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.
Noticed any circular brown patches in your lawn? If so, you may also have seen this guy, the fiery skipper, Hylephila phyleus, first seen on Oʻahu in 1970; they have since been found throughout the islands. The larva of this small but feisty member of the Hesperiidae family love to munch down on grass, including Bermuda, St. Augustine, heck, even crabgrass will do. The caterpillars are rarely seen, and are thought to be nocturnal feeders; when not actively eating the lawn, they roll themselves up in leaves tucked neatly into the thatch to escape detection. As adults, these inch or so skippers are known for their fast flight, in search of nectar from lantana and tropical milkweed, among others. When not racing around, males will perch for females. Fiery skippers at rest hold their wings in a triangular shape, often with the forewings folded up and the hindwings splayed out like plane wings. Males can be distinguished from females by color, the males a more fiery orange, the females browner. And they love your green, green grass of home.
Todayʻs post features the flashy and silvery āhole, as tasty today as they were in days of old. Their high tolerance for fluctuating salinities and temperatures made them an excellent choice for fish ponds, and they were also used in ceremonies "to chase away evil spirits and for love magic" according to Nā Puke Wehewehe ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi. These flagtails have a deeply forked tail, large eyes, and can reach sizes around eight or so inches. During the day, adults school on or near coral reefs where they get plenty of wave action; at night they disperse to forage. Subadults can be found congregating in fairly shallow waters. Waiāhole on Oahu and Keāhole Point on the Big Island are two place names that reveal the prevalence and cultural significance of the āhole.
Until recently, it was thought that there was just one species of āhole here; fisherman, though, recognized two morphotypes, and recent DNA analysis* has confirmed the knowledge of the locals. Kuhlia xenura and Kuhlia sandvicensis are difficult to tell apart, but as juveniles (juvies are called āholehole) Kuhlia sandvicensis sport zebra-like markings on the head, favor tidepools with an open-water connection, and do not appear to venture well up into freshwater streams as their more abundant counterparts do. Despite its species name, Kuhlia sandvicensis is not endemic to Hawaiʻi, but xenuria is - this mix-up a result of the earlier taxonomic confusion. No matter to the fishermen though, who know theyʻre both ʻono loa.
* ASPECTS OF THE BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY, LIFE HISTORY, GENETICS, AND MORPHOLOGY OF THE HAWAIIAN KUHLIID FISHES by Lori Keene Benson, 2002.
While visiting Kaho'olawe last October, I came across this beauty eking out an existence in the parched landscape. It's the endemic Hawaiian poppy, pua kala, which translates as thorny flower, and indeed, these delicate blooms are expertly defended by prickly bluish-green leaves, stems, and seed capsules. This deterrent, combined with a bright yellow sap of bitter alkaloids, keeps even ever-munching cattle from grazing on it. The only native poppy, Argemone glauca has exquisite bright white petals surrounded by a deep yellow center of stamens and a purple stigma. It can be found on the dry leeward slopes of all the MHI, upward to around 1700 feet. Its preference for full sun and dry conditions makes it a great choice for xeriscape gardens. The yellow poppy you are more likely to come across is the non-native Mexican poppy, Argemone mexicana, which is naturalized in the islands.
Considered by many to be among the most beautiful of the tropical trees, ōhiʻaʻ ai certainly delivers in the color department. Many are flowering now, in March or April, with the pom-pomish blossoms bursting along the branches as well as the trunk of the tree. When they shed their many stamens, incredible pink to purplish carpets can be found, giving hikers another reason to hit the trails (there is also a variety with white flowers). The fruit generally mature in summer and fall (though this is variable) with two or three, sometimes even four harvests! Apple-like in skin color, more pear-like in shape and taste, the fruit are small, just two to three inches long, and delicate in taste as well as staying power - their tendency to bruise easily means that they are best enjoyed right away, making them a special island treat. Mountain apple preserves and pickling are alternate routes. Brought to Hawaii by the early Polynesians, this canoe plant was a true "giving tree," providing food, shade, medicine, wood, and dye. Its giving continues through the present in home landscapes as well as wet lowland forests, usually on the windward sides of our islands.
welcomes you to visit with the all the wonderful flora and fauna that we share this lovely aina with.