For a few years now I have enjoyed photographing butterflies at home and on holiday. Before we go anywhere on holiday I try to find out as much as I can about the butterflies there. Sometimes this proves very difficult, so I thought I should start a blog to keep a record of what I have seen.
I hope that this information will be useful to others.
The earlier pictures were taken on my wee compact Canon ixus 970IS, which involved sneaking up on the butterflies. This can be very frustrating when they fly off, but very rewarding when they don't!
Since 2012 I have been using a Panasonic Lumix FZ150, which allows me to zoom in to the butterflies from a couple of metres away.
Sunday, 6 January 2013
St Lucia - Butterflies - December 2012
We spent just under two weeks on St Lucia in the Caribbean
from 22 December 2012 to 3 January 2013.
Although this was a family holiday to a resort I still
managed to see a number of butterflies. My ageing father took me, my wife and
kids there, which was very generous of him. His need for constant attention
limited our exploration of the island a bit, but I can't really complain!!!
Before heading off I did my usual research into what
butterflies I might see on my holiday, but I was amazed at how difficult it was
to find much information. I managed to buy a used copy of Norman Riley's "Field Guide to Butterflies of the West Indies", but this was published in
1975, so much could have changed since then. Further internet research revealed
that "Butterflies of the Caribbean" was written by David Spencer Smith
in 1994, but the only copy I could find for sale was almost £2,000!! My local
library eventually managed to get a loan of a copy from Cambridge University
Library, which I was able to read at my library, with strict instructions not
to take it out of the building!! I spent several lunch hours writing copious
notes from this book during the two weeks it was available to me.
I also spent a long time e-mailing various individuals and
organisations in St Lucia, but amazingly no one was able to give me any
information about butterflies there. The only person who was able to help me
was a professor in Canada who had studied beetles in St Lucia and he sent me a
list of the butterflies he had seen.
Using the above sources, and also searching Flickr and other
web sites for pictures of butterflies taken in St Lucia, I put together a list
of butterflies that could occur in St Lucia. There were a total of 67 species
on the list, but further research showed that one of them was a single record
from 1913 and various others were rare vagrants. I think that there are
probably about 50 species of butterflies regularly occurring on the island,
which is amazing given that it is only 27 miles long by 14 miles wide!
Of course, I had no idea if December/January was a good time
of year for butterflies, or how localised any populations may be.
The temperature varied between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius
while we were there and it was very humid. There was a constant breeze making
it very pleasant. There were regular heavy downpours, usually in the early
hours of the morning or in the late afternoon. None of the showers lasted very
long and the ground quickly dried up again. Most of the time it was sunny, with
the occasional cloud.
I was delighted that when the sun shone there was usually at
least one butterfly to be seen flying past. The problem was that they did tend
to just fly past and rarely settled! It seemed that the larger the butterfly
the less likely it was to land and many butterflies seemed to hop from flower
to flower only settling for a second at
a time, which was not long enough for me to take a picture!
The most common butterfly that I saw was the Great Southern
White, Ascia monuste eubotea.
They had amazing bright turquoise clubs on their
The Great Southern White was easily confused with the
Tropical White, Appias drusilla comstocki. To make matters worse, the Tropical
White occurs as a wet season or dry season form and the males and females
differ. So the upper side of the wings can be anything from completely white,
to yellowish, with either a very narrow grey margin or a lot of grey! They also
have some turquoise on the antennae, but not as pronounced as the Great
There are also five larger Sulphurs occurring on St Lucia.
They vary from bright orange/yellow to pale greenish/white. For me it was
impossible to identify anything until it landed, which didn't happen often.
Even when they did land, I found it difficult to know what they were without
taking a picture and then studying it against my old book.
The most common yellow butterfly seemed to be the Apricot Sulphur,
Phoebis argante argante. Along with the Great Southern White, there would
rarely be a sunny moment when there wasn't one flying in view.
I learned that the only way to get a picture of these was to
watch them when the sun was about to go behind a cloud and wait for them to
settle. They usually disappeared into the vegetation, but occasionally they
remained in view.
The Large Orange Sulphur, Phoebis agarithe antillia, was
incredibly similar to the Apricot Sulphur. They are very slightly larger, but
the main difference is the extent of the kink in the line of brown markings
leading from the apex of the fore wing. The Large Orange Sulphur was also
inclined to settle high in the trees, rather than in lower vegetation.
The Cloudless Sulphur, Phoebis sennae sennae, was a bit
easier to identify. It was quite large and bright yellow. It would flit from
flower to flower, rarely settling for longer than a second, managing to
frustrate anyone trying to take a picture!! I did manage the odd shot, but it
never settled at a good angle! To add to my confusion, the female Cloudless Sulphur is more heavily marked, making it quite similar to the two species above!
It seems that there are six different species of Eurema
occurring on St Lucia. Eurema are amongst my favourite butterflies. They are
mostly bright yellow with black markings on the upper side of their wings and I
find their diminutive size very endearing. The Pale Yellow, Eurema venusta
emanona, seemed to be the most common one I saw.
I really love these! The forewing of the Pale Yellow is only
17mm long and we have nothing like them back home in Scotland. As they fly
along, close to the ground, it is possible to make out the upper side of the
wings, the forewing being a brighter yellow than the hind wing with a narrow
I was surprised to
see this one behaving a bit strangely on a flower one evening, but then noticed
that it had become the victim of a little Orb Spider. Later I found its
discarded and shrivelled body on the ground below the flower.
This poor picture is of a False Barred Sulphur, Eurema elathea.
They are very similar to the Pale Yellow, but they have a black bar along the
bottom of the upper forewing. It can just be made out through the hind wing on
this picture . I had expected these to be more common, but this is the only
one I am aware of seeing.
I also saw some Little Yellows, Eurema lisa euterpe, but
didn't manage to photograph one. They have more brown markings on the underside
of the wings.
The picture below intrigues me! I think that the black mark
at the top of the wing is because a bit of wing is missing, showing the black from
the upper side of the other wing. Even so, there appear to be no markings at
all on the underside of the wings, so I can't be sure what it is.
Unfortunately, I couldn't get close so this very cropped picture is the best I could manage. I will have to do a little
more research to see if I can identify it.
There are 13 different species of whites and yellows, and
very often I saw one flying past that looked as though it was a slightly
different shade of yellow or cream. I think that to seriously try to identify
them it would be necessary to take a net and catch them, although there are
very few places where this could be done without permission.