Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Butterflies in Laguna de Apoyo

I've been at the Laguna de Apoyo in Nicaragua since early June looking for butterflies, so I figured it's high time for an entry on what I've found so far. I'm here to make an inventory of the butterflies found in the reserve, and I go out practically each day armed with binoculars and camera, and sometimes hand nets or butterfly traps.

Back in 1995, a group of entomologists from the University of Maryland published an inventory of butterflies they found at the Reserva Natural Laguna de Apoyo in a Nicaraguan scientific journal. They collected periodically over a series of five years during the rainy season (when species diversity is highest) and found 108 species of diurnal butterflies to be present in the reserve, including 3 species new for Nicaragua.

Their list formed the basis of a list to which Nicaraguan field biologists have added since then, and to which I am now adding as well. Since early June, I have added approximately 30 species to the list, and revised the list's taxonomy for several others, to reflect recent work on butterfly taxonomy. The current list stands at 174 species, but I'm still finding new ones every day, and I'm starting to wonder how accurate parts of that list really are. To give an example: the 1995 publication mentions a Cissia satyr as new for the country: Cissia calixta. But the species in that genus are notoriously difficult to separate, and this particular record - of a species with a known range from Costa Rica south to Ecuador, and with an elevational range between 800 and 3,000 m - may very well represent a misidentification. Laguna de Apoyo is outside its normal geographical as well as elevational range. However, abundant here right now is Cissia themis (Nicaraguan Satyr), which is very similar to Cissia calixta but is not illustrated in the guide used by the U of Maryland team, and curiously absent from their 1995 list.

Here's a picture of Cissia themis (undina) mating.

The butterfly at the very top of today's post is a firetip, Elbella scylla, or Red-collared Firetip. Then an underside of a scintillant, Calephelis sp., another notoriously difficult genus. The purplewing is a male Eunica sydonia, or Plain Purplewing. Both the firetip and the purplewing were new to the list. I found the first purplewing four or five days ago. The next day, I saw two or three individuals, and now it appears to be fairly common. Every day, I see certain species a little more or a little less abundant than the day before, or new ones adding to the mix. But that firetip remains the only individual I have found so far.

Stay tuned for more on the butterfly community at Laguna de Apoyo.

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