As yesterday had been such a productive day we decided for our last day at Vinales to go back to the same area. Part of the reason was that yesterday we had found a Cecropian tree Cecropia peltata that was being visited by a female Stinky Leafwing Historis odius. Duviel had driven past us just before lunch and found a nice shady spot further down the road for us to have our picnic. When we arrived he showed us photos on his phone of this large butterfly that had been regularly visiting the tree! It was H. odius and it had been laying. Unfortunately it made only one further visit and I managed no pictures. By using binoculars I found an egg on the underside of one of the topmost leaves (not ideal for photography). We also spotted a small larva, also high up, that no sooner had we found it it decided to go walkabout back along the rib and then the stem of the leaf and onto the trunk of the tree where I lost sight of it. So today we wanted to spend a bit more time there early on before the temperature got too high to see what we could locate for photography.
The plan worked and we arrived early and quickly found three larvae sitting in the open on leaves in the early morning sun one of which was reachable so we managed some close-ups before returning it to the tree. One thing we quickly noticed was the striking resemblance of the small black and white larva to the pattern of its own feeding damage on the leaf! And secondly that the larva forms a silken promontory at the edge of the leaf which it then constantly extends by adding its own frass to the end.
I knew that where we live in the UK the larva of White Admiral Limenitis camilla does this too and as a small larva it then rests on this frass promontory when not feeding and must gain some protection from predators in doing so. Whether this is due simply to camouflage when sitting there or whether it affords it extra protection from ants or the like on the leaf I do not know. I wasn’t aware that other New World Nymphalids did the same thing. H. odius larvae seem to have a very well-protected head and perhaps it sits on the promontory facing the leaf using its well-defended head to fend off any attack – this is conjecture on my part but if anyone knows the answer I would love to hear from them. At what stage they stop using the promontory I don’t know but from their length it looked as if they were still being used to disguise their frass, and perhaps this is of greater importance as frass on leaves is always an obvious tell-tale sign to a predator of a larva close by. On further reading I find that other Cuban species such as the Mosaic Colobura dirce also do the same – fascinating. The natural world is a wonderful thing and there is so much to learn.
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Here we will post interesting news about what we and others have seen in Cuba.