These butterflies may be little, but wow, they can dance. Trying to photograph this guy with his nonstop and erratic flight had me reaching for some dramamine. It's the cabbage white, Pieris rapae, and when it's not looking for nectar, it's looking for the cruciferous veggies in your garden. The female seeks out cabbage, collards, kale, radish and other such plants for egg laying. A neat looking bullet-like egg (just a mere millimeter) is laid singly, usually on the underside of the leaf. Within a week it hatches, and then, let the feasting begin. The fuzzy green caterpillars have a voracious appetite, and gnaw irregularly-shaped holes in your once-beautiful greens. After several molts, they form a chrysalis about 3/4 of an inch long. In a week or two, out pops the adult. Males differ from females in having only one black dot in the center of their forewings; females have two. They're just about and inch and a half, and have a life span of just around three weeks, but they remind me - when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, dance.
Me and you and you and me, no matter how they toss the dice, it has to be, the only one for me is you, and you for me...So dear is the māmane tree to the palila, one of the larger Hawaiian honeycreepers. They prefer to nest in it and a good 90% of their diet consists of the immature seeds, leaves, flowers, nectar, and caterpillars found on it (naio berries sneak in as a food source too, but not by a long shot!). Among the largest of the Hawaiian honeycreepers, palila can get up to around seven inches, and sport a stout, rounded bill perfectly adapted for eating unripe māmane seeds, which contain bitter alkaloids that are toxic to other wildlife. Sadly, it is the only finch-billed honeycreeper remaining of sixteen. Critically endangered, and confined to the māmane and māmane-naio subalpine forests of Mauna Kea, palila move up or down the slopes depending on the availability of their favorite seeds. The steepness of the southwestern flank means that trees at various elevations will be flowering and seeding at different times, thereby providing a year-round food source. As a result, most palila are found on this part of the dormant volcano.
When food is in good supply, nesting usually begins in the spring, often in the higher branches of good-sized māmane. Eggs generally hatch in about two and a half weeks. The juvies are characterized by a yellowish beak and white wing bars. Male and female adults have a dark bill and yellow head; in males the yellow extends to the nape, in females the nape has more of the greyish feathers of the upper back. Males also have darker lores - the area between the bill and the eyes.
So what happened?
The story of the decline of the palila is a complicated one, with many factors perhaps playing a role. Anything that affects their special māmane affects them, including drought, development of the land for agriculture, and grazing ungulates. In 1978, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals mandated the removal of feral sheep and goats from the critical habitat of the palila. With the numbers of grazers much reduced, the māmane forest has a chance to rebound. Yet overgrazing by these creatures has allowed the spread of alien grasses and shrubs, such as fountain grass and gorse, which increase the risk of fire in this dry habitat. Avian malaria, feral rats and cats, as well as predation by the pueo, have also contributed to the decline of palila. And if that isn't enough, parasitoid wasps affect the caterpillars they eat. But all is not lost! The Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project is working hard to educate the public and to restore and protect the critical habitat of the palila. Also fighting the good fight is the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, raising and releasing palila. Imagine how the world could be, so very fine...So happy together.
Look out millipedes, Haematoloecha rubescens is in town, and from what I can gather, heʻs looking for you. There is little information to find on this colorful fellow, but it would seem it made its arrival here in Hawaiʻi in 1970 from tropical regions of Asia, with a particular appetite for the garden centipede, Oxidus gracilis. Like its kin in the family Reduviidae, this red assassin bug is a predatory insect known for its slim neck, long legs, and segmented rostrum, a projection off the head that is used to pierce its victim. The bite delivers a saliva that liquifies the insides of its prey, which is then neatly hoovered out. The bright red and black coloration, known to biologists as aposematism, is a warning that the organism is not to be messed with.
Bug or Beetle? True bugs, such as this one, undergo incomplete metamorphosis: eggs are laid, but there is no larval (grub) stage. The immature bugs hatch out and look somewhat like their adult forms; several molts will get them to that point. Beetles undergo complete metamorphosis like butterflies. As adults, true bugs they have two pairs of wings, like beetles, but the covering wings form an x-shape; beetles covering wings form a straight line down the back when at rest. Another difference is in the mouth parts. True bugs have a straw-like appendage for piercing and hoovering; beetles have mandibles for chewing.
Just a mere one to three centimeters, this native of the Caribbean has found its way to many new locations, including Hawaii. The nursery trade is the most likely culprit, spreading this species through infested plants and landscaping materials, thus its name, the Greenhouse frog. It shares the same genus as the coqui frog, though smaller and most certainly, quieter, with a soft call that some describe as melodious. Like the coqui, it is a direct developing frog - there is no tadpole stage. No standing water needed, the eggs are laid in damp areas, such as in leaf litter, or under logs, with the little froglets emerging from the eggs in a few short weeks. Greenhouse frogs are nocturnal, and not normally seen, though they may venture out a bit in the day after a rain. Iʻve never seen one in my yard, though students often find them in the landscaping at the school where I teach. Dinner consists of insects, spiders, worms, and snails, some of which are native and threatened. This, plus the fact that native birds compete for similar resources, has earned this guy a page in the Global Invasive Species Database. Little though they may be, they have big potential to become "A Little Hop of Horrors."
Snug as a bug in a rug, the Hawaiian spiny lobster, Panulirus marginatus, spends its days hunkering down under rocks, or in the nooks and crannies of the reef. These coveted spots are shared with two other species of spiny lobster, but this colorful, nearly sixteen-inch banded spiny lobster is the only endemic one. Lacking the big, honking claws that the Maine lobster is so famous for, they rely on sharp, forward-facing spiny projections on the upper-sides of their body for protection from predators, including monk seals, octopi, and most certainly, humans (see below). At night they emerge from the rocks and hard places to do some hunting of their own. Scavenging is a part of their resume as well; their willingness to snarf up the occasional dead fish keeps the reef tidy and contributes to the health of the reef ecosystem.
Spiny lobsters are capable of communicating and sounding warning calls by means of stridulation - the rubbing together of two body parts to make a rasping noise. Unlike crickets that stridulate by rubbing their wings together, these sea bugs (as crustaceans are sometimes called) produce sounds by moving their antennae. This results in a soft tissue called the plectrum to stick, then glide, stick, then glide - cello players know what I mean - over a file near the eyes, creating a sound something like running your finger down a comb. An advantage of this is that they can make these noises even when they are in the vulnerable time after moulting.
Once threatened from overharvesting, pressure on ula poni was relaxed a bit in 2000 when a commercial lobster fishery in the NWHI was closed, and the area was designated a protected marine sanctuary under the Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve. Here in the MHI, ula cannot be taken May through August, females are off limits year round, and males must have a carapace length of three and one quarter inches. Spearing is prohibited. Check http://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dar/fishing/fishing-regulations/marine-invertebrates/ for updates. Consider that it takes a good eight years for the lobsters to reach maturity. And further consider that overharvesting by humans means less for young monk seals.
Every dog has its day, and it's today that the dogbane family gets a front and center post. It all started when I went out in my backyard this morning, marveling at the beautiful, vining Stephanotis in bloom. At the same time, the large seed pods of this plant have ripened, going from a smooth green pod, to a yellower, wrinklier version, and some have split open. Inside are lots and lots of tightly packed seeds, each with a silky sail. The seeds and pods so reminded me of milkweed, I had to get online to see if they were in the same family. And indeed, they are. Milkweed used to belong to its own family, but has recently been reclassified in a subfamily of the family Apocynaceae, (pronounced a-pos-ih-NAY-see-ee, or a-pos-ih-NAY-see-eye) the dogbane family. Dogbane members often (but not always) have a milky sap, which can be poisonous. Their leaves are simple (meaning the blade is whole - not divided into leaflets), and often opposite to each other (two leaves arise on opposite sides of the stem from the same node) or whorled (several leaves arise from the same level on the stem and encircle it). The petals may be fused or partially fused, and are usually five-lobed.
With this general information, I began to look around my yard, and the plants in the neighborhood, thinking about which might be related. And, wow, it turns out many of our tropical ornamentals are in the dogbane family. I immediately thought of the crown flower, the plumeria and the yellow allamanda, a vining plant with yellow trumpet-like flowers, and yup - they're all in the family. Add to that list the natal plum, the Madagascar periwinkle, vinca, the be-still tree, maile, oleander, and mandevilla - and there's plenty more. Seems the neighborhood has gone to the dogs.
For three nights in a row, I have found one of these cone-headed katydids on the lanai, so I figured it was time to write a post on them. It is possibly Euconocephalus nasutus, an omnivorous and non-native conehead, though there are a number of endemic coneheads in the genus Banza. The brilliant green is part of their cryptic coloration, often resembling leaves, right down to the venation. They eat the leaves they blend in with, as well as other plant parts, and can do some damage - Elimaea punctifera is another non-native that can wreak havoc on hibiscus blossoms. Many katydids will dine on insects as well, such as aphids. In turn, they are a favorite meal of Jackson's chameleon, as well as bats, birds, spiders, and more. They are masters of stridulation, filling our warm nights with their vocalization, "katy did, katy didnʻt," though some sound more like buzzing or rasping bursts. Species vocalizations may be distinct and can be used to identify the musician.
Grasshopper or Katydid?
Katydids, grasshoppers, and crickets are all in the same order, called Orthoptera, meaning straight-winged, and they share many characteristics: chewing mouthparts, strong hind legs for jumping, and a life cycle of incomplete metamorphosis: from egg, to nymph (which looks like a smaller and wingless version of the adult), and after several molts, an adult. There are some key differences, however (though there are always exceptions). Katydids have long, wispy antennae that are at least as long as their bodies, whereas grasshoppers' are shorter and stubbier. Both crickets and katydids produce their sounds by rubbing their wings; grasshoppers rub pegs on their legs to stridulate. Grasshoppers also tend to be diurnal, whereas katydids and crickets work the nightshift.
Say hello to this little tidepool goby. It's a frillgoby, in the genus Bathygobius, one of three frillgobies in Hawaiʻi. Is it a whitespotted frillgoby or a cocos frillgoby? Hard to tell, unless youʻre willing to count scale rows and fin rays (thanks for the i.d. help, Keoki Stender and the extensive website: MarinelifePhotography.com), but both are common in our tidepools, and both can display a banded pattern at will. The flathead, a.k.a cheekscale frillgoby is another possibility, though it tends to have a wider, flatter, and darker head. All the frillgobies here are small guys, getting no longer than three to four inches, and gobies in general, are small fishes, and bottom-feeders. The frillgobies tend to make good marine aquarium pets, as they are pretty happy-go-lucky towards tankmates, though not so much to their kin. Gobies are known for their fused pelvic fins that help them hold fast against the wave surges, or in the freshwater species, (ʻoʻopu wai) against the stream flow as well as in locomotion upstream to their niche. No matter that the force is not with them.
A friendly nettle, this māmaki. No stinging hairs to make the harvesting of its leaves uncomfortable, so pluck away and put the kettle on to steep up a little tea. This is the culturally important and endemic plant, Pipturus albidus. It is highly variable in height, leaf size, and coloring. Some can be described as trees; others as shrubs. Leaves can be purple-veined or white-veined. All sand-papery and serrated along their margins, māmaki leaves can be as large twelve inches, and vary in color from light green, through dark green, even reddish-green. The reddish leaves seem to do better in sunnier spots, according to the Native Plants Hawaiʻi website, though partial shade and moist conditions seem most suitable for all varieties. It makes sense then, that it is found throughout the islands, but not Kahoʻolawe or Niʻihau. Inconspicuous flowers are borne along the leaf axils, and become small whitish fruits which, in olden times, were used medicinally for a variety of ailments. The plant was also widely used in the making of kapa. Letʻs not forget the importance of māmaki to the two native butterflies, the Kamehameha butterfly and the Blackburn butterfly, both of which use the plant as a host for their larvae.
No mistaking the barber pole stripes of the Banded Coral Shrimp, Stenopus hispidus, who offer their own version of a close shave. These colorful decapods belong to one the families of cleaner shrimp known for plucking ectoparasites and injured tissue off of fish such as tangs and morays. Setting up shop in tide pools and shallow waters (though they have been observed at greater depths), the banded coral shrimp often advertise their services by hanging upside-down in a crevice or reef ledges and waving their three pairs of very long, white antennae. These can be two to three times longer than the body of the shrimp, which is around two inches or so, and are used to palpate those in need of cleaning, as well as serving as sensors to help the shrimp move about at dusk, when it becomes active. They run the mom and pop shops of the reef- they are often found in pairs patrolling, defending, and servicing a square meter or so of the fish-rich waters. They'll also munch on other sea fare if cleaning clientele are low. In the reef ecosystem, these candy cane shrimp certainly have earned their stripes.