Monday, August 17, 2009

August 2009

Butterfly Days with the Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in July was awesome, as usual, and it was great to meet up with my butterfly friends and colleagues! The lectures were very exciting (and Dr. Lincoln Brower ,who has been studying the Monarch, was especially interesting!) Dr. Charlie Covell was also there, who is one of the researchers who remembers the "assisted relocation" and "hand-rearing" stories of the atala from the 1950's.

This is an amusing story that evolved last year to be resolved just before the conference....One of our NABA members insisted that another members' butterflies were 'brighter' than the ones in his garden and he asked me about it. I, as well as the 'degreed' lepidopterists, assured him that he was probably seeing newly-emerged adults, and that there was probably no reason why butterflies at one location would be brighter than butterflies at another....

At Butterfly Days, I spoke on "Butterfly Migration: Beyond the Monarch." One of the things I do before a lecture is research any new published data. To my surprise, a newly published journal article proved our member's observations about wing brightness to be true! Something none of us really considered before had been discovered: the wing scales of migrating butterflies are thicker than those of non-migrating or resident butterflies....therefore, the color is brighter! The thicker scales are needed to help the butterfly survive not only the flight, but the over-wintering in Mexico, as well. We are always learning something new!

However, it has been a long summer, my friends, otherwise. As many of you now, the position in Manatee County did not work out as planned and I found myself in an unfamiliar place without my close friends, my butterfly, or a job. Needless to say, it was not a pleasant "space" to be. More than 150 people lost their jobs in the County during the brief four+ months I was working there, so although I was not alone in this respect, I was without my network back home in Lauderdale, and I have certainly been feeling like a ship without a rudder (or sail!)

A part time position was offered teaching art at a Montessori School in Sarasota and after much very serious thought, I finally decided to stay for a while and accept the position. For those of you who may not know, my first degree is in Fine Art, and I have been producing artwork for a long time....(the second degree is science). And I fully support the Montessori philosophy.

I am also going to be teaching a few non-credit Adult Education classes.The adult education classes are very eclectic; being unemployed (again!) has forced me to fall back on everything I know! I will be teaching Butterfly Gardening (thank you, Janice, President of Broward NABA, for your input on that), and leading "Backyard Birding" trips and "Beach-Bum Walks" to identify the shells, birds, seaweed and stuff that washes up in the rack line. What may be more surprising, is that I will also be teaching Mandala Drawing, Origami, and Astrology (which I was taught back in the 60's!) as well as Hebrew classes for kids, I said, everything I know how to do is being pulled out of the hat....

In the meantime, I am continuing to accumulate data from all of you on the atala. Some of the colonies are finally coming into a normal eruption cycle, albeit more than a month behind "normal" schedule. Of course, I only have six years of data, and only for Southeast Florida, so whether this is simply a trough in a much bigger cycle that I haven't figured out yet is unknown!
This photo by Dick Freshley shows eight atalas clustered on a small shrub next to the nectar source described below. It is not unusual in an eruption to see twenty or thirty atalas aggregated on vegetation near nectar sources. They do not flush easily, making them a perfect subject for your camera, too. Perhaps because they are poor fliers and "know" that they are toxic, they will sit still while they are being photographed.

An undocumented nectar source for the atala has been recorded and photographed by Dick at Okeeheelee Nature Center, where he is a dedicated volunteer, and where we established a colony several years ago. (And yes, we have had to provide "assisted re-location" a few times.) Dick writes that he must have "hundreds of photographs of the atala" but that he finds them so beautiful that he is "irresistably drawn to taking more." As many of us agree-the atala is just breath-taking. Okeeheelee is one of the sites with "hundreds" at the moment, and he writes that it is a special treat for people to be able to see them.

I imagine that this is what it must have looked like in 1910, when Healey wrote that the atala was the "most conspicuous insect in South Florida." I have tried to film them when they erupt, but the videos are not very good (I can photograph, but videography is another thing! Especially trying to film something smaller than a quarter!)

The nectar source that Dick recorded is called Clerodendrum ugandense, a beautiful flower from Kenya and Uganda. (Marilyn Griffiths from Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens emailed to tell me that the name has been changed to Rotheca myricoides 'Ugandense', so you may want to look for either name. But she also informed that they don't see many butterflies nectaring on it....)You all know how much I love native plants, but I also like nectar sources for butterflies, other insects and hummingbirds. The plant is not listed as invasive, so keep an eye on it, and perhaps, trim the seed heads when they form to prevent them being spread.

This is Dick's photo of the atala on the "Blue Glory" flower, and click this link to learn more about it from the University of Florida website: Clerodendrum uganense.

And if you haven't downloaded your copy of my article "Nectar Sources for Eumaeus atala", you can download here it from Florida Entomologist as well as get an extensive butterfly nectar list at the Imperiled Butterfly Working Group. And there are also many resources to be found at the North American Butterfly Association website, including lists of nectar sources and photographs which myself, and other members, have provided for the website.

In the meantime, stop in to the next meeting of NABA to learn something new, meet new friends, and score some inexpensive native nectar plants!

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