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.

The best web site I could find about butterflies in the area was Focus on Nature Tours' web site This lists all of the butterflies that occur in the Caribbean and beside each there is a code for which islands they occur on.

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 antennae.

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 Southern White.

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 black border.

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.

(I'll continue this on a separate post.)

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