“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

‘ATALA FASCINATING’: THE LIFECYCLE OF THE ATALA HAIRSTREAK ON ABACO


Atala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco 6

‘ATALA FASCINATING’: THE LIFECYCLE OF THE ATALA  HAIRSTREAK ON ABACO

I have posted about several of the wonderful butterfly species the live on Abaco, but my favourite will always be the small but beautiful Atala Hairstreak Eumaeus atala. Its ‘look-at-me’ bright orange abdomen, black wings and the curious luminescent bright blue spots that even cover its legs and head are unmistakeable. These butterflies favour the coontie plant – especially for egg-laying – but they can be seen almost anywhere as far as I can see, though I have never seen one right by a beach. 

I’ve posted before about the lifecycle of the Atala, but I have never had a chance to show the complete post-egg process from caterpillar to triumphantly emergent butterfly actually recorded on Abaco until now. Thanks to Rhonda Pearce, her patience and her skill with a camera, the following sequence of photos shows in detail the various stages of metamorphosis.

THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR

  • The little hairs on the caterpillars (larvae)
  • The dark gluey-looking shed skins
  • The delicate silky threads as the chrysalis forms
  • The butterfly emerges upside down, enabling it to uncrumple & spread its wings to dry

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RELATED POSTS

ATALA HAIRSTREAK LIFECYCLE (you’ll find more info about the process here)

FLUTTER BY, BUTTERFLY

ABACO’S LOVELIEST BUTTERFLY

ABACO BUTTERFLY PAGE (other species found on Abaco)

Photo Credits: All Rhonda Pearce except the header of a full adult imago, RH

PS Sorry, I’ve been very po-faced and not mentioned Halloween. Everyone else is covered in blood, guts and gore, so I reckon the market is saturated. Also I get the wrong end of the ‘Trick or Treat’ stick. I carefully prepare 2 lots of choccy-based sweets. One is delicious. The other contains chilli. If the callers are nice, they get the Treat. If not, they get the Trick. That must be right, surely. I can listen to them hawking and barfing as they run off into the night…. [No children were hurt in the making of this story…]

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

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.

==========================

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!)

ART FOR THE [NATIONAL] PARKS: 3 DAY EVENT IN AID OF ABACO’S WILDLIFE


Atala Hairstreak LogoSUPPORT ABACO WILDLIFE CONSERVATION AND THE WORK OF THE BNT

LOCAL ARTISTS & ARTISANS; LECTURES; ENVIRONMENTAL GAMES; FRESH MARKET

(Help to make sure that the creatures pictured below stay off the IUCN ‘threatened species’ list) 

Art for the Parks: Abaco National Parks

ATALA HAIRSTREAK – ABACO’S LOVELIEST BUTTERFLY


Back safely in Blighty at last, and 17 cups of coffee down the line it’s time to take caffeine-trembling hands to the computer. A quick skim through the new batch of Abaco wildlife photos has shown that at least 3 out of (say) 987 have came out adequately, so new material will now be appearing – parrots and other birds, reef fish, plants, bonefishing, and a lot more (including some videos). I’ll make a start with an Atala Hairstreak, a small but unmistakable butterfly that is a creature of delicacy and beauty. It is the one that features in the RH logo above. Here is a live specimen taken deep in the pine forest  a few days ago at the Blue Hole known as Sawmill Sink. The colouring is just as it is in real life – there’s been no ‘work’ done on this image. Its little curly tongue shows that it is busy feeding. Click on it to enlarge it.

FLOWERING ON ABACO: EXPLORING WITH RICKY JOHNSON


RJ’s eco-tour is not just about parrots and other avians. He is also an expert in the plant and tree life, and a great deal else. Here are some of the flower / tree images from the day, to which I will (may?) put names in due course. But frankly the pictures are far more satisfying than the knowledge that something is or is not a variant of a Cuban Popcata Petal Tree. Or whatever. If you feel like it, fast forward to the end of this post for a blue hole, a butterfly and a team photo…

TIGER’S CLAW or INDIAN CORAL or SAMOAN SUNSHINE TREE
THATCH PALM Thrinax radiata

 CORAL HIBISCUS Hibiscus schizopetalus

BOUGAINVILLEA Bougainvillea Spectabilis

SAPODILLA Manilkara zapota

Three images of a STAGHORN FERN Platycerium bifucatum, an epiphyte or ‘air plant’: one that grows upon another plant non-parasitically

Having left the parrots and the very lovely private garden we were shown round (where most of the plant shots were taken), Ricky took us to a blue hole nearby. The choice of 3 was narrowed down by the forest fires raging in the area (see FOREST FIRE post. The 2 largest were in a part of the pine forest that was busily engulfed in flame and dark smoke. So we went to the smallest.

However, what we could see was merely the entrance to a large and deep cave system in the limestone rock, the extent of which is still being explored (though not by me, thank heavens). The rock to the left was actually covered by 6 inches of water so clear that you could not see it – as one of our group discovered when he stepped onto the rock…

It was here that we saw ATALA HAIRSTREAK butterflies. This one is a different one from the one in the main BUTTERFLY post… but even their mothers can’t tell

ATALA HAIRSTREAK

And so to the final photo of the day, taken as we sustained ourselves… before having to leave rather sharpish when the wind changed direction and the smoke and fire decided we might be worth incinerating. Possibly Ricky, in the background on his cellphone, is calling for help…