All posts by Jorge Bizarro

Butterfly rarity

Ortilia polinella
Female Ortilia polinella, REGUA, 15 October 2013 (© Duncan McGeough)

Work on the next REGUA field guide, Observation Guide to the Butterflies of the Serra dos Órgãos, 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, 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!

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). The photo depicts a worn female sun basking, probably in between short exploratory flights to find a suitable plant for ovipositing.

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 in the moth wall.

Further information about Ortilia polinella can be found here:

Type specimens photos: http://butterfliesofamerica.com/L/t/Ortilia_polinella_a.htm

Higgins revision of Phyciodes/Ortilia: http://archive.org/stream/bulletinofbritis43entolond#page/119/mode/1up

Walking on the São José Trail

The São José trail wanders gently 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, dragonflies, etc.

Catocyclotis aemulius
Catocyclotis aemulius (© Arnold Wijker)

Last year I was privileged to accompany a couple of two excellent ‘amateur’ nature photographers – Arnold and Sandra – with a keen interest in butterflies and birds for a walk in that 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 was the metalmark (Riodinidae). 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:

  • Mesosemia meeda
    Mesosemia meeda (© Sandra Lamberts)

    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 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)

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

Jorge Bizarro

With grateful thanks to Arnold Wijker and Sandra Lamberts.   More images can be found at :  https://Observation.org

For further reading:
REGUA and Tres Picos State Park preliminary list of butterflies:
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/62403691/Soares-et-al.pdf

Paper about the Paleo-Biogeography and Phylogny of the Riodinidae butterfly family:
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.