A widespread species, this pearl crescent butterfly was seen this morning in a meadow near a channelized stream. Lots of wildlife in these types of areas of Michigan.
After finishing up all our work with the bat and sea caves in the southwest of Costa Rica, we spent our last night in that region back at the Firestone Center. Not the least of the reasons was for access to a washer and dryer, as another day and you'd know we were coming before we entered the room and know we had been there long after we left.
So here are a few more photos from the Firestone. The first is an interesting scene on a leaf. This blue morpho (Morpho sp.) was patrolling a trail when I saw it and I was able to follow it until it landed. And when it landed the leaf was occupied by obvious predators of butterflies, harvestmen. But I think in this case the butterfly would be just a little on the large size for these guys to go after. Side note, the species of this butterfly is likely Morpho Menelaus, but the pattern is quite similar to Morpho didius which I do not believe to be found in Costa Rica. Anyway, when they close their wings the blue disappears and they have the brown with eye spots pattern on the ventral side of the wings.
At the Firestone Center we have a lot of peccary. They are notoriously near-sighted and even when pretty close can't seem to discern exactly what is going on unless you wave your arms or something. But they also have a reputation for being grumpy leaning toward aggressive when you get too close.
I saw these collared peccary along the trail and they just kept getting closer and even when I was moving they just kind of shook their heads and didn't run off. I took a photo and then took a little detour around them lest I get chased up a tree or something else less than heroic.
At night, I had to go into the forest to check on the mosquito trap. It was hanging in a tree down by the Rio Cacao and pretty close to the Ecology Center. On my way there, I spotted this Northern cat-eyed snake on the ground in the yard outside the Ecology Center.
They are fairly thin snakes, but when I got close it puffed itself up to probably more than twice its normal width. And while not a dangerous snake, they are rear fanged and do have a venom, but even so you can pretty much pick them up and move them out of the way if needed. Of note, this image looks a little odd since it was taken with the wide angle lens I had on my camera to photograph the mosquito trap. I was only a few inches from the snake taking the pictures, which gives it an unusual look.
And finally, one of the things we have been working on at the Firestone Center is to figure out what mosquitoes we have and which species are in which habitats. This has been a struggle as catching them in homemade traps hasn't been very successful.
Here you see the latest model of the Dynatrap, a neat little thing that was a light and a fan (sucking inward) to attract and suck in mosquitoes. The old model had to be plugged into an outlet, which unsurprisingly are not readily available out in the jungle. This model was designed to work with an external battery, and early results are quite promising that this will be our go-to mosquito catcher in the future.
The slaty-tailed trogon is just one of the most beautiful birds. We were over at the neighboring Hacienda Baru to get permission to catch some of their mosquitoes (how hard was that!) and I got a chance to take a short walk to the beach. Along the trail was this trogon just sitting and hunting as they tend to do.
But while taking a couple photos it made a quick attack flight and landed nearby with a large caterpillar in it's mouth. Even though I wasn't all that far away, there was no way to see what kind of caterpillar it was. But when I looked at the photos it is clearly one of the snake-headed caterpillars. I am not really sure of the ID even from the photo, but probably Hemeroplanes ornatus which is one of the sphinx moths.
Very cool, so take a close look at the caterpillar and you will see two "eyes" and a very triangular snake-shaped "head". So totally cool that the bird wasn't fooled by this obvious defense strategy, probably plucking it off so fast it didn't have time to do the "look like a snake" thing. These caterpillars are even known to make a striking motion and really have the whole snake thing down.
And as an end note. Most animals seem to prefer to eat prey head first. So, the bird gave the caterpillar a quick flip toss spinning it around so the head was at the beak. And down the hatch it went.
I don't know a whole lot about the behavior, but certain caterpillars will cluster together and make some very interesting designs when doing so. I thought these were really awesome-looking.
The monarch butterfly migration was in full swing earlier this month, and I got a pic of this one at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Virginia.
This is a photos of a Monarch butterfly, laying eggs on a milkweed plant. Happens all the time, but there is more to this relationship than simply a butterfly finding a good place for the young to grow up.
There is way more to this story than I can get into here, but two things are worth knowing. First, the milkweed plant contains toxic chemicals, and second, that even though monarch numbers have been way down in modern years just planting more milkweed isn't a perfect solution.
So, the milkweed plant is toxic, specifically containing cardenolides that are not fun to eat. But the larval butterflies, you know, caterpillars, eat up milkweed like crazy. In fact, it is pretty much all they eat, from at least of the 27 species of milkweed in North America.
And as for the toxins, well, they sequester them. This allows these cardenolides to stay in their body through metamorphosis and arrive in the adult butterflies, having no seeming effect on the animals. But you still won't like it if you eat these toxins, so chowing down on a monarch will likely induce vomiting or similar stomach distress. Animals that eat a monarch butterfly learn that this is not good food, and avoid them in the future. Nifty little strategy they've got going there. Side note: the very tasty Viceroy butterfly mimics a monarch's colors to not get eaten since it looks like the awful-tasting one.
So with the numbers of monarchs decreasing (mainly due to habitat loss and pesticide spraying), a grand plan was hatched to have gardeners plant more milkweed. Seems very reasonable, since milkweed makes for a nice garden plant and will attract the pretty butterflies. Well, all is not perfect here. Seems like most all of the available milkweed plants to gardeners in the US are tropical milkweeds, which have a problem.
Milkweed can carry a parasite that is hard on the butterflies, and they can pick it up during the caterpillar stage while eating the leaves. They then pass it on to the adults, which weakens them severely and can prevent them from having the strength to migrate (many go all the way to Mexico!). This whole problem has historically been kept in check by all the milkweeds dying off each winter along with most infected adults. Each year the unaffected adult butterflies return to relatively unaffected milkweed.
But tropical milkweed is different. In parts of the US, like southern Texas, it does not die out but survives the winter. This provides both for continuing the infection and also a side problem whereby some butterflies now do not continue their migration but just stop there as the milkweed remains present (and continues to infect them).
So, monarchs have had it tough lately, even with a large effort to help them out. And this is just a small snippet of the whole story, but certainly an interesting story to learn.
We have a lot of very large butterflies at the Firestone Center, but as the name suggests this one is even bigger than most. Pretty when sitting and colorful when flying and the tops of the wings can be seen.
A couple of butterflies are named after design elements on their underwings that look like punctuation marks. The question mark, comma, and green comma, hoary comma and gray comma are the ones I know.
Here is a Green Comma, alternately called the Faunus Anglewing.
The Hacienda Baru is an eco-resort with property that abuts the Firestone Reserve. We went over there for dinner one evening which is always a treat. Inside their butterfly garden I found these two...
In a fig tree outside the garden, I found a pretty caterpillar (fig tree is host plant).
This year one of the student science projects is to determine how far various species of butterflies travel on the Firestone Reserve. Cool project. Today they set up some of the butterfly traps.
Keith Christenson - Wildlife Biologist