These conspicuous brick-red butterflies with shiny black stripes and a variable number of white dots belong in the subfamily Danainae of the Brush Footed butterflies (Nymphalidae). Most of the genera in this group fly in tropical Africa and Indo-Australasian regions, being mainly blackish, creamy and greenish-white. However, the genus Danaus features mostly large bright brick-red species in the Americas with a couple of exceptions in the Old World. They are long lived migratory butterflies with the Monarch being worldwide famous for its yearly massive migrations between Canada and central Mexico.
These butterflies are a popular model among researchers who study biochemical inset-plant relationships due to the easiness in rearing them under laboratory conditions in large numbers. Danaus species retain some of the toxic secondary chemical compounds of their food-plants which protect them from predators during their adult life span. Daniela has been researching these relations for decades going back to UNICAMP and the group that specializes in these insect-plant interactions there. Ever since she moved on to the UFRJ in Rio de Janeiro she continued her research in REGUA and our region where both Danaus erippus and D. gilippus (slightly smaller and with more white dots than previous) are common dwellers. Their larvae feed locally on Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), a perennial weedy plant occurring in sunny areas along roads, trails and open field plantations. Recently, a new foreign species of Asclepias arrived in some coastal areas in Brazil raising some questions and she is now testing how well Danaus erippus larvae perform on it in terms of growth rate and survival.
For our guests and nature photography visitors enthusiastic for Insects and Arachnids, a popular spot to visit while in REGUA is the Onofre Cunha forest fragment. It is one of the largest lowland forest fragments extant in the area but grossly cut in two pieces by the Funchal tarmac road. It has been selectively logged, hunted and some areas have been degraded by surrounding farm field activities but nevertheless it still boasts many interesting, rare or hard to see species with some regularity (the opposite of reforested areas exhibiting much arthropod population fluctuations) and many new records over the years originated there.
So, no wonder that after 12 years of regularly visiting, screening and recent monitoring of butterflies in the Cunha fragment, the most localised and rare of South America’s Emperor Butterflies (genus Doxocopa) just showed up very quickly and displayed itself sun basking in a sunny trail spot during early morning just enough to be photographed. Doxocopa laurona is an endemic Atlantic Forest species known only from a few widely scattered localities from sea level to below around 900 m across south-east Brazil: Rio Doce valley (MG and ES states), Petropolis (type locality) and coastal hills in the lakes area around Saquarema and Cabo Frio (RJ), Antonina (PR) and Joinville (SC).
The photo depicts an unmistakable male of Doxocopa laurona which belongs to a group of four species where both sexes are mimetic of Adelpha Sister Butterflies (usually only Doxocopa females resemble Adelpha) with the males of 3 species bearing a peculiar purple-violet sheen under a certain opening wing angle. So, it is easy distinguished from males of the more common and widespread Doxocopa linda where both sexes are purple less. Curiously, this late species flies together over the entire tropical continental area, overlapping with the other 3 taxa featuring purple males which are curiously mutually exclusive taxa that do not overlap their flying areas. This is probably because the purple colours of the males are secondary sexual characters that help females in choosing the proper conspecific male thus avoiding hybridization between distinct species. So D. linda is the only species that flies together with others in this group and locally shares territory with D. laurona.
On the same day a female was spotted during the routine monitoring walk in the same trail and thought to be Doxocopa linda, but as it turned out, it now could be either this or a female of D. laurona because females are devoid of purple colours and are look very similar.
Some ant species are able to carry seeds to their nests and there these seeds germinate, grow and develop. Species like Pachycondyla striata and Odontomachus chelifer are already known for these interactions.
In this new part of the project, PhD researcher Bianca Laviski and her friend Mariana Romanini Menezes (who helps her on her field outings) are investigating whether ants of the species Ectatomma permagnum are also able to alter the richness and abundance of seedlings around their nests.
Once the species’ nest have been located, the number of seedlings both close and far from it is counted. The evaluation of this survey can determine whether this ant species contributes to the dynamics of forest regeneration. This weekend was Bianca’s and Mariana’s last day at REGUA having completed their field work.
It has been two years of dedicated effort with data collecting especially in forested areas of different successional stages.
Bees play a fundamental role on the planet contributing to plant reproduction and the maintenance of life. Their work is present in our daily lives, in our food and even in the use of cosmetics. Bees also contribute enormously to the conservation of forests. Currently these insects are suffering great losses either by extensive use of pesticides, climate change or habitat loss.
Considering this situation, there is a real need to preserve more flowering plants that attract bees worldwide.
Bees can use floral resources, such as pollen, nectar, oils and resins to feed themselves, build nests and nourish their larvae. They can also collect floral scents that help in their reproduction.
With this in mind, the National Museum – UFRJ will be carrying out a research at REGUA to identify which herbaceous plants are attractive to bees and which resources are being offered by these plants. The results of this study will further our understanding of forests´ and bees´ conservation at REGUA.
There have been 110 species of hawkmoth recorded in the Serra dos Orgaos and only a further four in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
A recent visit to REGUA by Alan Martin in March 2020 added the 80th hawkmoth species for REGUA, Aellopos ceculus, a day flying moth somewhat similar to the European Hummingbird Hawkmoth Macroglossum stellatarum. It was found laying eggs only a few hundred metres from the lodge.
A further 14 species have been found and photographed close to REGUA, but at higher altitudes than are easily reached within the reserve. Some expeditions to add some of these to the list along with some of the high altitude bird species has to be a priority for future visits.
Paul Hopkins and Magnus Billqvist stayed at the REGUA lodge from Jan 23 until Feb 13. During almost the first half of their trip they were joined by Agnes Ludwig and Tom Kompier. The weather was somewhat wet and cold, but nevertheless the tour turned up 152 species out of the 208 that have now been recorded from the Guapiacu catchment. The discovery of a new damsel for the REGUA list, Aceratobasis macilenta, was very exciting, but there were several other remarkable records or developments.
The swamp at the bottom of the hill on which the lodge is situated, near the office buildings, was wet throughout the stay. It is still the only confirmed site for Brown-striped Spreadwing Lestes tricolor in the area, but holds easily 25 species within its 30×15 m area. Amongst these are sought after species like the Flame-tip Telagrion longum and Brazilian Blue-eye Anatya januaria, both often found emerging there, but it now also holds a good population of Caribbean Duskhawker Triacanthagyna caribbea and the rarely encountered Silver-clouded Dragonlet Erythrodiplax laurentia. This little area is constantly evolving and never ceases to amaze.
The wetland itself is also evolving, with some of the pioneer species that were very common in previous years losing ground to species that likely require less disturbed habitat. This means that the Erythemis species, although still present, are much scarcer. Several years back Pin-tailed Pondhawk E. plebeja would pick off the flies accompanying Ode lovers at virtually every step, but now you have to search for it. Rainpool Spreadwing Lestes forficula, previously abundant and one of the commonest species, was almost completely gone. On the other hand, Guiana Spiderlegs Planiplax phoenicura is now really common and has been joined by the rarer Scarlet Spiderlegs Planiplax arachne, and previously common Bow-tailed Dasher Micrathyria catenata has been largely replaced by Square-spotted Dasher M. ocellata.
At the nearby forest fragment of Onofre Cunha, the recently described Regua Pincertip Forcepsioneura regua was still regular, and exciting as always.
The Green Trail up to the Waterfall was excellent as usual. It turned out to be a particularly good year for the Long-tailed Bromeliad Guard Leptagrion perlongum with dozens seen at the beginning of the trail. Further up a copula of Cinnamon Flatwing Heteragrion sp. was a first, and even more exciting was that is was seen to subsequently oviposit in a shallow forest stream, verifying its suspected habitat.
The fishponds at Vecchi remain excellent, although the Large Pond seems to suffer from disturbance. This possibly explains the apparent complete absence of Slender Redskimmer Rhodopygia hollandi, which used to be a common species here. During our visits we observed a very late Green Forceptail Phyllocycla pallida, which previously had not been recorded after early December. A female Silver-clouded Dragonlet Erythrodiplax laurentia here was another surprise. The small ponds again turned up such excellent species as the enigmatic Mantled Skimmer Edonis helena.
One of the most exciting observations was done at the Tres Picos area, where several Chagas’s Emeralds Neocordulia carlochagasi was observed patrolling. This area appears to be a good location for this rare species, with observations in several years now. Another specialty of this area is White-fronted Sylph Macrothemis capitata, which has now been found consistently for several years at the start of the trail up.
Although not achieving the maximum score of the 2018 tour (166), partly because fewer locations were visited and partly because of weather and luck, the result proved once more that any visitor in the right season can expect to see more species of dragonfly here than recorded from the whole of Europe, and with much more ease.
On 26 January Tom Kompier, accompanied by fellow Odonatologists Magnus Billqvist, Paul Hopkins and Agnes Ludwig, visited the large pond at Vecchi, where he caught and photographed a fresh female of a damselfly species unknown to him. Back at the lodge the riddle was solved using the excellent Damselfly Genera of the New World by Garrison et al. (2010).
This mystery damsel was a member of the genus Aceratobasis. This genus is endemic to the Atlantic Forest, with four known species largely restricted to the lowlands. Although recorded from Rio de Janeiro state, it had so far not been confirmed from REGUA.
I quickly wrote to Natalia von Ellenrieder, who provided a paper she wrote with Rosser Garrison in 2008 with additional information on the genus. The specimen turned out to be Aceratobasis macilenta, the smaller of two very similar species. As these damsels, unlike many of their fellow Coenagrionids, hang of leaves and twigs, “Pendant” seems an apt name.
A second visit a few days later failed to turn up more specimens, but luckily a third visit on 5 February by Magnus, Paul and Susan Loose produced a mature male and a mature female, of which Paul was able to take some great photos. It looks like a small population has gained a foothold in the area!
Jorge Bizarro REGUA’s Research Co-ordinator and Lepidopterist recently found this interesting creature. We initially thought it was a Mantis and sent the photograph through to our friends in the Projeto Mantis Research Group.
Leo Lanna from the team sent back his excited reply:
“This is amazing find and actually, it is not a praying mantis! I know it looks just like a Mantis, but it actually belongs to another insect order, the Neuroptera. The family pays homage to mantises – it is called Mantispidae – and they are an amazing example of convergent evolution. This means that different evolution pressures led them to develop similar structures. They do hunt with their raptorials, like mantises, but you can notice some differences, especially the way they fold their wings, which are located on the sides of the animal, not over it. The wings are also more translucid.
Take a look at the eyes too. Mantispidae always have a beautiful, coloured pattern when you take a picture with flash, like a star or rainbow. Mantises have plain compound eyes with the fake pupil effect, not this colourful one.
We usually find a green, tiny species, from genus Zeugomantispa. We once found a huge one at Tijuca Forest, from genus Climaciella, but neither look like this one.
Thanks for sharing these findings!”
What a great find, on reading more I found that Mantispidae are also known as Mantid lacewings or mantis-flies in some parts of the world.
Thanks also to Leo and his team for encouraging us to continue to research the amazing creatures of the forests at REGUA.
Jorge appeared the other morning asking me to photograph an interesting Praying Mantis which he hadn’t seen before. “We have to get this to the Mantis team”, he said.
So I sent photographs and a description off to Leonardo Lanna of the research team researching Praying Mantis at REGUA.
Biologist Leo Lanna of the Mantis team said “This is a male of Eumusonia genus, a grass mantis. We’ve registered them on our visits – what is cool is that REGUA is the only place where we see a great variation in the males colours. They are described as brown, but we’ve seen yellow and green ones, and this is the first one we have seen that is brown with green legs.
They live among grasses and tiny bushes, as well as leaf litter, mainly on more open areas, like fields and trail borders. You can easily identify them by the triangle segment on the tip of their abdomen. Males and females share this triangle-shaped segment though females have no wings. We discovered a healthy population in the garden of Casa da Pesquisa (REGUA’s research house) when we were there in 2017 and now in March we’ve found many more, from small ones to adult males and females. We didn’t find in any other area of the reserve, though, but this will definitely add to our work..”
It is so gratifying to receive news back from Leonardo, and exciting that REGUA is the first place where they have seen this colour variation. Leonardo is so enthusiastic, interested and generous with his time in providing valuable feedback. This encourages us to keep our eyes alert in the hope of finding another species..
The Oswaldo Cruz Institute for Tropical Diseases (often referred to as FioCruz) is of global renown, considered one of the world’s leading public health research institutions. The Institute has been leading research and saving lives for many decades.
Recently, we received three researchers very interested in hanging insect traps designed to capture mosquitoes. Maycom Neves, Tiago and Agostingho Perreira are researching two species that are not known in their larvae stage. Interestingly enough one species, Wyeomyia knabi, first collected by Teobald in Cachoeiras de Macacu and sent to UK in 1901 was named after his beloved Wye College where he had studied.
Our researchers are looking for the young or their stages as larvae. Sabethes forattteniiis another species that has been collected at REGUA but not very well known. Neither are a transmitter of diseases, but the FioCruz is always concerned with public health and lead research efforts into the lives of our friendly mosquitoes amongst many other creatures.
After this brief introduction, I will certainly look out for these amazing creatures.
Michael Patrikeev, a long standing friend and supporter of REGUA is always coming up with amazing information on his sightings while at the Reserve. The latest concerns two species of large grasshopper found at REGUA. Here’s Michael’s report and excellent photographs.
“I have identified two species of Tropidacris from REGUA
Tropidacris cristata (Giant Red-winged Grasshopper) is the largest known grasshopper, reaching up to 14 cm in length, and 24 cm wingspan. The adults are olive or brownish-green, with orange hindwings. The nymphs are striped with black and yellow, and likely toxic. This species inhabits forested areas of Central and South America from southern Mexico to northern Argentina, and the island of Trinidad. In flight it resembles a small bird.
Tropidacris collaris (Giant Violet-winged Grasshopper) is found in tropical forests and grasslands of South America east of the Andes, from Colombia to Argentina. Along with T. cristata, this is one of the largest known grasshoppers (length around 10 cm, wingspan 18 cm). The adult is mostly green, yellow-green or brown, with blue hindwings. This species is more common than T. cristata.
I have photographed only nymphs of these species in REGUA, but would expect one of these to come to a light at the Reserve sooner or later – they are quite a sight!”
Both species are widely distributed in the Neotropics, and common. T. collaris occurs in both forests and savanna, and T. cristata is mostly a forest species.”
More details and photos can be seen on Michael’s website here:
The family of Treehoppers otherwise known as Membracidae is made up of more than 3,500 species.
Treehoppers evolved from the order Hemiptera (from the Greek “halfwings”) cousins to many other winged insects. Treehoppers are mostly found in the tropical world and instantly draw the attention from passers-by with their incongruous shapes and especially protruding head gear, called “pronotum.”
They use the pronotum to mimic thorns on the branches they live on, preventing predators from seeing them. This is not their only source of defence however.
Treehoppers feed on plant sap by drilling into plant stems. As a result, a sugary substance called “honeydew” is secreted. The honeydew is an important food source for a variety of ants, bees and wasps. In return presence of the ants, bees and wasps keeps predators away and is a direct benefit of their symbiotic relationship.
Some species of Treehopper also have a well-developed ant mutualism, and these species are normally gregarious, helping to attract ever more ants to protect them.
The Treehopper pictured was found with others in the INEA Nursery in Trajano de Morais, around 100km from here, where we have picked up seedlings. I have identified the Genus as Heteronotus , confirmed by Dr. Lewis Deitz.
After this brief introduction, I’m sure you will want to visit and look out for these amazing creatures. I certainly can’t wait to find more!!
Ed: To see the symbiosis in action see Nicholas’ video here.
The expedition was a huge success! REGUA was found to have the highest diversity of mantises of any single area of the Atlantic Forest and the team found what is most likely new and undescribed species of unicorn mantis of the genus Zoolea.
They also found not one by two males of the mythical Brazilian Dragon Mantis Stenophylla cornigera – one of the rarest species of praying mantis in the world, and took the first photos and video ever of this species.
Bees are divided into four principal families; the Bumblebee (Bombus), Honey bee (Apis), Stingless bees (Meliponinae) and the ultra-cool looking Orchid bees (Euglossine), which are coated in metallic armour.
For millions of years, the South American continent was free of the Apis family, but early South American colonists brought the European Apis bees in the early 1500’s, leading to production of honey and a thriving business that today sees both Argentina and Brazil as the largest global producers.
In the 1970’s, an African honey queen bee escaped captivity and bred with the European species forming a hardier and aggressive sub-species that is found throughout the continent. Habitat loss has led to much damage to the native stingless bee populations which represent the pollinators of the majority of the 20 thousand Atlantic Rainforest plant species. There are thought to be close to 400 stingless bee species in existence within this biome, but with the habitat loss their populations have collapsed.
REGUA is keen to reinstate their importance to local community and farmers and when UERJ University students, Denilson da Silva and his partner Rita de Cássia made contact, we quickly jumped to the opportunity of placing a couple of hives here at REGUA.
Jesimar Medici, vice president of the non-profit Civic Association of Meliponicultors “AME-Rio” approved the project and three hives arrived in December.
We now wait and see what will happen and if successful, encourage the farming community to get involved and hopefully place further hives around the watershed. This could have an amazing outcome for this remarkable bee!
As faithful followers of the illustrious Dr. Edward O. Wilson, we are always keen to learn about Ants and when Professor Jarbas Queiroz from the Rio de Janeiro Rural University visited wanting to study Formicidae at REGUA, we could not have been happier.
Jarbas’ soft way of speaking only made us more intrigued about this very special group of insects, which many consider the pillar of tropical ecosystems. Surprises were in store for Raquel and myself, when after 30 years living here, we only knew of three species of ants; Fireants or Solenopsis, the Azteca family of ants living in hollow Cecropias and the famous leaf cutters of the Atta and Acromyrmex genus.
Imagine our surprise when he said there must be at least 400 species present at REGUA alone. It didn’t take long to suggest that we put together a field guide with the most common species to help those interested in their identification.
Jarbas presented Biology student Eder Cleyton Barbosa to us and Eder took to his study like a duck to water. So far Eder has identified 120 species, bringing together a rich text and superb photos. Eder is very talented and aside visiting a well-known laboratory at Curitiba Paraná to identify many species, he thinks he may have a new species.
With a few more field trips, he should have the material needed to publish his book which will be terrific to help us determine species, habit and their behaviour.
If you want to come and study Formicidae here at REGUA we would be only too pleased to receive you! Please get in touch.
Raquel and I were busy having dinner after a good day’s work, when a large beetle crashed into our table. We didn’t recognise it, but upon consulting Celso Godinho Jnr’s field guide of Beetles of the World, we found it to be a fine example of the Flat-faced Longhorn beetle, or Taeniotes subocellatus of the Cerambycidae family.
It was first collected in 1792, making it the second discovered Taeniotes beetle, as named by Guillaume-Antoine Olivier, one of Frances most prestigious naturalists in his own important reference book.
This species is found as far north as Guyana in August / September coinciding with the same month it came to us for dinner.
Michael Patrikeev, a long-standing friend and supporter of REGUA, sent this amazing photograph of stingless bees, Scaptotrigona xanthotricha, also known as Yellow Mandaguari. Along with this explanation of the behaviour taking place:
“This species, restricted to the Atlantic Forest of the south-east Brazil, inhabits primary and mature secondary humid forest, where it builds nests in cavities and crevices in trees.
The image shows the bees guarding the elaborate structures at the entrance to their nest. These structures, resembling tree fungi, are made of wax.
Note the claw marks below the nest on the left. These bees are known to produce a good quality honey, and perhaps some mammal raided the nest earlier.”
This is just one of the multitude of forest species protected in REGUA. Each piece of information we find continues to reinforce the importance of the work which the REGUA Team and its supporters make possible.
The Mantis Project is made up of Brazilian biologists Leonardo Lanna, Savio Cavalcante, João Felipe Herculano and designer Lucas Fiat, who are very keen on insects.
They met at UNIRIO University in 2015 and soon discovered that there was no-one studying the impressive Mantis order, Mantodea. There are over 430 genera and 2400 species divided in 15 families worldwide and they believed there could to be many in the Atlantic Rainforest.
Leonardo and his friends got together and started their first field trips in Valença a town in the South-West of Rio State and the following year caught an undescribed species, a first for science. Their primary interest was not in just finding and identifying these amazing creatures but also raising Mantises, showing people that these insects are not dangerous or life threatening but beautiful, gentle creatures that indicate the quality of the habitat.
With their increased passion the Team started to work at Rio de Janeiro’s Botanical Garden. They submitted a project to National Geographic in 2016 and received the funding to research the State of Rio and increase the list of the 12 genera already known there.
However, Rio de Janeiro state is very large and their study varied from sand dune habitat known as “Restinga”, Mangrove habitat to the lofty “Paramos” or sedge growing waterlogged habitat found at close to 2,600 metres above sea level in Itatiaia (two hours drive west of Rio city) where temperatures fall below zero at night in the winter.
The team also included REGUA in their research and arrived to stay at its field station in December 2017.
One mystical Praying Mantis is the Dragon Mantis, Stenophylla cornigera described by English entomologist John Westwood in 1843. It resembles depictions of miniature dragon and the young biologists had never seen one. Imagine their delight when on the first night, an example arrived at the REGUA light and they could see it in full detail.
The overall research revealed another nine genera taking the total Mantodea list in Rio de Janeiro State to 21 genera, of which 15 have been found at REGUA.
Leonardo says that REGUA is at an elevated level of habitat protection. Perhaps the significant area of remaining forest cover, full altitudinal gradient and low demographic pressure all influence but the fact is that as an indicator species, Praying mantises reveal that the REGUA conservation project is working in the right direction.
Tom’s contribution to our knowledge of dragonflies and damselflies has been magnificent and provides valuable evidence of the importance of this reserve. He started his research in 2011, making several visits during the varying Neotropical seasons, travelling from the Netherlands to REGUA throughout 2013 and identifying 204 species in this region. Tom was supported by Dr. Ângelo Pinto and Professor Alcimar Carvalho of the Natural History Museum/UFRJ. This resulted in the publication of A Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil (see details on our publications page).
The principle difference between dragonflies and damselflies is the position of the wings when resting. Dragonfly wings lie transversal and damselfly wings lie flat alongside their abdomen. 204 species have been recorded at the reserve and REGUA hosts annual visits to see the odonate and in an eight day visit it is possible to see at least 160 species!
Congratulations and thank you Tom for the magnificent contribution your work has given us and you have inspired us to continue to develop studies in ants, butterflies and spiders.