In addition to photographing birds, this year we became intrigued with the large numbers of butterflies and to date have photographed and identified more than fifty species. Their colours and flight patterns are mesmerizing. Some of these small delicate butterflies are merely two inches long and their erratic flight presents a huge challenge in getting the subject in focus.
Here are two butterflies with the most unusual habits and Groove-billed Anis and their quirks. I also included one additional photo of three Streak-backed Orioles and one Orchard Oriole (shown above), which was my favorite shot of the day!
Zebra-striped Hairstreak Butterfly
What a thrill to discover and photograph this very unusual butterfly on Océano Atlántico on our way to visit the J.E.E.P. Hilltop Refugio in La Peñita.
The striking zebra pattern serves to divert the eyes of predators away from the head and body of the butterfly and towards the ‘false antennae’ tails. It creates a ‘back-to-front’ illusion that deceives lizards and birds, tricking them into aiming their attack at the wrong part of the butterfly. The predators typically try to increase their chances of a direct hit by aiming their attack just ahead of where they expect the butterfly to fly, but are fooled into aiming behind, instead of in front of the target. The result is that the butterfly is able to make its escape in the opposite direction. It is found in Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia and Surinam.
Gray Cracker Butterfly
While working in the courtyard, a crackling noise similar to the sound of fireworks that snap and crackle caught our attention. We saw two butterflies chasing each other emitting this snapping, crackling sound.
So, given our curious nature, we started investigating, and took some photos identifying as the Gray Cracker butterfly, a medium-sized, brush-footed butterfly species of the genus Hamadryas.
They acquired their common name due to the unusual way that males produce a “crackling” sound as part of their territorial display. Male cracker butterflies are known for their ability to crack their wings, which is believed to either be for mating or to ward off rival males. They use trees as courting territories. They prefer tree bark that matches wing coloration. On another day, I saw a bird dart at one of these Cracker butterflies, and it flattened itself to the palm tree trunk making itself camouflaged and nearly invisible to its predator. You can see from the photo that some of its predators had taken a bite out of it in several places.
Identification: Upper side is mottled brown and white; forewing cell bar with some red; hind wing eyespots have orange scales before the black crescents. Underside of hind wing is white; sub marginal eyespots are composed of a brown ring around a black crescent in a white center.
Wing Span: 2 3/4 – 3 3/8 inches (7-8.6 cm).
Life History: Adults rest on tree trunks head downward with their wings spread open. Unlike most butterflies, this species doesn’t feed on nectar. Instead, cracker butterflies feed on rotting fruit, sap from leguminous trees, and animal dung. So, these interesting butterflies are regular visitors to the colourful soup ladles I fill daily with orange halves.
Just after sunrise there is a rustling in the Guamúchil tree by our roof-top casita and Groove-billed Anis vie for the sunniest spot on the tree. It’s worth it to be up early to view this show. They shuffle along the branches and form a two, three and even foursome huddle as the sun’s rays warm their bodies before they take flight to their day time feeding grounds. I have now nick-named these birds “the cuddlers.”
The Groove-billed Ani is about 34 centimetres (13 in) long. It is completely black, with a very long tail almost as long as its body. It has a huge bill with horizontal grooves along the length of the upper mandible. It is very similar to the Smooth-billed Ani, some of which have bills as small as the Groove-billed and with grooves on the basal half. In flight, the ani alternates between quick, choppy flaps and short glides.
Like other Anis, the Groove-billed Ani is a communal nester. As many as four or five pairs will use the same nest, a bulky cup of twigs lined with fresh leaves. When the dominant female begins to lay her eggs, the other females lay their eggs simultaneously. Up to 20 chalky white eggs can be found in one nest. All parents share the duties of incubating and raising the young.
by Bea Rauch
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