Thursday, May 15, 2008

June 2008 Atalas, Zebras, Dragons and PANDAS!

Coonties everywhere are a-bloom with the bright red and yellow atala larvae, causing consternation or joy depending on the owner of said plants. Home owners exalt when they see Atala the Hun at work, but landscapers and city planners often struggle with wanting to help keep a species stable….and wanting to protect their ornamental edging from being destroyed by the larvae.

An enlightened city planner would make interpretive signs explaining the unique history of this once-thought extinct insect and its beautiful but poisonous host plant. At the very least, a city planner could call on the atala “rescue teams” and have one of us move the offenders to a safe location, thereby establishing another atala colony.

Dick Freshley at Okeeheelee Nature Center asked if there is a way to differentiate male and female atalas other than the upper surface of the wings. Males have a splash of iridescent greenish-teal-blue on the upper surface and females have a streak of bright royal blue on the upper wing surface. It can be difficult to see the colors when they are fluttering by.

This is the upper forewing surface of a male--notice that there is more diffuse softer greenish-bluish color over a larger area.

This is a female’s upper forewing surface—you can see that the color is concentrated and is a streak of bright royal blue (not a diffuse wash of color).

But yes, there IS another way to sex the atalas!

Males have a very dark spot on the very tip of the abdomen which leads to scent glands located within. When the male is courting a female, he will evert these brush-like glands to release pheromones that he hopes will attract the female.

This is a photo of the male with the scent glands everted. The female was just out of camera range.

Female atalas, on the other hand, have a smaller lighter spot on the tip of the abdomen, which leads to the ovipositor (which she uses to lay her eggs). So now you have two ways to identify the males and females.

In the process of capturing these atalas for the impromptu photo shoot, I was surprised to miss several in a row---They are notoriously easy to catch!
“How did I miss another one?” I asked Dr Joshua Feingold, who was kind enough to take these photos for me in the NSU Mesozoic Garden.

Zebra Heliconius was also fluttering everywhere in the Medicinal Garden, next to the atala's garden.

The Corky Stem Passionfruit was flowering, and females were laying the delicate gold eggs on the tips of the new growth. Larger larvae were happily munching.

A beautiful Golden-winged Skimmer (Libellula auripennis) was using one of the decimated milkweed stems as a look-out perch the other day. What a vibrant dragonfly! And another Golden-winged was ‘captured’ at John U Lloyd Beach State Park, too.

It looks like summer programs at John Williams Park will remain as exotic plant workshops and not the fun activities I had hoped for…liability insurance is not affordable for the small numbers of children expected to attend. Maybe next year!

In the meantime, I am helping Dr. Barry Barker and the Wildspots Foundation with fund-raising for the earthquake-stricken Wolong Panda Institute news, located near Chengdu in China.
We have been told that although the pandas are safe, the access to them is impossible because the road to Wolong has been completely destroyed and damage throughout the area is severe. Wolong will be closed until next Spring because of the accessibility issues. Chengdu Panda operation in Chengdu needs help. Wildspots is sending volunteers there Sept 19-28. If you would like to volunteer for the trip to help, or buy a beautiful photographic book (this photo is by Tom Isgar, one of the photographers in the book) being published by Wildspots to raise money for the panda preserve, go to the Wildspots website or email Dr. Barker directly:

And please remember that your help removing exotics is appreciated at John Williams Park, 6101 Sheridan Street this coming Saturday, May 24, 2008 from 9 AM-noon!


Thursday, May 01, 2008

May 2008 Atala News

Colonies everywhere are coming back to life after a hiatus during much of the winter season. This is in keeping with data I’ve collected over the years; summer will be bringing irruptions at many colonies and all of us “atala-sponsors” will soon be getting calls to help people re-distribute the excess to other sites. This is a great way to start new colonies, if all of the essential habitat requirements are in place for the atalas: coontie for the larvae, and shady spots and nectar sources for the adults. NSU’s garden has a new influx of pupae, many of which are hanging out on the Horsetail in the Mesozoic Garden on campus.

Good news for atala fans: my note, "Nectar Sources for Eumaeus atala," was published in Florida Entomologist in March 2008 and is now on line and accessible for all to download and read. Happy planting!

We had a successful but subdued Earth Day program at John Williams Park in Hollywood on April 25th...Sean and his beautiful canine companion Powder were our only volunteers, but we accomplished a lot in our day! We installed three native White Plumbago plants in the open area of the park that volunteers from Columbia and Hollywood Hills High School had previously cleared of exotics in January, after removing the new crop of invasive seedlings. Then we planted two White Twine Vine seedlings and two Elderberry seedlings in the wetlands of Sheridan Oak Forest. All of these plants are compliments of Art Constantino, Broward County Master Gardener. (Thanks, Art!)
There is a new charge of invasive seedlings in both John Williams Park and Sheridan Oak Forest, however---we are in desperate need of volunteers for the May 24th program! Please find some time to join us at 9 AM in the parking lot at John Williams Park, 6101 Sheridan Street.

We had a lot of legitimate competition from the wonderful programs in Broward County for Earth Day: I am sure that residents learned a lot and had a great time at the many other events being sponsored throughout the county….I do have to extend special thanks to Sean and Powder for showing up to dig in the dirt for this program, though!

I spent some time with my very dear friend Dr. Sarah Meltzoff in Sheridan Oak Forest and we found (as always) some new plant species. We also came across a very deceased young raccoon, for which we gave a decent forest burial.

I know that a Red-Shouldered Hawk hangs out in the clearings of the forest, so it is possible that he took advantage of an inexperienced forager.

Jessica Smith, volunteer extraordinaire at John Williams Park, is accepting her Girls Scout Silver Award on May 6th, after two years of dedicated work. Congratulations, Jessica!

Our Spring Butterfly Count went very well at Hillsboro Pineland Natural Area. We saw over 20 species of butterflies and had a great lunch break with NABA friends. These are our sun-lit participants for the morning count, surrounded by the lush pineland understory. We also got to watch a Pileated Woodpecker busy calling for companions, and that was a rare treat in the urban environment around Hillsboro!

I was privileged to present a PowerPoint, “Butterfly Migration through South Florida: Beyond the Monarch!” at the monthly meeting of the Broward County Butterfly Club chapter of NABA in April. If you missed this presentation, I have been invited to repeat the program for the Miami Blue NABA Chapter at a future date. I’ll be posting on that

Speaking of Miami Blue , one of my special friends from Florida International University, Dr. Suzanne Koptur, presented a fantastic program for the Miami Blue NABA chapter on Sunday, May 4th at 1 pm, at Castellow Hammock Preserve in Homestead. We enjoyed the chance to see the delightful hammock and butterfly garden, as well as hear Suzanne's great presentation about Sulphur Butterflies, and the ants and parasitic wasps that co-occur. Complicated relationships go on that we seldom witness! Castellow Hammock Preserve 22301 SW 162 Avenue, Miami FL. 305-242-7688.
This is me, Elane Nuering (VP of Miami Blue NABA Chapter), Michelle Briois, Roger Hammer (who re-discovered the atala on Virginia Key in 1979), Suzanne Koptur (FIU Biology faculty) and Barbara DeWitt (NABA Broward County). Al Hart, Barbara's husband, took the photo.
(Thanks, Al!) It is always such a pleasure to be with butterfly people.

And this is one of the fat Tree Snails at Castellow!

I’ve also been having a great time in the Everglades! The kids from Miami Day Country School and I visited ENP three times. It is so much fun to be in the Everglades with people who know how special and unique the experience is. Their instructor Rowena Gerber teaches Enrichment Classes and the children impressed me with their knowledge of South Florida eco-systems. Do YOU know all seven special ecosystems? (Answers below.)

I also had the opportunity to visit the River of Grass with my Aunt Rose and her husband Art, who were visiting from the cold gray north (as in Rhode Island)! It was one of the few times I’ve actually been able to photograph the “glades” themselves (I am usually busily leading a tour and explaining things, so this was a rare treat!)

I also spent an afternoon at West Glades Middle School in Parkland speaking to the Environmental Club about the atala. Their teacher Jamie Luft and the club had planted a beautiful atala butterfly garden at the school, and had done a lot of research themselves about this vulnerable hairstreak, but still had a barrel of questions! I gave them copies of butterfly gardening literature from the Extension Office, a copy of the nectar sources article I wrote for the journal Florida Entomologist, and told them where to find more material on butterflies in general. They gave me a great book bag, which I have used many times already, and a pin that the club made up, “Save the Atala: Plant a Coontie”!

John U Lloyd Beach State Park has been another constant companion for the past month, as I am helping Dr. Ed Keith with the chapter on the ecosystem vegetation for the book he is writing about this coastal barrier island ecosystem. Even though my ‘job’ is to photograph plants, I am frequently side-tracked by the wildlife!
This Mangrove Skipper was a distraction!

And so was our native little gray squirrel in his natural habitat (a tree), but one of his relatives decided that French fries from the café that he found in the restroom dumpster were more interesting. The French-Fry Bandito was caught in the act of munching. I hope it doesn’t affect his cholesterol the way it does humans!

This Gulf Fritillary was nectaring on Bidens alba, a ubiquitous weed, but a very important nectar source for butterflies. (Consider leaving a section of your yard wild for the wildlife!)

And this beautiful six-lined race runner allowed me to take his
photograph! As did this Brown Anole, who was very cooperative.

But I had to PLEAD with this very shy Barred Yellow Butterfly for fifteen minutes to allow me to take a photo!

This grasshopper, so eloquently camoflaged in the "Australian Pine mulch", was not quite so difficult to capture on film, however. Difficult to SEE in the mulch, but cooperative!

Our stately Brown Pelican was proud to have his image captured, too, and posed majestically on his podium! The Tree Snail was more subdued, but just as beautiful.

OK, I did photograph vegetation, too (over 600 photos!) Aren't these nested Nickerbeans gorgeous?! And the Seaside Oxeye Daisy? Splendid!

Fortunately, even the tiniest corridor is home to our wildlife: This Horace's Duskywing visited my little corner of the Universe this week, taking advantage of the Cordia globosa. I have even seen Hummingbird Moths visiting!

I am planning a plethora of activities and programs for the summer season for children through the City of Hollywood Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department. If you know any children in Middle School (8-12 year age range) that want to spend time learning about Oak Hammocks and other ecosystems, identifying butterflies, snakes, spiders, birds and plants in the field, playing really fun nature games, I’ll be posting that information as soon as possible!

I hope to see YOU at the next NABA count taking place in June and July! The South Circle Count, at Tree Tops and Long Key is planned for Sat. June 14, 2008.

The North Circle Count, at Hillsboro, Crystal Lake and Hugh Taylor Birch is planned for Sat. July 12, 2008.

Next NABA Broward meeting is May 8, 2008, at the Extension Office on College Avenue in Davie.

Until next time, BEE HAPPY!

(Seven South Florida ecosystems: Lake Okeechobee, Everglades Sawgrass Prairie, Big Cypress, Hardwood Hammock, Florida Bay, Pine Rockland and Mangroves/Coastal.)