Cethosia biblis Drury, 1770

Red Lacewing Cethosia bilbis bilbis) male
Red Lacewing Cethosia bilbis bilbis) male

I wrote about this beautiful butterfly – The Red Lacewing – in a previous blog (‘Don’t eat me I’m poisonous!) posted on this site last year (12 Jan 2014).  I am including a little history here. This species was first named by a British entomologist called Dru Drury (1725-1803). Drury was a fascinating character; a wealthy silversmith who built up a huge collection of over 11,000 insect specimens (1). Whilst he remained safely in London, he paid travellers to obtain exotic specimens for him (2), although it seems he borowed this species from a fellow Londoner (see below)!

Drury is perhaps best remembered for publishing a three-volume work entitled: Illustrations of Natural History. This seminal work was later revised and republished under the title: Illustrations of Exotic Entomology, in 1837. Both publications are available online at the Biodiversity Heritage Library (3).

Drury must have been proud of his work, as he sent the 3-volume set to Linnaeus, in 1770, referring to him (Linnaeus) as the father of natural history (4). It was a generous gift. The volumes are now extremely valuable: Christie’s were offering a set for £5,000 (4).

The Red Lacewing was illustrated in Figure 2, on Plate 4 of Drury  (Illust. Nat. Hist. Exot. insects Vol 1) (shown below).  The description of the colours and patterns of the insect on page 9 are remarkably detailed, but there is nothing – not surprisingly perhaps – on the biology of the insects.  He concludes the description with the following: “It was brought from China, and was very obligingly lent to me by Mr. Lee of Deptford, to take a drawing from.” So the origin suggests that the specimen may have been the subspecies Cethosia biblis biblis.  Drury finishes by stating: “I cannot find it described in any author”.  He was the first person to describe it for science.

Cethosia biblis in Plate IV in Drury (1770-82)
Cethosia biblis in Plate IV in Drury (1770-82)

The illustrator of these works seem to get scant recognition! There is a signature at the bottom of the original plate, by Mss Harris Del et Sculp [one Moses Harris (1730 – c. 1788) who invented the colour wheel!]. Drury himself refers – on the title page – to the fact that his volumes contain “Upwards of 240 figures of exotic insects, according to their different genera, very few of which have hitherto been figured by any author, being engraved and coloured from nature, with the greatest accuracy, and under the author’s own inspection”. Perhaps there is a mention of the artist somewhere in the volumes; I have not searched them all, but a more generous patron might have mentioned the illustrator on the title page!

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dru_Drury

2. Dru Drury: Illustrations of natural history. http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/specialcollections/virtualexhibitions/birdsbeesandblooms/bees/drudruryillustrationsofnaturalhistory/

3.  http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/creator/10189#/titles

4. http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/books-manuscripts/drury-dru-illustrations-of-natural-history-4987794-details.aspx

Clipper

Clipper (Parthenos sylvia apicalis) upperside showing
Clipper (Parthenos sylvia apicalis) upperside showing

The Clipper (Parthenos sylvia), is a common butterfly of forested areas in South and South-East Asia.  The species occurs over a huge area: from India and Sri Lanka in the west; through Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia; onto the islands of Borneo, Sumatra, the Philippines, Sulawesi, Java and Bali; and as far east as Papua New Guinea. There are however, at least 35 different subspecies distributed across this wide swath of territory (1).   There are two subspecies found in Thailand; the pictures shown here were taken in the north, in Doi Chiang Dao, Chiang Mai province, and show Parthenos sylvia subspecies apicalis, which is bigger and bluer than the other subspecies, Parthenos sylvia subsp. lilacinus, found in the south.

Clipper (Parthenos sylvia apicalis) feeding on flowers with stylet showing
Clipper (Parthenos sylvia apicalis) feeding on flowers with stylet showing

All of the different subspecies have similar patterns, with prominent (hyaline discal) white spots on a dark background; the basal parts of the wings (nearest the body) vary most in colour between the subspecies, with blue, green and yellows. For example, four Indian subspecies are shown on the  Butterflies of India website (2).

Clipper (Parthenos sylvia apicalis) feeding on nectar
Clipper (Parthenos sylvia apicalis) feeding on nectar

The Clipper was first named for science by a Dutch entomologist called Pieter Cramer in 1775 (3).  Cramer was a wealthy wool merchant who lived in Amsterdam (4).  There is a beautiful illustration of this butterfly in his book called De Uitlandsche Kapellen (or to give it its full name in English: Exotic butterflies of three continents of Asia, Africa and America) which is available online via the The Biodiversity Heritage Library (4).  The colour plates in these four volumes are by a Dutch artist, Gerrit Wartenaar Lambertz (1747-1803), whom Cramer commissioned to illustrate the insects he was naming and writing about.  The Clipper – which he called Sylvia – is mentioned on page 68 of Vol. 1 of the De Uitlandsche Kapellen, and is illustrated on Plate XLIII (i.e. 43) in two coloured figures (F-G) (reference 4 and below).  Sadly, Cramer died before all of the work was completed, but he did live to see the first volume appear in print.  I find it extraordinary that we now have, in the Internet Age, the ability to see and browse these rare books.

Original illustration of Parthenos sylvia from Cramer, P. & Stoll, C. ([1775]-1779-82) De uitlandsche Kapellen. Courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
Original illustration of of Parthenos sylvia from Cramer, P. & Stoll, C. ([1775]-1779-82) De Uitlandsche Kapellen. Courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
The butterfly shown in this original plate (above) is brownish-yellow on the upperside, and is described [in the French text] as coming from the Coromandel Coast, which was then an area on the east coast of India and a governorate of the Dutch East India Company (it is now the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh).  He also mentions that is also found in Ambon (Indonesia), indicating that he was aware of the fact that it clearly had wide distribution.

Clipper (Parthenos sylvia apicalis) showing lighter underside
Clipper (Parthenos sylvia apicalis) showing lighter underside

Cramer was a collector of butterflies and moths, particularly from areas of the world where the Dutch had colonies and trading links.  I don’t suppose he, or his artists, ever saw these wonderful butterflies in the field, which is a great pity.  The artist, Gerrit Wartenaar Lambertz, was reprotedly requested to illustrate the specimens in his cabinet ‘in a natural style and with great care’ (6).  He certainly succeeded in achieving that.

Finally, for those that are interested, this butterfly is always to be seen – at least in my experience – at  Wat Tham Pha Plong, which is at the end of the road, below the mountain at Doi Chiang Dao, north of Chiang Mai.

1.http://ftp.funet.fi/index/Tree_of_life/insecta/lepidoptera/ditrysia/papilionoidea/nymphalidae/limenitidinae/parthenos/

2. Saji, K., H. Ogale, and R. Lovalekar. 2015. Parthenos sylvia Cramer, 1775 – Clipper. Kunte, K., P. Roy, S. Kalesh and U. Kodandaramaiah (eds.). Butterflies of India, v. 2.10. Indian Foundation for Butterflies.
http://www.ifoundbutterflies.org/sp/500/Parthenos-sylvia

3.  Cramer, P. & Stoll, C. ([1775]-1779-82) De uitlandsche Kapellen, &c = Papillons exotiques des trois parties du monde, l’Asie, l’Afrique et l’Amâerique, &c. S. J. Baalde & Barthelemy Wild: Amsterdam and Utrecht. 4 vol.

4. http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/art-nature-imaging/collections/art-themes/drawingconclusions/more/butterflies_more_info.htm#cramer

5. http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/95174#page/214/mode/1up

6. JOHN E. CHAINEY (2005). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 145, 283–337

Darwin’s finches: evolving into the future

Darwin's ground finches on the The Galápagos Islands
Darwin’s ground finches on the The Galápagos Islands

A recent paper published in the journal Nature, reports the results of sequencing the genomes of all fourteen of the so-called Darwin’s finches, found on the  Galápagos islands (1). These, now famous bird species evolved from a common ancestor as recently as 1.5 million years ago (possibly 2.3 mya) according to previous mitochondrial DNA dating, adapting to different habitats and forming separate species on the basis of beak size and shape, body size, plumage and feeding habits.

Darwin's ground finch
Darwin’s ground finch – but which one? Medium I think!

I must confess that I found them all very confusing when I visited the Galápagos islands, and in truth never succeeding in confidently identifying them.  I was never quite sure if I was looking at a small, a medium or a large ground finch!  So it comes as no surprise to me to find out from this latest work, that genes have been flowing back and forth between the species, which have been hybridizing to form new species of mixed ancestry throughout this period!  What is new, is the discovery that a gene (called ALX1) which is responsible – although they may be other factors involved – for determining beak shapes.  These birds have been changing and evolving beak sizes and shapes in response to environmental change, and this is still going on (2). Changes in the genomic DNA (i.e. mutations) associated with such a gene produce the phenotypic variation – in beak size and shape – that can be selected in response to environmental changes such as droughts, which regularly occur on these islands (2).

This present study builds on the phenomenal work carried out by Peter and Rosemary Grant (of Princeton University) who have been studying Darwin’s finches since 1973.  They had previously found that in some situations, on some islands, there is so much interbreeding that two separate “species” might fusing back into one species (3). In other words, although the species have diversified (a process called adaptive radiation) there are in effect, no great barriers between them, to prevent the exchange of genes. To my mind, it all points to a great plasticity within nature. What we see now, is in effect a snap-shot in time (our time, the Anthropocene) but changes which produced the extant species will carry on – assuming we allow these iconic species enough space and protection to continue evolving into the future.

Darwin's Ground finch feeding on rice in the airport at Baltra, on the Galapagos Islands

As a footnote, I should add that all of the ground finches shown here were photographed at the airport on Baltra Island.  They seemed to be adapting very successfully to Man’s presence, even flying into the restaurant and stealing food.  Not sure if anyone is studying these individuals!  I’ll call them Medium Ground finches, but I’m not sure!

1.  Sangeet Lamichhaney, Jonas Berglund, Markus Sällman Almén, Khurram Maqbool, Manfred Grabherr, Alvaro Martinez-Barrio, Marta Promerová, Carl-Johan Rubin, Chao Wang, Neda Zamani, B. Rosemary Grant, Peter R. Grant, Matthew T. Webster, Leif Andersson. Evolution of Darwin’s finches and their beaks revealed by genome sequencing. Nature, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/nature14181

2.    Grant, Peter R., and B. Rosemary Grant. How and why species multiply: the radiation of Darwin’s finches. Princeton University Press, 2011.

3. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/03/nature_galapago083531.html

 

The ancient lineage of insects

Spotted Longhorn (Strangalia maculata)
Spotted Longhorn (Strangalia maculata); beetles and flowering plants evolved together

A recent paper published in the journal Science presents a reconstruction of the insect phylogeny (their ‘tree of life’ as it were) based on a gargantuan analysis of their DNA (1).  The huge team (I counted 101 authors!) of researchers studied the genomes – and the amino acid sequences they code for – from insects and other arthropods in order to estimate the dates back in time, when the different orders of insects diverged (see figure below).

Fig. 1. Dated phylogenetic tree of insect relationships in Misof et al. (2014).
Fig. 1. Dated phylogenetic tree of insect relationships in Misof et al. (2014).

Insects have been around for a very long time. The oldest fossil insect found to date – a collembollan – comes from the Devonian Rhynie Chert in Scotland (c. 412 million years ago) (2).  This recent molecular study however, suggests that insects (Hexapoda) may have evolved much earlier, in the Ordovician (c. 479 mya), or perhaps even earlier in the Cambrian period (541.0 – 485.4 mya).

What is particular interesting to me about this publication, is that it provides dates for the appearance of all of the orders of insects, as well as highlighting when some of the most significant events – such as the evolution of flight, and metamorphosis – occurred.  For example, we learn that hemipterans (true bugs such as aphids, planthoppers, leafhoppers and so on) may have evolved in the Ordovician period (c. 373 mya), even though the oldest fossils found to date, are from much later, in the Carboniferous period (when coal deposits were formed in the UK).

Hemipterans evolved over 373 million years ago
Hemipterans evolved over 373 million years ago

Insects typically associated with the Carboniferous (c. 300 mya) are dragonflies: giant dragonflies with wings over two feet wide flew through the Carboniferous forests hunting whatever it was the fed on, probably other insects!  In fact, winged insects probably evolved ever earlier than this: the study suggest that insect flight emerged in the Early Devonian (c. 406 mya) (1).

Dragonflies were a common sight in Carboniferous forests
Dragonflies were a common sight in Carboniferous forests

A large grouping of insect orders, including earwigs, stoneflies, grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, cockroaches, mantids, termites and the like, probably evolved in the Upper Carboniferous period (c. 302 mya). So this mantid (below), or others like him/her, have been around for a very long time!

Mantids have been stalking the earth for over 300 million years
Mantids have been stalking the earth for over 300 million years

Beetles, flies, wasps, ants, moths and butterflies are known to be ‘higher insects’ – so-called holometabolous insects which undergo metamorphosis – which have evolved more recently that some of their fellows.  This study shows that the orders Hymenoptera, Diptera, and Lepidoptera underwent ‘spectacular diversifications’ in the Early Cretaceous  at the same time that flowering plants were diversifying (or radiating) in terms of becoming the dominant flora on the planet (3).

Lepidoptera, such as this caterpillar photographed in India, diversified in concert with flowering plants in the Cretaceous period.
Lepidoptera, such as this caterpillar photographed in India, diversified in concert with flowering plants in the Cretaceous period.

So insects have been present on the earth for mind-boggling long periods of time, taking cataclysmic episodes – such major extinction events – in their strides, and going on to diversify into the multitude of types we see today. They have found ways of doing things, such as flying through the air, living together in cooperative societies and caring for off-spring, hundreds of millions of years before man, or even mammals, appeared on the scene.  Many of them have evolved alongside flowering plants and their unique interactions with these plants – chemical, physical and biological – undoubtedly contributed to the development of such flora (including many that we rely on for food and medicine today). They are the great survivors and deserve our deepest respect.

The longhorn beetle, Diastocera wallici tonkinensis
The longhorn beetle, Diastocera wallici tonkinensis

1.   B. Misof, S. Liu, K. Meusemann, R. S. Peters, A. Donath, C. Mayer, P. B. Frandsen, J. Ware, T. Flouri, R. G. Beutel, O. Niehuis, M. Petersen, F. Izquierdo-Carrasco, T. Wappler, J. Rust, A. J. Aberer, U. Aspock, H. Aspock, D. Bartel, A. Blanke, S. Berger, A. Bohm, T. R. Buckley, B. Calcott, J. Chen, F. Friedrich, M. Fukui, M. Fujita, C. Greve, P. Grobe, S. Gu, Y. Huang, L. S. Jermiin, A. Y. Kawahara, L. Krogmann, M. Kubiak, R. Lanfear, H. Letsch, Y. Li, Z. Li, J. Li, H. Lu, R. Machida, Y. Mashimo, P. Kapli, D. D. McKenna, G. Meng, Y. Nakagaki, J. L. Navarrete-Heredia, M. Ott, Y. Ou, G. Pass, L. Podsiadlowski, H. Pohl, B. M. von Reumont, K. Schutte, K. Sekiya, S. Shimizu, A. Slipinski, A. Stamatakis, W. Song, X. Su, N. U. Szucsich, M. Tan, X. Tan, M. Tang, J. Tang, G. Timelthaler, S. Tomizuka, M. Trautwein, X. Tong, T. Uchifune, M. G. Walzl, B. M. Wiegmann, J. Wilbrandt, B. Wipfler, T. K. F. Wong, Q. Wu, G. Wu, Y. Xie, S. Yang, Q. Yang, D. K. Yeates, K. Yoshizawa, Q. Zhang, R. Zhang, W. Zhang, Y. Zhang, J. Zhao, C. Zhou, L. Zhou, T. Ziesmann, S. Zou, Y. Li, X. Xu, Y. Zhang, H. Yang, J. Wang, J. Wang, K. M. Kjer, X. Zhou. (2014). Phylogenomics resolves the timing and pattern of insect evolution. Science. 346 (6210), 763.

2.  MS Engel, DA Grimaldi (2004). New light shed on the oldest insect. Nature 427 (6975), 627-630.

3.  Wing, Scott L., and Lisa D. Boucher. “ECOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF THE CRETACEOUS FLOWERING PLANT RADIATION 1.” Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 26.1 (1998): 379-421.

Garden Fence Lizard seen on fence!

 

The Garden Fence Lizard (Calotes versicolor), northern Thailand.
The Garden Fence Lizard (Calotes versicolor), northern Thailand.

The Changeable lizard (Calotes versicolor) certainly lives up to its name.  Also called the Oriental Garden Lizard, the Garden Fence Lizard, or the Eastern Garden Lizard, it varies in colour and pattern throughout its vast range (stretching across Asia from Iran to China and down into South East Asia).  It has also been introduced into many places, such as Singapore (where it has displaced a native species) and Florida.

It is usually brownish in colour, but can also be greyish-olive or yellowish (1). This base colour can however, be changed, to bright red and black, or a mixture of both. This species is identified by certain key characters, such as a short crest above the neck and two small spines above the tympanum (ear drum)(2). During the breeding season, the male’s head and shoulders turn red and a black blotch develops over the throat and cheeks (below).

The Garden Fence Lizard (Calotes versicolor)
The Garden Fence Lizard (Calotes versicolor) breeding male, Nong Khai

Males also turn red-headed after a successful battle with rivals, a sort of red victory glow I suppose! Females also change during breeding, but less so than the males (see below).

Mating Garden Fence Lizards (Calotes versicolor)
Mating Garden Fence Lizards (Calotes versicolor)

The Changeable lizard appears to be a highly adaptable species.  Not only is its native range huge, covering a remarkable variety of habitats and environments, but it also seems to be expanding, becoming an invasive species in some new localities. This species is often seen in parks and gardens, so appears well suited to an urban life. In Thailand, they are called Garden Fence Lizards, so it seems appropriate to end with a picture of one on a garden fence (taken in the city of Chiang Mai).

The Garden Fence Lizard (Calotes versicolor) Chiang Mai
The Garden Fence Lizard (Calotes versicolor) Chiang Mai

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oriental_garden_lizard

2. http://www.ecologyasia.com/verts/lizards/changeable_lizard.htm