Sunday, June 14, 2009

Happy Days are Here Again!

The good news is that the atalas are back, as of June 10, folks! The reports are still sporadic, but we there are more and more sightings from Palm Beach to Lauderdale. Miami is still lagging behind, unlike years past. Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden gave up waiting and did a little "assisted re-location" with a breeding stock that originated with them years ago. Those individuals did not survive, so another attempt was recently made to 'seed' the colony. I'll let you know how the colony is doing.

There are several sites in North Lauderdale, a few in Palm Beach. Those of us involved with the butterfly are not advertising locations yet so that the colonies are not disturbed by collectors or people eager to "assist" their re-location. As I told one of our helpers, it is difficult to keep any kind of records of what colonies are going where and's good to establish new colonies, but it is very helpful to those of us following it on a scientific level to let someone know. Tell me...or any of our NABA or IBWG people to help us keep tabs on the butterfly! A few new colonies have appeared on their own, too.

Dick Freshley sent the larvae photo...the ovipositing photo is mine....

This is the longest that I've held my breath waiting for the miraculous summer re-appearance!

OK, everyone...BREATHE!


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

June 2009 Atala Blues & Beautiful Blues

Atala colonies have yet to recover, although there are now slight stirrings of activity in three sites; one in Miami-Dade (not Fairchild, surprisingly!) and two in north Broward. No one is reporting substantial numbers, however. This year’s date of May 29th is the latest date for re-appearance that I have recorded in the past six years; and usually by now we are seeing the butterfly pop up from seemingly “nowhere.” I have had people in the Caribbean ask me, “Where do they go?” I hope to have an answer for that question someday, but at this time we just don’t know where they go!

Friend Dr. Joshua Feingold sent an incredible photograph of three tiny Galapagos Blues, (Leptotes parrhasioides, Wallengren 1860). He captured the underside as well as the brilliant blues topside with this photo. They are nectaring on a flower that is about the same size as Squarestem (Melanthera nivea), a common “weed.”

There are only ten butterfly species in Galapagos; this one may look familiar, because it is very similar to our own “Eastern Pygmy Blue.” The Pygmy is our smallest butterfly and the Galapagos Blue is about the same size…wingspan: 0.5”! It eats a Balloonvine species (Cardiospermum), and fortunately there is plenty of Balloonvine on the islands for the tiny Blue.

Meanwhile, another famous Blue (Morpho peleides) was captured on film by Art Constantino at the UF McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity in Gainesville several years ago and is now adorning the cover of a new book! The Empowerment of Self-Healing by Rod Kelly is a wonderful book about Rod’s journey to health from life-threatening illness. No better symbol for transformation could have been chosen than this brilliant sacred-blue butterfly. Congratulations to Art, and thanks to Rod for writing this book and sharing his wisdom with others seeking spiritual renewal.

On a sadder note for our Beautiful Blues, Paula Cannon has been watching a Miami Blue (Hemiargus thomasi) colony is Bahia Honda for many years. Miami Blues are an Endangered Species, protected by Federal Law. The complication is that to protect any endangered species, whether a polar bear or a butterfly, the habitat wherein it lives must also be protected. We have certainly learned that it is not always possible to protect the environment—we can’t stop the polar bear’s icy habitat from melting because we simply won’t be able to get “green” fast enough to undo the damage.

BUT, we can do something about protecting the habitat of the Miami Blue. It is not a popular choice, though, because the destruction is being caused by another non-native creature introduced by humans…the iguana. The reptile is voracious and devours Nickerbean, the host plant for the Miami Blue’s larvae. They are causing major damage to the environment (as those of you who may have them ravishing your gardens know.) Unfortunately, there is no humane way to deal with the situation: the iguanas have to be destroyed. They are yet another non-native, invasive species, like the pythons that are infesting the Everglades and impacting the ‘livelihood’ of the alligators and other animals there and in Big Cypress.

The Florida Wildlife Commission is doing the best that they can, but like many governmental agencies that have been hit by the same economic downswing, there are simply not enough employees to chase the iguanas and still do the other jobs required. They have captured hundreds, but there are still hundreds destroying the habitat. Paula sent these pictures to show the damage. The photos were taken on May 21, 2009. The damage since January has been extensive. Remember that you can find out a lot about the status of our imperiled and endangered butterflies by visiting the Imperiled Butterfly Working Group website. We post journal articles, status reports, documents and the minutes from our meetings. I have also posted a list of butterfly plants (host and nectar sources) that can be downloaded to help you plant for them.

The good news is that another Blue, the Nickerbean Blue (Hemiargus ammon), which uses Pineland Acacia as the host plant (no, NOT Nickerbean!) This is a rarity, but Paula, and Alana Edwards found the butterfly and Paula gave me permission to post this great photo of the Nickerbean Blue, too. Thanks, Paula!

I had a very short but sweet reunion with friends when I spoke at the Miami Blue NABA Chapter last month, too. Chris, Paola and Julianna Hernandez came to the presentation; Chris is back at Crandon Park and afterwards we walked through the hammock at Castellow. It took all of us several tries, but we finally captured one of the many Florida Whites (Appias Drusilla) flitting around in the forest! Julianna was delighted with our excursion and thought that Gumbo Limbo was a fun tree to touch.

I stopped in Lauderdale for a day and did some business, but managed to play a little bit. I chose to take Loop Road so I could do some birding (Sweetwater Slough was bone dry, though!) But I did come across this interesting mixed-flock bird-convention, consisting of Woodstorks, American Egrets, and Black and Turkey Vultures, in the middle of nowhere.

Dick Freshly sent this awesome photo of a newly emerged Zebra Heliconian. Although I have tons of Passion vine in my yard, I don’t see Gulf Fritillaries or Zebras here….the Monarchs have discovered the Milkweed, though.

The Gulf Fritillaries have discovered the corky stem passion vine hiding in the grass that grows along side State Road 41 in downtown Bradenton, though. It is a miracle, truly, that these insects can find a cluster of passion vine nestled amongst the litter in a sand-and-grass median strip along a major highway, but that is what they do.

I saw this saying on a button somewhere: I pledge allegiance to the Earth and the flora, fauna and human Life that it supports, one planet indivisible, with safe air, water and soil, economic justice, equal rights and peace for all. It’s the only home we have while in a physical body, and we are co-creators, so let’s create a beautiful healthy spiritually centered home for all of us!

Happy Full Moon to all~May you be filled with Love and Light!

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