellatia Maris)MORNING GLORY (Convolvulus)MOSS ROSES (Portulaca)OYSTER PLANTRED HIBISCUSPINK CORAL (FRINGED) HIBISCUSPINK PENTAS (Pentas lanceolata)RED PENTAS (Pentas lanceolata)PLUMBAGO / CAPE LEADWORT (Plumbago auriculata)ROYAL POINCIANA / FLAME TREE (Dolonix regia)SPIDER LILY (Hymenocallis littoralis)THATCH PALMWILD ALLAMANDA (Urechites lutea)BIRD OF PARADISE FLOWER (Strelizia)BANANAS at the Delphi Club

BIRD OF PARADISE FLOWER: ABACO’S EXOTIC ‘BLOW-IN’


THE BIRD OF PARADISE FLOWER

The Bird of Paradise Plant Strelitzia is a native of South Africa, but its exoticism and all-round fabulousness has ensured its export to other parts of the world with suitable climates. These plants can be found throughout the Bahamas, including Abaco. It’s fortunately a plant that is impossible to confuse with any other, an added attraction for non-floral people… Here are a couple of my images of the plant about to flower, and having burst into flower 

And here is a flower recently photographed (June 2012) in Marsh Harbour, Abaco 

FLORA OF ABACO: ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW IN ONE HIT


The ‘Flora’ part of ‘Flora and Fauna’ is a bit of a blind spot for me except in a very basic daffodils-tulips-roses english gardening sense. So it was with a massive sense of relief that, browsing through (namecheck here) ‘Dr Ralph’s Abaco Forum’, I stumbled across a comprehensive blog about the flora of Abaco with excellent pictures and very informative descriptions, posted by Iris Spikes. She includes notes about the plants that are poisonous, and those that have medicinal / antidotal properties. For example poisonwood and gumbo limbo trees grow side by side, as poison and antidote – you can find them growing together along the Delphi drives (the gumbo limbo fruit is especially popular with the Abaco Parrots).

With thanks for permission, I have added the web link to the Blogroll list so that you can get to it straight away. Please note that there are two linked posts – you get to part 2 from the link at the end of part 1.

Here are a few random flora images of ours, most now readily identifiable… Almost all (including the bananas outside our room) are from the Delphi gardens or beside the drives – and one cheat that is much more Abaco than UK

Powder Puff Tree - Calliandra haematocephala

Bananas (outside rooms 1 - 4)

Hibiscus

Coral or fringed hibiscus

Bougainevillea (pool area)

Bougainevillea (pool area)

Camelia

Thatch Palm
Bottle-brush tree (a cheat – in neighbours’ garden, London!)
Angel’s Trumpet (Datura Candida)

An epiphytic bromeliad (see below) on the guest drive

Staghorn Fern (Platycerium bifucatum) - also epiphytic

An epiphyte (or air plant) is a plant that grows upon another plant (such as a tree) non-parasitically or sometimes upon some other object (such as a building or a telegraph post), deriving its moisture and nutrients from the air and rain and sometimes from debris accumulating around it and not from its host