I am not an insect guy (entymologist) when it comes to photography but I am someone interested in ecosystems. I mention this because while I sometimes get good pictures of insects, I may not be as accurate as a true “bug guy” with identification, although I do try. In this post I present bees, butterflies and other insects that I saw in Trinidad. It turns out that the photographic equipment necessary for bird photography is equally good for entymology. In any case I obtained some beautiful photographs of bees, butterflies and dragonflies that I thought I would share in this post. The neotropics are an exceptional location for those interested in ecosystems and the links that connect us all with nature. While this collection might not be as long as some of my posts, the photographs are nonetheless beautiful and I hope pertinent to my readers. Augochloropsis is a genus of brilliant metallic, often blue-green, sweat bees in the family Halictidae. There are at least 140 described species in Augochloropsis. The genus Augochloropsis is restricted to the New World, and the vast majority of species of are found in the tropical and subtropical regions. Augochloropsis are classified as polylectic, a term which indicates that these species are broad generalists that collect pollen from multiple families of plants.
Bees in Trinidad
Since I opened this post with a spectacular photograph of a blue bee, I thought I would be certain to note that Trinidad has a full complement of bee varieties including honeybees and wasps. The Neotropics bee fauna is very rich with 5000 recognised species, including 33 genera (391 species) of Meliponini, but it is estimated to be at least three fold greater in species richness. Deforestation, agriculture intensification and introduction/spread of exotic competing bee species are considered the main threats to most indigenous species, although other less obvious causes can affect the populations of some bee species locally. The majority of native eusocial bees of Central and South America are stingless bees, although only a few of them produce honey on a scale such that they are farmed by humans. There are only two species of Melipona in Trinidad/Tobago, Melipona trinitatis and Melipona favosa. The Mayan bees are famous for their docile nature, but they differ in other ways as well. Their colonies are much smaller, so while the productivity of an individual bee is similar to that of the European honey bee, a hive of melipona beechi will produce only 2–3 litres of honey per year. Their stinging cousins produce a whopping 50 litres per year, a factor that has contributed to their widespread cultivation. In a world obsessed with volume, that puts the peaceful melipona beechi at a severe disadvantage. Until you taste the honey. Then you realize that Melipona honey is the closest thing on earth to the nectar of the gods.
Parasitic Bee Species
The almost 20,000 bee species are recognized as belonging to a single family, the Apidae, classified in seven lineages—Andreninae, Apinae, Colletinae, Megachilinae, Melittinae and Stenotritinae and distributed in all continents except Antarctica. All bees feed on flower resources, but females of many species abandoned both pollen collecting and construction of nests for their own offspring. Instead they parasitize other bee species laying their eggs in provisioned nests. This relationship where the offspring of one species feed and develops in the food stored by a female of other species is called brood parasitism, or specifically in bees, cleptoparasitism or cleptoparasitic behavior. Cleptoparasitism has been reported in almost all bee lineages, excepting Mellitinae, but a special diversity is found in the long-tongued lineage (subfamilies Apinae and Megachilinae). Host associations in Ericrocidini and Rhathymini are still poorly documented. The hosts of Ctenioschelus, Eurytis and Hopliphora remain unknown. I have included these photographs mainly to show different types of bees but the parasitic behavior of some bees is of great interest to me.
Scarlet Peacock Butterfly
Anartia amathea, the brown peacock or scarlet peacock, is a species of nymphalid butterfly, found primarily in South America. This butterfly is very similar to the banded peacock or Anartia fatima, which primarily exists north of the range of Anartia amathea. The type locality is probably Suriname, and the species is found from Panama to Argentina; Grenada, Barbados and Antigua. It consumes nectar. It is reported as common in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, the Brazilian highlands, the eastern Amazon, the Guianas, Venezuela, and Panama, as well as Trinidad and other Caribbean islands. North American records are either in error or refer to strays. One of the flowers they like is lantana, one of my favorite flowers to grow in my butterfly garden. It is a great flower for butterfly gardens as many butterflies love it. There are some other flowers that are beautiful and interesting tropical ones like the purple popping pod, and Odontonema Cuspidatum, Indian Heliotrope and many more.
Parides, commonly called cattlehearts, is a genus of swallowtail butterflies in the family Papilionidae. They are found in the Americas (Neotropical ecozone in South America). The first description was in 1758 by Linnaeus. The wingspan is about 9 – 10 cm. The basic color of this butterfly is dark-brown or black. Red and green areas dominate the wings. The hind wings have no tails.
Small Postman Butterfly
Heliconius erato, or the red postman, is one of about 40 neotropical species of butterfly belonging to the genus Heliconius. It is also commonly known as the small postman, the red passion flower butterfly, or the crimson-patched longwing. It was described by Carl Linnaeus in his 1758 10th edition of Systema Naturae. Heliconius erato is a neotropical species, found from southern Texas to northern Argentina and Paraguay, and resides on the edges of tropical rainforests. It is philopatric, having a particularly restricted home range. In areas of dense population in Trinidad, some home ranges are only separated by 30 yards, but Heliconius erato rarely travels to neighboring home ranges. It is a pollen-feeding species, collecting from the Lantana camara flower. They do not spend much time or energy collecting nectar (only remaining for a few seconds). Instead, they collect pollen in a mass on the ventral side of their proboscis. They then agitate the pollen by coiling and uncoiling their proboscis in order to release its nutrients. H. erato is then able to extract nitrogenous compounds in a clear liquid, including amino acids like arginine, leucine, lysine, valine, proline, histidine, isoleucine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tryptophan. Females typically carry larger loads of pollen than males as females require more amino acids for egg production.
Perhaps the most internationally well-known Trinidad word coinage is the guppy, named after the local naturalist and Inspector of Schools R. Lechmere Guppy (1836–1916), who sent the first Trinidad specimens of this fish to the British Museum. This fish was long associated with Trinidad in the aquarium trade, often advertised and labeled Trinidad guppy. He also named a dark brown butterfly, Guppy’s Emesis, which I believe is the butterfly pictured above although there is little information on this topic. Some people feel that naming obscure animals and plants with equally obscure scientists/explorers is outdated and unnecessary. Let me be the first to say that these adventuresome and brave individuals who risked everything to go out and explore the world deserve and in fact are the reason for modern science. I just love to look up the life stories of people who named plants and animals that I am researching. I am inspired by their resilience, courage and perseverance to do things that the average inhabitants of the planet at whatever time, thought to be signs of mental incompetence. These intrepid explorers went to search out not riches, but truth and beauty in nature. In fact I believe that R. Lechmere Guppy Be named an international hero, with an international holiday, the namesake of the famous guppy and an educator to boot. I have many other candidates: Carl Linnaeus, Charles Darwin, John Fremont, John Muir, Florence Merriam, Johnny Appleseed, Caroline Dormon, Alexander von Humboldt and James Veitch to name just a very few. I probably will write a post on at least some of these exceptional individuals in the future.
Phoebis philea, the orange-barred sulphur, is a species of butterfly found in the Americas including the Caribbean. The wingspan is 2.6–3.1 inches (68–80 mm). There are two to three generations per year in Florida and one in the northern part of the range with adults on wing from mid to late summer. The species habitat is in tropical scrub, gardens, fields, and forest edges. Orange-barred sulphurs are often found in large dense groups of mixed species, including the Statira Sulphur (Aphrissa statira), Apricot Sulphur (Phoebis argante), and the Straight-Line Sulphur (Rhabdodryas trite). This spectacular butterfly is bright yellow above with a broad orange band crossing the forewings and also bordering the hindwings.
Phoebis sennae, the cloudless sulphur or cloudless giant sulphur, is a mid-sized butterfly in the family Pieridae found in the New World. There are several similar species such as the yellow angled-sulphur (Anteos maerula), which has angled wings, statira sulphur (Aphrissa statira), and other sulphurs, which are much smaller. Their range is wide, from South America to southern Canada, in particular southwestern Ontario. They are most common from Argentina to southern Texas, Georgia, and Florida, but are often visitors outside this range becoming more rare further north. Upper surface of male is lemon yellow with no markings. Female is yellow or white; outer edges of both wings with irregular black borders; upper forewing with dark spot in cell. Lower surface of hindwing of both sexes with 2 pink-edged silver spots.
Orthemis is a genus of large Neotropical dragonflies, commonly called Tropical King Skimmers. The males are generally red and the females brown. There are two major species in Orthemis. The Roseate Skimmer (Orthemis ferruginea) is a species dragonfly in the family Libellulidae. It is native to the Americas, where its distribution extends from the United States to Brazil. It is common and widespread. It is an introduced species in Hawaii. It behaves similarly to many king skimmers (Libellula), foraging from the top of tall vegetation. It is an aggressive predator taking insects only slightly smaller than itself. Males will regularly and vigorously patrol territories averaging 10 m. Males use their abdomens to ward off intruding males by bending the tip downwards. Orthemis discolor, known generally as the carmine skimmer or orange-bellied skimmer, is a species of skimmer in the dragonfly family Libellulidae. This one is brilliant pink, sometimes purplish, sometimes more red, with bright red eyes and face. Face and eyes typically as brightly colored or brighter than the body; compare to Roseate Skimmer, in which the eyes and face are usually darker than the body. It is quite similar to Roseate Skimmer, but has a brighter red face and eyes. In some cases, in-hand ID may be necessary to separate these similar species. The white stripe on the back may indicate a more rare species.
Pseudosphinx is a monotypic moth genus in the family Sphingidae first described by Hermann Burmeister in 1856. Its only species, Pseudosphinx tetrio, was first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1771. Its common names include tetrio sphinx, giant gray sphinx, frangipani hornworm, and plumeria caterpillar. In the island of Martinique it is best known as Rasta caterpillar (chenille rasta, in French) because of its colors which are reminiscent of the ones found in Rastafarian clothing and accessories. It is native to the tropical and subtropical Americas from the southern and southwestern United States to Brazil. The occasional individual has been recorded as far north as the northeastern United States. The species has been known to damage and defoliate Plumeria. Each caterpillar can consume three large leaves per day, and it will continue eating into the branches if it finishes the available foliage. Even in the case of defoliation, the species does not generally kill plants. The caterpillars are large and conspicuous and can be controlled by plucking them from the tree.
As always I hope you enjoyed the post, leave a comment if you are so inclined.