ABACO’S MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, MARSH HARBOUR


Prehistoric crocodile skull fossil, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

ABACO’S MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, MARSH HARBOUR

The Abaco Field Office of the AMMC is located at Friends of the Environment in Marsh Harbour. Primarily geared toward the study and research of the natural history and prehistory of The Bahamas, the expanding collection makes a huge contribution to the knowledge and understanding of the environment from both before and after the arrival of people to the archipelago.

Turtle shells & Prehistoric crocodile skull fossils, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

The cases shown below hold carefully labelled exhibits, against a background showing the structure of the cave systems and blue holes of the island. Prehistoric fossils and turtle shells, early lucayan human skulls, a HUTIA (extirpated from Abaco in times past), a deceased parrot, bats, butterflies, and a whole lot more are on display.

Exhibit cases in the Museum of Natural History, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

There is even a small reminder of Abaco’s once-thriving logging industry, in the shape of two circular blades from the area around the Sawmill Sink blue hole. For more of the ‘industrial archeology’ at the site (with photos,) check out what was revealed by a still-smouldering forest fire HERECircular saw blades from Sawmill Sink, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)The activities conducted through the office include site surveys, excavation and documentation, collection, the conservation and curation of artifacts and fossil material, and public outreach. .  Fossil / ancient turtle shells, natural history museum Abaco (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Specialised scientific activities include researching the blue holes and cave systems of Abaco. The explorations have discovered the prehistoric remains of now-extinct vertebrate species; geologic anomalies; evidence of prehistoric storm and fluctuating sea levels; and valuable data about the biodiversity of cave-adapted fauna and vegetation.

Cased butterflies, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Dry caves and blue holes also provide evidence the arrival of the first humans that migrated to the Bahamas, beginning with the early Lucayan Amerindians, as well as the plant and animal communities during their initial occupation more than 1000 years ago. One skull (r) demonstrates graphically the effect of the Lucayan practice of (deliberate) cranial deformation.

Human Skulls, Lucayan - Cased butterflies, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

The Field Office’s collaborative research involves a number of scientific organisations; and the educative outreach includes schools, universities, scientific conferences and public forums. As importantly, the valuable community resource of a first-rate small museum that contains many fascinating exhibits it right there in Marsh Harbour. And it is free to all.

Crocodile skull, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)   Hutia, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Display cases, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Some of the cave bats of Abaco. In Ralph’s Cave, to this day there’s a fossilised bat entombed forever on the floor of the cave.

Display of bats, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

Fossilised bat, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

The museum is located at the Abaco offices of the AMMC and Friends of the Environment. It is open for viewing during 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. There is no admission fee, but donations for exhibit development are gratefully accepted. School groups should call in advance to arrange a tour. LOCATION: just drive up the hill past Maxwell’s, to the junction at the top and turn left. If you want to know about Abaco’s past in the broadest sense, this should be your first stop. You can even ‘get the t-shirt’ to complete the experience and support the institution…

Display cases, Natural History Museum Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Abaco Field Office AMMC)

This strange, ill-clad male is either (a) trying to give an authentic traditional Lucayan greeting or (b) trying to high-five Nancy Albury (who is ignoring it) or (c) just behaving bizarrely. I go for (c).

Rolling Harbour Abaco...

Credits: first and foremost, curator Nancy Albury and her team; Friends of the Environment; AMMC. All photos are mine (with plenty of excuses for poor indoor colour, display glass reflections etc), except the tragically entombed cave-bat in the bat-cave from well-known diving and cave-system exploration expert Brian Kakuk / Bahamas Cave Research Foundation; and the wonderful photo below of a Barn Owl flying out of a dry cave on Abaco, by kind permission of Nan Woodbury.

Barn Owl flying out of a cave on Abaco (Nan Woodbury / Rolling Harbour)

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 (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)

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (6): FOCUS ON SWALLOWTAILS


Bahama Swallowtail, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Uli Nowlan) copy

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (6): FOCUS ON SWALLOWTAILS

I’ve mentioned the swallowtail butterflies of Abaco before, but I have never shown the 3 main species together. They are such handsome creatures that’s it time to give them a place in the sun. These are my favourite butterflies. Ah yes – equally with the wonderful ATALA HAIRSTREAK

Bahama Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) 2 copy

BAHAMA (BAHAMIAN) SWALLOWTAIL

This fine swallowtail Papilio andraemon has a range beyond the islands of the Bahamas. It is also found on Cuba and Jamaica. Occasionally they are found as strays on the Florida Keys or on the mainland in the Miami region. 

Bahama Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) 1 copyBahama Swallowtail, Abaco (Uli Nowlan)

POLYDAMUS (‘GOLD-RIM’) SWALLOWTAIL

This is the species you are most likely to encounter as they cruise rapidly from flower to flower, constantly on the move, with wings fluttering even as they feed. Hard to get good photos of them, therefore. But some (though sadly not me) manage it somehow… Polydamus Swallowtail, Abaco (Nina Henry)Polydamus Swallowtail, Abaco (Char Albury) Polydamus Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) copy

TIGER SWALLOWTAIL

I suspect this species – common in the eastern USA – is quite rare on Abaco. I have never seen one, and these ones photographed by Uli Nowlan at Treasure Cay are the only pictures I have seen. And what lovely creatures they are. Tiger Swallowtail, Abaco (Uli Nowlan) Tiger Swallowtail, Abaco (Uli Nowlan)2

DISQUALIFIED ENTRIES

RIGHT SPECIES, WRONG CONTINENT – EUROPEAN SWALLOWTAILSwallowtail Butterfly (France)

RIGHT COUNTRY, WRONG CREATURE – BAHAMA SWALLOW TAIL, ABACO BS BH IMG_8038

WRONG CREATURE, WRONG CONTINENT – EUROPEAN SWALLOW TAILSwallow Dorset

RIGHT EVERYTHING, HOPELESS PHOTO (how they usually behave for me…)Polydamus (Gold Rim) Swallowtail Butterfly, Abaco (but6)

RELATED POSTS

COMMON BUCKEYE

ZEBRA HELICONIAN

GULF FRITILLARY

DRYAS JULIA

MARTIAL SCRUB-HAIRSTREAK

Polydamus Swallowtail abaco (Char Albury)

Credits: Uli Nowlan, Rhonda Pearce, Nina Henry, Charmaine Albury, plus disappointments for RH

ABACO BUTTERFLIES feat. FLUTTERY PHILATELY


Red-spotted Purple Butterfly, Abaco (Selah Vie)

ABACO BUTTERFLIES feat. FLUTTERY PHILATELY

I’ve been distracted from my intended scribble by a lovely butterfly posted by ‘Selah Vie’, one I’ve never seen before. It’s one of those lepidots that have a topside surprisingly and excitingly different from the underwings (see header image). Imagine having this beauty turning up on your patio…

RED-SPOTTED PURPLE BUTTERFLYRed-spotted Purple Butterfly (Selah Vie)

This reminded me that I have some butterfly images waiting in the wings (ha!), so now is the time to encourage a few out of their virtual chrysalis for wider appreciation. 

BAHAMAS SWALLOWTAILBahama Swallowtail? Palamedes Swallowtail?Bahama Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) 2Bahama Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) 1

POLYDAMUS SWALLOWTAILPolydamus Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)Hibiscus / Polydamus Swallowtail, Delphi Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

MONARCH BUTTERFLYMonarch Butterfly, Abaco (Charmaine Albury) 2 Monarch Butterfly, Abaco (Charmaine Albury) 1

MONK (?) SKIPPER

Skipper Butterfly, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

FRITILLARY (make unknown)Fritillary, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

tigertail

FLUTTERY PHILATELY

The Bahamas has an excellent record for producing colourful stamp issues showcasing the wildlife of the islands – birds, reef fish and of course butterflies. I’ve posted about these several time, and they are more or less collected together on a dedicated stamp page HERE. As for the butterflies, they get a new issue every decade or so. Here are the last four.

1975

Bahamas Butterfly Stamps 1974

1983

$_1-1

1994

$_1-1 copy

2008

baha08002

tigertail          imgres          tigertail

Credits: Selah Vie (1, 2); Uli Nowlan (3); Rhonda Pearce (4, 5, 6, 10, 11); RH (7); Charmaine Albury (8, 9); open source / ads etc (all stamps)

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (5): THE UNUSUAL MARTIAL SCRUB-HAIRSTREAK


Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis (Nina Henry) 1 sm

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (5): THE UNUSUAL MARTIAL SCRUB-HAIRSTREAK

I wish I could tell you something useful about this butterfly, but frankly there’s not a lot of info about it to be found. In part that may be because it is not a mainstream American butterfly, being found only in southern Florida. However it is found in the West Indies, and indeed on Abaco – this one was photographed by Nina Henry at Little Harbour. She was walking from Pete’s Pub to the OLD LIGHTHOUSE when she came across this butterfly. She sent it to me as a query and it took me an hour to nail the ID – there are other very similar and more common hairstreaks that threw me off track for a while (I thought it might be a female… oh, ever  mind, it wasn’t).

The Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis ranges from the southern tip of Florida, throughout the Bahamas and Greater Antilles. I’ve never seen one on Abaco, and I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has. As far as I can make out this creature’s range tends to be further south, so I’m guessing they are unusual  for Abaco. Prove me wrong!

Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis (Nina Henry) 3 sm

Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis (Nina Henry) 2 sm

Photo Credit: Nina Henry

SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO


SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO

Uli Nowlan has had two beautiful swallowtail butterfly species in her garden at Treasure Cay. These are absolute stunners, with great camerawork to capture the details.

BAHAMA SWALLOWTAIL Papilio andraemonBahamas Swallowtail Butterfly, Abaco (Uli Nowlan)

TIGER SWALLOWTAIL Papilio glaucusSwallowtail Butterfly, Abaco (Uli Nowlan) Bahamas Swallowtail Butterfly, Abaco (Uli Nowlan)

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (4): DRYAS JULIA (JULIA HELICONIAN)


800px-Dryas_julia-02_(xndr)

DRYAS JULIA (JULIA HELICONIAN): BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (4)

A fast-flying butterfly in a fetching shade of orange designed to be off-putting to avian predators. If the colour fails as a deterrent, these butterflies are unpleasant to eat (supposedly), so birds learn to leave them alone.

Dryas Julia Butterfly CS 1Dryas Julia Butterfly CS 2800px-Dryas_julia_2 800px-Dryas.julia 800px-Julia-heliconian-butterfly Dryas_julia_caterpillarCredits: Charlie Skinner & Wiki

OTHER BUTTERFLIES IN THIS SERIES

ZEBRA HELICONIANS

GULF FRITILLARY

COMMON BUCKEYE

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (3): COMMON BUCKEYE


220px-Buckeye_Butterfly_(Junonia_coenia)

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (3): COMMON BUCKEYE

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…

Charlie Skinner DSC_7818

As it feeds, or as the sun warms its wings, the buckeye will start to reveal itself DSC_7831DSC_7825DSC_7817 DSC_7823

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.DSC_7829DSC_7822DSC_7830DSC_7832

The caterpillars and chrysalis of this species look like thisCommon_Buckeye_larva_variation,_Megan_McCarty42Common_Buckeye_chrysalis,_Megan_McCarty43

This rather charming illustration of the buckeye species is by Jacob Hübner from his Sammlung exotischer Schmetterlinge Vol. 2 ([1819] – [1827] (Plate32)442px-Hubner1821SammlExotSchmett2Plate32

Also in this series: ZEBRA HELICONIANS and GULF FRITILLARIES

Photo Credits: Butterflies by Charlie Skinner (except header, Wiki); Caterpillars & Chrysalis by Megan McCarty via Common Licence

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (2) GULF FRITILLARIES


BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (2) GULF FRITILLARIES

The GULF FRITILLARY Agraulis vanillae is a so-called ‘longwing’ butterfly species found from South America to central North America, named for its migration route over the Gulf of Mexico.Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 7Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 2

The black and orange patterns of this butterfly are a reminder to predators of the toxicidity of its stripy caterpillar  and birds tend to leave them alone. Just in case. The markings are also similar to other butterflies that are poisonous – for example the Monarch.  Tip of the hat to Wiki for the information that “this species belongs to the ‘orange’ Batesian mimicry complex”. Me neither! It is where an innocuous species resembles a noxious one in order to discourage predators without going to the bother of actually developing its own ‘on-board’ toxins.

Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 4Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 3

File:Gulf Fritillary Life Cycle.svgGulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 1Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 5

The gulf fritillary is common on Abaco, as elsewhere in the Bahamas. I particularly fond of the photo below, in which the whole feeding apparatus can be seen. I haven’t done my homework, I’m afraid. If anyone wants to provide the technical terms (mouth? proboscis? tongue-thing?), that would be welcome. Please use the comment box to spread enlightenment.Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 6

FURTHER BUTTERFLIES YOU MAY ENJOY

ZEBRA HELICONIANS

ATALA HAIRSTREAKS and LIFECYCLE OF THE ATALA HAIRSTREAK

Credits: all amazing photos by Charlie Skinner, except header image Wiki – to which credit also for the graphic and some info in particular ‘Batesian Mimicry complex’, which is definitely one to drop lightly into conversation…

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!)

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.