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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Butterfly monitoring in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve

We do not have a precise count of the number of butterfly species in Nicaragua. Although some scientists specializing in butterflies and moths have come to study the butterflies of Nicaragua, and a notable effort to study the butterflies occurs among scientists inside the country, publications detailing the species common to Nicaragua are not found in all families. The butterfly and moth (family Lepidoptera) species record in Nicaragua is partial and is mostly limited to certain, more commonly studies families. As a result, a dedicated study of the butterflies is likely to turn up something not yet documented in Nicaragua-a new species or subspecies, or perhaps an association with a plant not yet known to science. Butterflies (Lepidoptera) all have intimate associations with particular plant species, especially during the caterpillar stage of life.
butterflies in Nicaragua
The One-spotted Prepona (Archaeoprepona demophon) is a common capture in our butterfly monitoring program. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
We are engaged in a long-term monitoring project of certain faunal groups, among them, the butterflies which are attracted to rotten fruit. Almost all the butterflies which come to our rotten fruit traps are in the family Nymphalidae. This group is known as the brushfoots, and another common name for them is the four-footed butterflies, because their forelegs are reduced in size.
Some butterflies are brilliantly colored, others with subtle colors and patterns. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
The upper side or dorsal side of the brushfoot wings is often brightly colored. However, butterflies tend to maintain their wings erect when perched, exposing the underside or ventral aspect of the wings, which in this family are often dull or cryptically patterned, to prevent their detection when perched on the forest floor.
Smyrna blomfildia
Blomfild's Beauty is an appropriate common name for this butterfly (Smyrna blomfildia). Photo by Hans Rademaker.
In our study, butterflies are attracted by rotten fruit left on the forest floor, into a barrel-shaped trap only a few inches above the fruit. Once butterflies come to the fruit, they tend to fly into the trap when attempting to depart. We note the number of each species captured in each trap, then leave them to resume their natural lives.
Smyrna blomfildia
The dorsal view of Blomfild's Beauty (Smyrna blomfildia) differs from the ventral view. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
Of the over two hundred butterfly species that have been documented in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, some two dozen will come to the rotten fruit traps. We have learned that the butterfly communities in the reserve are dramatically affected by the houses found along the edge of Lake Apoyo on the north and west sides of the lake. Deeper in forest less affected by man, we find butterflies which do not come to traps in the inhabited areas. 
The Gray Cracker, Hamadryas februa, snaps its wings during courtship. Four species of this genus are found in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
Our study of the butterflies of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve provides a visceral satisfaction to all who participate. Seeing a butterfly at close range reveals many secrets to its beauty.
Butterflies in repose inside a baited trap are awaiting their identification and liberation. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
Interns and volunteers are being accepted to study the butterflies. If you would like to participate in our studies, please contact us!

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