All posts by Jorge Bizarro

Butterfly rarity, Ortilia polinella, found at REGUA

Female <em>Ortilia polinella</em>, REGUA, 15 October 2013 (© Duncan McGeough)
Female Ortilia polinella, REGUA, 15 October 2013 (© Duncan McGeough)

Work on the next REGUA field guide, A Guide to the Butteflies of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil, is progressing at good pace, and with it lots of new knowledge about the local butterfly fauna, together with some novelties, new records from guests, and volunteers and visitor’s photographs have been consistently pouring in.

One notable rarity was found by Duncan McGeough, a volunteer from Germany in October 2013, just 30 metres from the REGUA office. Ortilia polinella (A. Hall, 1928), a crescent butterfly, is a cousin of the Glanville Fritillary Melitaea cinxia from Europe. Known from less than a half-dozen localities in the Brazilian states of Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo, and also very seldom found in collections (only three females and six males in the Natural History Museum, London) this was a superb find!

The photo depicts a worn female sun basking, probably in between short exploratory flights to find a suitable plant for ovipositing. Adults are mainly forest species that dwell in sunlit areas like trails, clearings, forest edges, etc. It’s biology is unknown, but other species in the genus use Justicia spp. as foodplants (Acanthaceae).

Further information about Ortilia polinella can be found here:

Duncan has also helped with the creation of the REGUA moth leaflet that guests can pick up at the lodge, featuring 60 common moths easily spotted at the moth wall.

Butterflies along the São José Trail

Catocyclotis aemulius (© Arnold Wijker)
Catocyclotis aemulius (© Arnold Wijker)
Mesosemia meeda (© Sandra Lamberts)
Mesosemia meeda (© Sandra Lamberts)

The São José Trail wanders inside secondary forest at least 50 years old, where bananas used to grow. It has many sunlit spots and small clearings along the main trail, which really favours the presence on nice perching spots of a plethora of both forest and canopy dwellers like butterflies, shield-bugs, robber flies, moths, and dragonflies, etc.

Last year I was privileged to accompany a couple of two excellent amateur nature photographers, Arnold Wijker and Sandra Lamberts, with a keen interest in butterflies and birds, for a walk on São José Trail. We spent a lovely morning walking the trail, butterfly watching and photographing from its beginning on the Brown Trail, all the way to the Rio do Gato and the water filter that belongs to the Kirin brewery and soft drink plant.

The highlight were the metalmarks (Riodinidae) seen. This family had its origin in South America, then expanded to the Old World Tropics and recolonised South America, where around 90% of existing species occur today. The metalmark family has seen the most new species records for REGUA since the first survey which finished in 2009, and this time we came back with some amazing records:

  • Calospila parthaon, a species officially known from the Amazon basin only, so this is a new state record! Seen on multiple days in the main trail.
  • Theope pedias, a new Três Picos State Park and REGUA record, and might also be a new state record. We found a small population near the water filter, with plenty of individuals flying lazily around the wet patches.
  • Mesosemia meeda, very rare, second ever record, and an unidentified female that tentatively belongs to this species, also bluish.
  • Catocyclotis aemulius, rare and at its southernmost distribution area here.

Other more common species seen were Juditha azan azan, Melanis unxia, Eurybia molochina and Leucochimona icare matatha.

More images can be found at https://Observation.org, and a paper about the Paleo-Biogeography and Phylogny of the Riodinidae butterfly family can be downloaded at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2015.08.006.

Small is Beautiful

The task of ‘checklisting’  butterfly fauna in tropical rainforests usually demands a lot of hours spent in the field.    Armed with a good camera, a pair of binoculars and sometimes a hand net or fermented fruit bait.

Panthiades phaleros L
Panthiades phaleros L. seen twice around the Lodge (© Jailson da Silva ‘Barata’)

Around 20-30% of the local butterfly species can be sampled in 5-7 days in the height of the flight season and in the correct habitats.   These are mostly common or easy to spot species, associated with natural or manmade disturbed and transition environments.

In the tropics the number of species is high but the same does not apply to the number of individuals found and populations, which can be quite scarce and elusive.   That is why developing a more complete list can take over five years of intensive field sampling.

The checklist starts with the big showy butterflies (Brushfooted, Whites, Swallowtails, Skippers), but with time it is the elusive tiny hairstreaks, metalmarks and skippers that slowly grow the list.    A close look at them really shows how intricate and beautiful the patterns of some of these creatures are.

At REGUA, new records for the butterfly checklist usually come from the ranks of Hairstreaks (Lycaenidae) and Metalmarks (Riodinidae), two closely related families.

The last new records have been mostly the fruit of our Lodge Guests’ photographic skills.    Often these species are more easy to see and photograph on hilltops feeding on flowers, along forest hedges or trails, while sunbasking at early morning, after sunrise and in sunny spots inside the tropical forest (clearings, streams and river margins).    Metalmarks are famous for coming back and perch on the same exact spot at a particular hour of the day, year after year.

Callephelis sp.nov R
Grassy open area Metalmark: Callephelis sp. nov R (© Richard & Siri White)

In REGUA, some places where these rainforest jewels can be seen more frequently are: hilltops (for example the trees around the Lodge swimming pool and at the top of the Red Trail), clearings and trail edges (i.e., parts of the Green Trail, Valdenoor’s open area, the São José Trail) and some old forest fragments (like the Onofre Cunha and Lengruber areas).

 

The Caledonia mountain excursion is another highlight for higher altitude species of Hairstreaks and Metalmarks, especially from February to late April.

Strymon ziba
Strymon ziba male perching at the top of the Red Trail (1004m) (© Jorge Bizarro)

Another interesting issue contributing to the checklist growth is the occurrence of very similar patterned species, sometimes even in very distinct genera, which once the confusion is sorted out can add another record to the list!

 

Ant mimic bugs

I’ve been inspired to write about a sighting just seven metres away from the REGUA office. What seemed to be a huge ant, never spotted here before, was photographed on a leaf. We currently have an inventory of ants being carried out by Rural Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ) researchers. To my surprise, close examination of the antennae and feeding apparatus from the photograph revealed this ‘odd’ ant to actually be hemipteran bug – an incredible ant mimic!

Nymph of Neotropical Soybean Bug <em>Neomegalotomus parvus</em> (© Jorge Bizarro)
Nymph of Neotropical Soybean Bug Neomegalotomus parvus (© Jorge Bizarro)

It has been identified as the nymph (juvenile stage) of the Neotropical Soybean Bug Neomegalotomus parvus (Westwood, 1842) (HEMIPTERA: Alydidae), or Percevejo Formigão in Portuguese.

According to Costa Lima’s Insetos do Brasil, only the immature stages are ant mimics. Alydidae bugs, or other primitive coreoids, are closely related to Leguminosae. They are not species-specific to any Leguminosae and feed on different leguminous plants (Schaefer 1980, Schaefer & Mitchell 1983), including soy beans, with potential to reach pest status.

In the field, adults were found on carrion and faeces of animals. In a soybean field in Bela Vista do Paraíso, PR, N. Parvus were found aggregating (30 to 40 individuals) in dog faeces at the time of soybean harvest. Alydidae may feed on faeces or carrion under extreme conditions when their primary food source (legumes) is not available.

The ecological reason for why the nymphs are perfect mimics of ants is still unknown. So here is an interesting theme for research.

References

LIMA, COSTA. 1940. Insetos do Brasil. 2 Tomo, Hemípteros, ESCOLA NACIONAL DE AGRONOMIA, SÉRIE DIDÁTICA N.º 3, figs. + 351 pp.

VENTURA, MAURÍCIO U., JOVENIL J. SILVA & ANTÔNIO R. PANIZZI. 2000. Scientific Note: Phytophagous Neomegalotomus parvus (Westwood) (Hemiptera: Alydidae) Feeding on Carrion and Feces. An. Soc. Entomol. Brasil 29: 839-841.

Androgeus Swallowtail, a new butterfly for the Três Picos State Park found at REGUA!

Egg of Androgeus Swallowtail <em>Heraclides androgeus laodocus</em> (© Jorge Bizarro)
Egg of Androgeus Swallowtail Heraclides androgeus laodocus (© Jorge Bizarro)

On 12 January I decided to read on the veranda of Volunteer House 3. Just after the rain stopped, my attention was caught by something that looked like Battus crassus, an Aristolochia vine feeding Troidini swallowtail not common in this time of the year, or its smaller mimic Heliconius sara apseudes. But something seemed not to fit, so I stayed seated on my chair observing the butterfly insistently circling the Lime tree and noticed there were no flowers at all on it. Oh oh, this could be a female laying eggs? But wait a minute, Battus swallowtails don’t lay eggs on Citrus trees! With this ‘Red alert’ I got up and ran to see closer.

It vanished for a while, came back and perched for a minute on a top branch, close enough to see that the forewing looked like Battus crassus, but the hindwing had a series of blue lunules, absent from the mentioned trodin. I couldn’t figure out what it might be, not a Mimoides sp. because these have red dots on the body and lay eggs on Annona and Lauraceae, so it just came to my mind that it could be something that I have never seen in 17 years of living in Brazil, a female of Heraclides androgeus laodocus! It came back twice and I saw it lay one egg. I was so excited that I forgot to run for the camera and then it vanished. I have found five eggs. I’m going to try to rear a couple of the eggs laid in the lab, and see if I can get nice pictures of the recently emerged adults. This is for sure a gorgeous butterfly, and only 15 m from the REGUA administration office!

This is not only a new REGUA record, but also new for the Três Picos State Park – PETP! I have seen just one male in Boca do Mato, above Cachoeiras on the road to Nova Friburgo. The male is huge, even larger than Heraclides thoas brasiliensis, the species more commonly seen sipping water from mud around the wetlands.

Further information on Androgeus Swallowtail Heraclides androgeus laodocus:
https://www.butterfliesofamerica.com/L/heraclides_androgeus_laodocus.htm

New Butterflies at REGUA

<em>Adelotypa bolena</em>, Elfin Forest Trail, REGUA (&copy; Katarina Samara)
Adelotypa bolena, Elfin Forest Trail, REGUA (© Katarina Samara)
Male <em>Semomesia geminus</em>, REGUA (© REGUA)
Male Semomesia geminus, REGUA (© REGUA)
Male <em>Dachetola azora</em>, REGUA (© REGUA)
Male Dachetola azora, REGUA (© REGUA)
Female Dachetola azora, Pico da Caledônia (© REGUA)
Female Dachetola azora, Pico da Caledônia (© REGUA)

Although chordate animals (those true vertebrates having a dorsal nerve) draw more attention from the general public, the smaller universe of arthropods such as insects, spiders, scorpions and crustaceans constantly surprise and provide us with an equally bewildering diverse and beautiful selection of animals. The diffusion and popularity of digital photography has just recently brought this peculiar world to the eyes of the general public and interest on these smaller creatures. We will now post some news on some interesting or rare bugs seen at REGUA, starting with the sighting of a couple rare small and delightful butterflies from the metalmark family (Riodinidae).

The top of the Red (Elfin Forest) Trail has been providing new records in the last couple of years for REGUA, the Três Picos State Park and even the state of Rio de Janeiro. Butterflies use this forested mount for their practice of ‘hilltoping’, an insect behaviour that seeks to facilitate the finding of mates, perching places, etc, in populations of fewer individuals rather scattered over a large territory.

The first new record for REGUA, know previously only from Teresópolis, is this superb yellow Adelotypa bolena butterfly. This specimen was photographed by Katarina Samara on the top of the Red Trail, a graduate student from Manchester Metropolitan University while doing some research on Blue Manakin populations.

The second new specimen was a small Morpho, Semomesia geminus, a new state record, now seen and photographed three times at REGUA: top of Red Trail and nearby Elfin Forest (September 2010), Green Trail (November 2011) and recently on the Schincariol-São Jose Trail (June).

Another rarity and new record at REGUA was seen and photographed on a shortcut of the Brown Trail (August) around the bird lodge. This small brown with orange edged Dachetola azora, is a male perching on a hilly secondary dry forest area. In March, a female was also found during an expedition to the Caledonia peak.

Rare Godart’s Agrias butterfly sighted at REGUA

Godart’s Agrias <em>Agrias claudina</em>, Guapiaçu, September 2011 (© Robert Locke)
Godart’s Agrias Agrias claudina, Guapiaçu, September 2011 (© Robert Locke)

The genus Agrias Doubleday, 1844 (Nymphalidae: Charaxinae) is commonly believed to be one of the gems of Neotropical butterflies. They are well known for their intense colours but sadly an object for collections. These Charaxine butterflies are powerful flyers and mostly spend their time on the forest canopies living on a diet of primarily fruit. An example in Europe of this family is the “Rajah” or Charaxes jasius (Linnaeus, 1767).

Only one species occurs in south and south-east Brazil, that being the Agrias claudina (Godart, 1824), with two subspecies, one A. c. anetta (Gray, 1832) from the Atlantic Forest and the other A. c. godmani (Fruhstorfer, 1895) found in the Cerrado of central Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro the former species was frequently seen in Tijuca forest and around Jacarepagua but with forest loss and more urban expansion the last state record was from Guapimirim, where it was collected by Henry Pearson in the 1970s.

We were most excited to learn of two recent photographic records of Agrias claudina which were taken almost simultaneously, the first by Richard Raby, taken at his Marica lodge of a male in January this year and the other at REGUA some 80 kilometres away by Robert Locke last September (see picture right), just by his courtyard in Guapiaçu, feeding on Pitanga fruits (Eugenia sp.). The males have sharpened folded forewings and totally atrophied front legs that characterize their preference for flight rather than a more sedentary existence.

Further information on Godart’s Agrias Agrias claudina:
http://www.learnaboutbutterflies.com/Amazon%20-%20Agrias%20claudina.htm
http://www.butterfliesofamerica.com/L/agrias_claudina_lugens.htm

REGUA’s plant nursery plays an unexpected role for butterflies

Marsyas Hairstreak <em>Pseudolycaena marsyas</em>, REGUA, 29 March 2011 (© Jorge Bizarro)
Marsyas Hairstreak Pseudolycaena marsyas, REGUA, 29 March 2011 (© Jorge Bizarro)
Marsyas Hairstreak <em>Pseudolycaena marsyas</em>, REGUA, 29 March 2011 (© Jorge Bizarro)
Marsyas Hairstreak Pseudolycaena marsyas, REGUA, 29 March 2011 (© Jorge Bizarro)

The old plant nursery of REGUA was located near a small stream and surrounded by secondary and riparian forest, making it a very attractive playground for all kinds of insects, such as butterflies. Actually, it was an excellent spot to observe the rather elusive metalmarks (Riodinidae) and magnificent hairstreaks (Lycaenidae). It was not unusual to see female butterflies ovipositing on the young tree saplings, attracted by the tender leaves and shots; a couple of new REGUA records were found by rearing some of those caterpillars.

Last year REGUA’s nursery was moved to an open sunny area, by the side of the reserve main gates, thus potentially becoming less attractive for the mentioned arthropod fauna. So, on 29 March it was quite a surprise and joy to see a female of one of the largest south American hairstreaks, Marsyas Hairstreak or Cambridge Blue Pseudolycaena marsyas (Linnaeus, 1758), a flying ‘piece of the Sky’ – laying eggs on seedlings of at least three different species of Leguminosae (Pterocarpus violaceus, Inga sp. and Mimosa sp.). Not only is REGUA planting forest, but the saplings are moved to the field already carrying some of its related insect fauna!

Further information on Marsyas Hairstreak Pseudolycaena marsyas:
https://www.learnaboutbutterflies.com/Amazon%20-%20Pseudolycaena%20marsyas.htm

A new Metalmark discovered in REGUA (Lepidoptera: Riodinidae)?

Unidentified metalmark species (© Alan Martin)
Unidentified metalmark species (© Alan Martin)

Rio de Janeiro is one of the best researched states in Brazil concerning the inventory of its flora and fauna, even so new taxa pop up from time to time and some groups, like the Arthropoda, or some areas are still poorly represented in state checklists.

Being a connoisseur in butterflies, around May 2010, Jorge spotted what seemed to be an unknown blackish metalmark of the genus Symmachia – remarkable among other characters by the ‘bent’ shape of its anterior forewing margin – when inspecting the saplings of the old REGUA nursery for butterfly caterpillars. Without a net and a camera at hand, the bug went unidentified with the hope of finding it soon again, given the notorious metalmark habit of coming back to the same spots at the same hours of the day, generation after generation.

Therefore, did it happen, on 25 March 2011 a Symmachia specimen was seen and netted while hill toping and perching near the lodge swimming pool. This time it was photographed indoors. Investigation is still going on, but its identity has been established as related to Symmachia probetor (Stoll, 1782), a remarkable range extension for what is usually taken as a central American/Amazonian species, not only seems to be new for REGUA, the Três Picos State Park area or Rio de Janeiro State itself, but for the whole south and eastern part of Brazil. The question if it might be an undescribed subspecies or the nominotypical race is still being addressed and investigated. A visit to the Museu Nacional (UFRJ) collection is scheduled to inspect the Symmachia holdings and check the records from the available label data.

Findings like this, more than exciting, highlight the faintness of our knowledge of tropical faunas, even in the best or historically sampled territories. Novelty can be lurking in places not as far as remote Amazonian areas, the Congolese forests or the Papuan mountains, the difference being on the speed at which what is left of this rich Biodiversity near human settlements is vanishing before it can even be registered. This remarkable record was found about a two hour drive from the second largest Brazilian metropolis and main tourist hub, and is a showcase on the importance of the conservation work carried out by the REGUA project.