This morning we agreed to meet up with Miriam, Barbara, Douglas Fernández and Dr Marc Minno near to our hotel as we had seen quite a few Cuban Leafwing Anaea cubana during the last few days and this was something they had not caught up with so far on their trip. The track up to the water tank on the hill is just a few hundred yards from our hotel and we set off at 9.30am recording species and numbers as we went. Over the open areas there were numerous Smudged Yellow Eurema lucina, Little Yellow Pyrisitia lisa and Barred Yellow Eurema daira as well as the slightly larger Bush Sulphur Pyrisitia dina.
Both Mexican Fritillary Euptoieta hegesia and Variegated Fritillary Euptoieta claudia were flying and females were investigating sites on which to lay.
Before we set off Marc asked if we had seen Miami Blue Cyclargus thomasi in the area and we confessed that we hadn't. This was something that they had been especially looking for as it had sadly declined over the years to the point of extinction in mainland USA. It had once been fairly common in Florida but development had pushed it out and it was now found only on a couple of islands in the Keys. Other subspecies are found throughout the Caribbean and Marc felt sure that it would be in the area. He was right! Only a short way along the track he called that he thought he had one and netting it proved him to be right. They are similar to Nickerbean Blue Cyclargus ammon but they have four spots not three on the base of the hindwing and the orange spot is smaller and usually wraps around the black ocellus to a greater extent. A great find but it got better when he also found larvae of various sizes and also an egg, all on Stigmaphyllon. There were lots of ants in attendance drinking the sugary secretions from the larvae, and no doubt giving some form of protection in return. I got one chance shot of an adult from behind and was struck by how face-like this looked. The tornus of the hindwings turns in which makes the two outer ocelli look just like eyes - this is not something I have ever noticed before on any Lycaenid but when I checked other photos I found that the same is true for C. ammon. This must give some added protection from predators approaching from behind - brilliant!
Further along someone spotted a large Hawk-moth which is a Florestan Sphinx Manduca florestan. It is found from Arizona south through Central and South America and also the Caribbean. It is a widely variable species as its great range would suggest and although it didn't appear on the list in Lepidópteros de Cuba, Rayner tells me that it did appear in the master thesis on Cuban Sphingidae and therefore has been recorded before.
From this point the path drops down through woodland and we watched a Violet-banded Skipper Nyctelius nyctelius as it nectared on an Allamanda flower. We had seen this and Monk Skipper Asbolis capucinus nectaring on this before and both must have long probosci as they sit on the outer rim to feed whereas the smaller Fiery Skipper Hylephila phyleus actually disappears right down the corolla tube, turns around and then comes out head first. I also got one rather inadequate shot of an Impostor Duskywing Gesta gesta that is supposed to be common but that we rarely see. And then Marc started searching the grasses for larvae and found both Caribbean Ruby-eye Perichares philetes and Violet-banded Skipper Nyctelius nyctelius on Panicum maximum. The larvae lie along the length of grass blade and use silk to pull the sides together to form a shelter. Nearly all the 26 species of Hesperiidae in Cuba use grass as a foodplant so looking for these and other species is certainly something we will be doing on future trips. I subsequently found quite a few more of these two species and interestingly all were in shade or partial shade. I didn't find any where the grass was in full sun. As if that wasn't enough Marc then found a larva of the very rare Cuban Longtail Chioides marmorosa. That was completely unexpected and just shows what can be found when you look.
In two and a half hours we had recorded 45 butterfly species and everyone got good pictures of Cuban Leafwing Anaea cubana. I had learnt so much from our new friends in such a short space of time for which I am very grateful and look forward to meeting up with them again on a future trip. But it was then time for them to leave and travel back to Holguin on the first leg of their journey home. We said our goodbyes and set off back up the track taking the long route back to the hotel for lunch.
On the way we managed to add a further three species on the same section of track including a beautiful Dingy Purplewing Eunica monima. We had seen a couple over at Gibara the week before but they hadn't been easy to photograph so finding an obliging one at low level out in the open was a bonus. Often when I look at my pictures afterwards on the computer screen I regret not removing a distracting twig or blade of grass in the background and other times I notice something that I had completely missed when I took the picture. That was the case here when I noticed that in front of the butterfly was a geometer larva (left picture) which looks as if it has has two lepidoptera eggs laid on its back - bizarre! I didn't even notice the larva at the time. On the later picture on the right it has dropped off.
The last interesting find of the day was another Sphingidae larva which I believe is an Ello Sphinx Erynnyis ello. Again it is widespread on the mainland from USA to South America.
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Here we will post interesting news about what we and others have seen in Cuba.