Monday, April 22, 2013

April 15, 2013 Butterfly Monitoring

Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes)
The conditions were damp to wet but mostly clear and calm and 69 degrees when we set out at 9:30 A.M on this spring day. In Transect A (the Dam transect), we counted nine Phaon Crescents (Phyciodes phaon, Nymphalidae family), three Dainty Sulphurs (Nathalis iole), and three Palamedes Swallowtails (Papilio palamedes, Papilionidae family), an equal number of Palamedes in Transect B (the freshwater marsh trail) and twelve Palamedes in Transect D (perhaps because the red bay in this transect appear healthier than last year at this time). Great Southern Whites (Ascia monuste, Pieridae family) were observed in three transects:  fifteen in Transect A, eight in Transect C (the Salicornia transect) and two in Transect D (the upland red bay transect).
We spotted one Monarch (Danaus plexippusNymphalidae family) and ten Cloudless Sulphurs (Phoebis sennae, Pieridae family) in Transect A,
Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)
A single Viceroy (Limenitis archippus, Nymphalidae family) was seen in Transect C. The Viola’s Wood Satyr (Megisto cymela, Nymphalidae family) was present again this month - fourteen in Transect D and one in Transect C.

Dusky Pygmy rattlesnake
We are always on the lookout for other wildlife when we search for butterflies; a Six-lined Racerunner lizard (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus) was observed. We steered clear of the Dusky Pygmy rattlesnake, (Sistrurus miliarius barbouri) which can be found throughout Florida,  This species usually lives near water sources like swamps, marshes and creeks, although it can also be found in forested areas and often lives in gopher tortoise burrows. Adults measure only 15 to 22 inches and the record length is only 31.5 inches. Other common names for the pygmy rattlesnake are “pygmy rattler” and “ground rattler.” Their color is light gray to dark gray with irregular black blotches. There is also a series of reddish brown to orange blotches running down the back that may be more distinct near the head. On some specimens, these spots may be very muted. 
The pupil is vertical (catlike) and there is a deep facial pit between the nostril and the eye.
This snake is a pit viper and although the pygmy’s bite is typically not fatal, it has a predominantly hemotoxic venom that can be extremely painful.

To see the data reporting details, check out the condensed version of our census data on the Volunteer Project Homepage.

Following our expedition, we were treated to a presentation in the GTM NERR Environmental Education Center Auditorium on Florida Butterflies, with Dr. Jaret Daniels, assistant professor of entomology at the University of Florida and assistant curator of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera Biodiversity. Some fascinating facts in the presentation were the relationship of Florida carpenter ants (Camponotus floridanus) to the Miami Blue butterfly (Cyclargus thomasi bethunebakeri) and the salt tolerance of the Eastern Pygmy Blue butterfly (Brephidium pseudofea).  
Miami Blue (Cyclargus thomasi bethunebakeri) 

Miami Blue butterflies have larval associations with the Florida carpenter ant. Population studies confirm that Miami Blue larvae are tended by these ants in a mutualistic symbiosis. Ants protect the larvae from natural enemies in return for sugar-rich secretions that the larvae produce to attract and retain their ant guards.  In Dr. Daniels’ experiments, Miami Blue larvae raised with Florida Carpenter ants were significantly more likely to pupate in the ant harborage. 
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission added the Miami Blue to the state’s endangered species list in November 2003 providing the impetus for the start of an aggressive conservation and recovery effort. Researchers from the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the University of Florida have successfully reared the Miami blue in captivity. The captive colony has produced more than 22,000 individuals with wild reintroductions into the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. 
We aren’t likely to see the Miami Blue in northeast Florida, but we do see the Eastern Pygmy blue, our smallest butterfly, usually during the hot summer.  Their larvae are able to survive even when completely submerged under the estuarine tides, on their glasswort (salicornia europaea) intertidal salt marsh host plant, which is often under brackish water. 
Dr Daniels’ presentation highlighted the importance of our work and our reporting of data to the Florida Butterfly Monitoring Network.  Butterfly census data can be related to scientific studies of climate change, invasive species, and other environmental concerns.  Dr. Daniels praised the dedicated work of our volunteers and the longevity of our involvement in this project. The Florida Butterfly Monitoring Network (FBMN) is a statewide citizen scientist program that trains public volunteers and directly engages university scientists, zoological institution staff members, and conservation land managers in field-based conservation and education targeting butterflies. Established in 2003 by the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the University of Florida in cooperation with Disney's Animal Programs, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Butterfly Conservation Initiative (BFCI), the FBMN provides a collaborative vehicle to help protect Florida’s dwindling butterfly populations.

1 comment:

  1. It's lovely to hear that there are butterflies flying elsewhere around the world. Those are lovely pictures. I am very fond of blues, but the Palamedes Swallowtail is beautiful. I haven't seen that before. Still no butterflies on my transect here and I have only seen one this year!! It must surely warm up soon!