JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
Issued from Rancho Regenesis
in the woods near Ek Balam Ruins north of Valladolid in
Yucatán, MÉXICO

July 9, 2017

*****

MEXICAN SAILOR
At http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170709mx.jpg you can feast your eyes on a commonly seen butterfly at the ranch nowadays. You can imagine how pretty the powdery blue shows up against the landscape's deep, shadowy greenness. In the picture, the butterfly is in a less-than-pastoral setting: On the aluminum frame of a seatless, backless chair sitting next to the hut. The butterfly is nearly as pretty in a side view, as seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170709my.jpg

That's the Mexican Sailor, DYNAMINE POSTVERTA, an exceptionally wide-ranging and variable species distributed from the US's warmer areas south to South America's Amazon region.

With any species distributed over such a vast area it's typical for regional variations to show up. However, it's very unusual for a species to show such drastically different appearances as this one. A page at the ButterfliesofAmerica.Com website shows some of them.

In the next section we'll look at a species that was a challenge to identify because its species were so similar. Over the years the Mexican Sailor has posed a very different challenge because of its many color and pattern differences. You can imagine how many names it's been assigned by early lepidopterists not knowing of its variability.

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BEA'S BATTLE WITH PYRGUS
One reason I'm enjoying myself so nowadays is that not only has the rainy season ushered forth a lush landscape populated with an amazing diversity of living things , but also this is the first rainy season I've experienced in years during which I could things rather well -- at least in the one eye on which the cataract operation took place this February. An offshoot of that is that I'm back to sending pictures of insects to volunteer identifier Bea in Ontario. A few days ago I sent Bea the skipper-type butterfly shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170709py.jpg

A side view of the same butterfly, obviously a skipper, is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170709pz.jpg

That looks a good bit like the Tropical Checkered Skipper we've already documented at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/mariposa/butt034.jpg

However, there are subtle differences with the white spots. The question, then, was whether the differences are great enough for specialists to have decided that they're different species. Bea's battle to figure things out provides a good insight into not only one little corner of the world of butterfly classification, but also how a talented and persistent amateur lepidopterist can use the Internet to figure things out.

First of all, since this week's mystery butterfly was so similar to the Tropical Checkered Skipper we'd already seen, Bea was pretty sure that if we didn't have the same species, at least surely it was a member of the same genus, the genus Pyrgus.

Looking at pictures of species of the genus Pyrgus at the ButterfliesofAmerica.Com and the ButterfliesandMoths.Org website, Bea came to this conclusion about this week's mystery skipper: Probably but not with 100% certainty it was PYRGUS ADEPTA, the Central American Checkered-Skipper.

Bea further wrote about the various Pyrgus species it could be: "Not Desert, not Orcas, not Tropical, but I can't rule out Common Checkered-Skipper or White-checkered completely. I need more time to research."

Having the search narrowed down so, I looked to see if anyone has recently published a list of Yucatan butterflies on the Internet, and they had. It was "Especies y géneros por familia de lepidópteros de Yucatán" by Flor Rodríguez Reynaga and others, an undated entry on a Biodiversidad y Desarrollo Humano en Yucatán webpage. For identifiers of Yucatan butterflies this list is a great help, because it provides an idea of which species are and are not present here. You can download the document for free in PDF format at the Seduma.yucatan.gob.mx website.

That document lists four Pyrgus species for Yucatán. Of those four, Bea had disqualified two. When I looked at the remaining two on the Internet, I decided that, as usual, Bea was right, and we have a new-for-us species, the Central American Checkered-Skipper.

At https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Pyrgus-adepta the ButterfliesandMoths.Org page for the Central American Checkered-Skipper tells us that the species is distributed from Mexico through Colombia in South America. Also, in the past it was often treated as a subspecies of the Common Checkered-Skipper, Pyrgus communis, which helps explain why Bea had problems disqualifying that species.

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TIGER MOTH CATERPILLAR
One morning on an herbaceous vine twining up the Guazuma ulmifolia tree next to the hut a couple of blackish, fuzzy caterpillars caught my eye nibbling at the vine's leaves. You can see them at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170709ts.jpg

Another shot better displaying the striking patterns and colors of the caterpillar's hair tufts is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170709tt.jpg

There are many caterpillar species similar to this so when I sent the pictures to volunteer identifier Bea in Ontario I made sure to include the information that this week's caterpillar was feeding on one of several kinds of milkweed vines, family Apocynaceae, maybe the genus Matelea. Bea figured out that its the Tiger Moth Caterpillar, Euchaetes albicosta, distributed from Texas south to Nicaragua, and its caterpillars are known to eat milkweed plants.

Otherwise, there's not much known about it, so I'm glad to provide what Information and pictures I can.ay to grayish brown wings almost entirely covering its body.

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GULF COAST TOAD PAROTOID GLANDS
At http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/gulftoad.htm our Gulf Coast Toad page has lots of information and nice photos about the species, but Gulf Coast Toads are so variable in coloration that sometimes you just wonder if you really have one. For instance, in this area we also have Giant Toads, which are much larger than Gulf Coast ones, but what if you have an immature Giant?

This week when an unusually yellowish toad turned up beneath the dogs' watering trough I wondered that very thing, and just couldn't be sure it wasn't an immature Giant Toad until I considered the parotoid glands. Parotoid glands are bulging poison glands found behind the eyes. You can see this week's toad's parotoid gland clearly labeled at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170709gt.jpg

In that picture the yellow arrow points to the center of a bulge that looks like a kidney bean inserted beneath the skin; that's the parotoid gland. The shiny, flat, circular thing between the gland and the eye is the toad's eardrum, or "tympanic membrane." Keeping in mind the size of the parotoid gland relative to the rest of the head, and its shape, you might look at our picture of a Giant Toad at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/canetoad.htm

The Giant Toad's parotoid gland is nearly as large as the head itself, and is much larger at the top than the bottom.

So, yes, the toad beneath the dogs' watering trough, despite its unusual yellowness, was just another Gulf Coast Toad, an abundant species around here, and one that's been calling during the evenings all this week because of regular afternoon rains.

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YUCATAN ECHITES FLOWERING
For a couple of weeks a certain viny member of the big Dogbane Family, the Apocynaceae, has been a conspicuous presence twining up trees and producing pretty clusters of white flowers that caused nothing less than visual explosions in the current landscape's dark greenness. You can see the vine's flowers and leaves at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170709ec.jpg

In that picture notice how the slender flower buds as well as the open flowers twist. A single flower with its five corolla lobes creating a spiraling effect is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170709ed.jpg

Breaking open a flower lengthwise, we see a typical Dogbane-Family flower structure with the stamens inserted at the mouth of the corolla and bearing long, sharp-pointed, arrowhead-shaped anthers surrounding the dark green, spherical stigma head, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170709ee.jpg

This is another species so poorly represented on the Internet that identifying it was hard. A few dried herbarium specimens are posted online, and here and there distant views of blossoms are provided, but that wasn't much. The main help was the Flora de la Península de Yucatán website sponsored by CICY, the Center for Scientific Investigation of the Yucatan, located in Mérida, where I found a list of all the species of the Dogbane Family known to exist in the Yucatan, and looked at pictures of each one. And with this approach it was more a matter of elimination of all species except one, and that one wasn't well illustrated.

With that sloppy, time-consuming approach, I became about 95% sure that our handsome vine is ECHITES YUCATANENSIS, native from southern Mexico south to Nicaragua. Little is known about it. I think our pictures posted with this Newsletter will be of value to future researchers.

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THE FOREST AT ITS GREENEST
Back in late April when the forest next to the hut was at its dry-season driest, we posted a view of the forest showing most trees in a leafless state, the forest's color mostly gray and brown. That photo is still online at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170423dr.jpg

Two weeks later, after a modest 3mm shower (±1/8th inch) certain trees and bushes tentatively began issuing small, undeveloped leaves, as documented in the same forest view, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170507d2.jpg

In late May, a month after the first shot, that part of the forest was truly green, though most leaves still needed to expand a little, and some woody species were only beginning to issue small leaves, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170528d3.jpg

Now in early July, after several weeks of good rains, I figure the forest can't get any greener. The same view of the forest shown above, is seen today at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170709d4.jpg

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COLLECTING NEEM SEEDS
At http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/neem.htm we look at the Neem tree and its fame as one of the most medicinal and otherwise useful trees in the world. Here at the rancho many Neems have been planted and one goal is to extract oil from their seeds. That explains what's shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170709nm.jpg

There you see a plastic sheet constructed of split-open animal-food sacks sewed together and spread beneath a fruiting Neem tree beside the hut in which I stayed when I first arrived. The homemade sheet makes it easier to collect the fallen fruits. You can see a cluster of fruits on a low-hanging branch at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170709nn.jpg

Each pea-sized fruit consists mostly of a large seed. You can see a smashed fruit with its detached seed at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170709no.jpg

A handful of seeds dried on an elevated frame covered with screen wire is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170709np.jpg

A seed broken across its middle is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170709nq.jpg

The two green items aren't two future plants, but rather the future seedling's first two leaves, its cotyledons. Inside the seed, the two cotyledons are joined at their bases, where the embryo resides.

In the above picture, if you look closely at the cotyledons' green broken surfaces you can see minute glistenings. These are tiny oil droplets. The idea now becomes removing that oil from the seeds and collecting it in a more or less pure state, for our own use. With luck, that process will be the subject of a later Newsletter entry.

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ONE THING, A ROCK, A TREE, & ME
A while back I wrote that I'd nearly decided that there's just One Thing. The idea is fun to think about and, if you accept it, there's all kind of guidance in it for everyday life. Here are some further thoughts developed this week:

In the beginning, as always, there was and is just One Thing -- everyplace, being, feeling and knowing everything. Then for some reason the One Thing saw fit, in many places in Her infinite fabric, to warp, undo, puncture, pinch Herself... No words exist to describe what was done, so we'll just use those, which at least convey the notion that the One Thing here and there disarranged Herself in a way that the disarranged spots seemed to manifest less of the One Thing's perfect completeness.

For example, the rock beside my foot is one of those disturbances. It exhibits mass, can be touched, and reflects light. Those features of disarrangement represent a profound degradation from the One Thing's infinite presence (where nothing is isolated from anything else, and physically touching things isn't necessary) and infinite radiance (from which merely reflecting light is a great come-down).

It's the same with the tree glowing in sunlight beside me, just that its disarrangement is even greater than the rock's. The tree, being alive, not only has been banished from the One Thing's infinite presence and radiance, but also its urgency to conduct life processes such as growing and photosynthesizing are hardly to be compared with the One Thing's steady-state omnipresence.

And it's the same with me, except that I am even more disarranged, more degenerate, than the tree. Beyond sharing the tree's cluster of diminishments, I spend my life thinking, feeling and imagining about many individual things, instead of eternally participating in the One Thing's unending omniscience.

And yet, as a baby, I was even more diminished from the One Thing's completeness, for then my whole world consisted of my own narrow needs, my own immediate wants; I was unable even to imagine a One Thing.

But, with time, I identified with other people, things and ideas, and grew more and more beyond myself. Today as a graybeard my personal boundaries are dissolving as more and more I am charmed by, and profoundly empathize with, the rainbow Universe around and beyond me. My life, it seems to me as I look back, has been a step-by-step -- but usually plodding and circuitous -- journey back into the One Thing.

And, why would the One Thing bother with such scattered disarrangements of Herself as this rock, this tree, and myself? Think of people who pinch themselves to make sure they're not dreaming. And the the old Johnny Cash song where he sings "I hurt myself today to see if I still feel... "

Maybe we physical-world things expelled from the One Thing's completeness are the evolving One Thing's nerve endings, one of Her infinite ways of monitoring Herself, of knowing how She's feeling.

*****

Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

All previous Newsletters are archived at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/.