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.
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.
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.
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:
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.