Tuesday, June 15, 2021

On the Trail of the Pipevine Swallowtail or a Pit Stop in Redding

    As we may have mentioned in a previous blog, there are precious few larger butterflies west of the Cascades.  Over the past few weeks we have seen about half a dozen Western Tiger Swallowtails between Portland and Seattle.  Aside from a plethora of medium sized white Cabbage Butterflies, that is it.  

California Pipevine Swallowtail, Whisketeytown NRA.
    A couple months ago we had toyed with the idea of driving south to visit my nephew Andrew and his better half, Shawn Barille, in Oakland.  This would have taken us through the Siskiyous and down into the Sacramento River Valley.  In researching this journey from the standpoint of lepidoptera, I was drawn to a picture of the Pipevine Swallowtail taken in a National Forest park in the Trinity Alps.

     I contacted the ranger at the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, the place where this fantastic picture was taken, and he replied, saying that it was relatively easy to see the Pipevine Swallowtail in season, ie. through the end of June, and listed some five mile hikes that would take me to lush stands of pipevine and, with luck, the butterflies.  Obviously he did not recognize his correspondent as someone who watches birds the American Way, which is to say that you drive your car to the spot where you expect to see the bird and identify  the little devil without losing sight of your vehicle.  

    I then looked at the map and noted that Redding wasn't too far from those mountains.  Not only that, but the thriving metropolis actually spans the freeway.  Thinking that there might be butterflies in the vicinity, I wrote to my bird watchng colleagues at the Wintu Audubon Society.  It took a bit of convincing for me to accept that (what with the peculiar name)  this was, in fact, the Audubon Society of Redding, California,  but they had a nice web page and suggested a couple ways for me to contact members.   In a few days I got a reply from a nice man by the name of Dan Greaney who wrote:
Pipevine Swallowtail, Redding. CA.  June 2021 S. Barille photo

    Hi Jeffrey,  Pipevine and the swallowtails are all over.  One easy access is to go over the Sundial Bridge and follow the trail upriver.  Pipevine decks the fencing along the trail,

    As it turns out, the Sundial Bridge is a cute pedestrian bridge, illuminated at night, that spans the Sacramento River as it descends from the Coast Range into the valley.  It is mere minutes from the freeway and hotels appropriate for a night's stay with my sweetie.  

    Regrettably, as plans were being formulated, Shawn and Andrew were called upon to head up to Seattle at about the same time we might have been heading down to San Francisco Bay.

    All this brings us to yesterday.  I was standing in the rain looking wistfully at sailboats while the aforementioned sweetie was shopping with her lovely daughter on the mercantile end of Hayden Island in north Portland.  As I stood there, much like the Water Rat from Wind in the Willows, thinking of  just messing around in boats, who should call but Shawn ad Andrew.  They were in their SUV, driving north on I-5, just an hour south of Redding.  Suffice it to say, it didn't take long before I was imploring them to stop in Redding and look for the Pipevine and the Swallowtail.  Shawn already knew about the Sundial Bridge  (it must be the biggest tourist attraction within a fifty mile radius) so relating the instructions for finding the Pipevine Swallowtail and its eponymous host plant was a snap. 

Possibly a female Pipevine Butterfly S. Barille Sundial Bridge 6/21

   They accepted their assignment happily and, much like Carl Linnaeus, I got back in my car, out of the rain, and waited for someone else to find animals for me. 

   At this point I ask you to to be kind when comparing the Academia at Uppsala University with a 2018 Mazda 3 in north Portland.  In both cases it was probably raining.

    Talk about service with a smile.  In less than an hour I was receiving movies and still photos of the object of my desire.  The dynamic duo had no trouble finding the bridge and walking to the far side where, only steps away, there were lots of butterflies.   Andrew described the  butterflies as both beautiful and energetic.  

   Despite the vigorous flapping of wings, however, the butterflies remained close enough for some remarkable photography.  Butterflies frequently fly away before Sandra and I can snap a picture.  In Hawaii we have found that the host plant, Crown Milkweed, will keep Monarchs close by.  And some well tended flowering plants will hold the Gulf Frittilaries as they feed.   Good luck attempting a photograph of a butterfly on the wing. 

The thrill of discovery.  Andrew and Shawn at Sundial Bridge.
    Andy supplied us with the movie that you see above, which I find utterly fascinating.  I am assuming that we are looking at a pair of butterflies. In this instance, its likely that pipevine, their host plant, has drawn the butterflies to the area.   However, one of the pair is clearly engaged in nectaring on a stand of violet colored wildflowers.  The one that is not feeding is the darker of the two, the one we suppose is the male.  Look at the way he attentively flutters around his mate.  What do you suppose is keeping him in the picture? 

   Hence, Andrew's movie captures all three of the of the factors that guide the butterfly phase of these amazing invertebrates:  the host plant the caterpillars will feed upon, flowers that provide sustenance to the adult butterfly, and the chemical messengers that bring the sexes together, resulting in eggs.

  The literature suggests that among California Pipevine Butterflies the dorsal hind wing of males is more iridescent blue than the female.  According to the California Academy of Science, this is the only difference.  However, the differences we see in Shawn's pictures and the movie  are greater than that.  One butterfly, I assume the male, is just as you would expect, black with a blue dorsal hind wing.  What I believe is the female is almost a drab gray.

    Feel free to look at the picture from Whiskeytown NRA and compare that butterfly, also in resting position, with the one in Shawn's second photograph.  In both pictures we see the ventral surface of both wings. The wings of the Whiskeytown butterfly are black.  Shawn's are dusty gray.  And the spots on the hind wing are orange on the former and almost white on Shawn's.  If you look carefully at the movie, you may get a feel for the dorsal surfaces of the feeding, gray butterfly. 

    If you are not familiar with butterflies, you might think that there may be significant variation from individual to individual, but within a small geographic area, I don't believe that this is the case.  Hence, I will propose that there is greater sexual dimorphism in the California Pipevine Butterfly than the California Academy of Science would have us believe. 

   Keep in mind that Andrew's movie, and Shawn's still photos were taken with cell phones.  I think their results are amazing.

     Well, that is this week's butterfly story.    The paper mache butterfly exhibit opens later this week, so you can anticipate an exciting report.  in the meantime, keep your antennae tuned to the three Fs:  Food, Foliage and Pheromones!   


Beavers Shirt and Batman Cape.  Our grandson Reid keeps a sharp lookout for butterflies.  

                                                    Photo by Gramma Sandra

Monday, May 24, 2021

Alligator Lizards in the Air

    Saturday afternoon I helped my son, James, stack half a cord of wood.  James lives on top of Livingston Mountain, just north and east of Vancouver, Washington at an elevation of about 1500 feet.  At my advanced age, I was pleased to be able to engage in some genuine physical work, but after an hour I had shed my outer garments and I was looking for any reason to take a break.  So I was both fascinated and relieved when James announced that there was a lizard harboring under the last of the wood.  

Southern Alligator Lizard, Vacaville, Ca. 
    Although it had been foggy when we walked down the hill, through the pasture to the barn, it was now bright and sunny, albeit still below 50 degrees.  There in the grass, looking up at us, was a surprisingly stout lizard with a formidable head.  The shape of his head, with its elongated snout, lead me to believe this was an alligator lizard.

     Pretty much all I knew about alligator lizards was that they flew through the air in that pleasant ballad from the early 70s, Ventura Highway.  One has to assume that the song writer, Dewey Bunnell, had some personal experience with alligator lizards, although we are told that he was evoking clouds in the sky as his father changed a flat tire near Vandenberg Air Force base on the Southern California coast.  (Dewey grew up in an Air Force family.)

     Suffice it to say, its a long way from Ventura to Vancouver. I think Paul Simon might have included that fact in one of his collaborations with Art Garfunkel.  For me, at least that period is a bit fuzzy, so I might have got it wrong.  Was it Berkley to Carmel, Kalmazoo to Saginaw? Anyway, with this limited bit of knowledge, ie. Ventura Highway is where you see alligatior lizards, I had never presumed that they would exist in Washington State. As it turns out there are several species of alligator lizards.  B

Northern Alligator Lizard 
oth northern and southern alligator lizards may exist in the vicinity of both Ventura and Southwest Washington, although for the southern they just make it across the Columbia River.  Northern Alligator Lizards extend all the way up into Central British Columbia. Probably what we saw was the northren..

   The lizard just sat there.  Perhaps he was too cold to slither off, or possibly he was relying on the cryptic coloration of his hounds tooth coat, figuring if he didn't move we wouldn't see him.  There is a third possibility, that being that if we attempted to molest him he would inflict a painful bite.  Take that, you hippies!   There are several pictures on the internet of alligator lizards biting a human finger. 

   Neither James nor I had brought a cell phone to the wood stacking, so I'm including a couple pictures from the internet so you can get an idea of what I saw, a stout lizard of about eight inches with a formidable set of jaws.   

   Those of us in the north, still in the grips of a cold spring, can look at the clouds and dream of a warm Southern California highway. 


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Truth About Northwest Butterflies

     Yesterday Sandra and I went for a walk along the Columbia river.  We had discovered an area preserved as a meadow, with daisies and lupine, fronted on the river side by a fine stand of cottonwoods.  This area, in what is becoming suburban Washougal  is under development.  The new cement walkway, which extended for about a half a mile, may soon be the termination of a bike trail  extending all the way to the I-5 bridge in Vancouver, almost twenty miles away.  In the meantime, it provided some relatively undisturbed grassland and forest.

So which one is the sasquatch?

   Early in our walk, Sandra spotted a bald eagle high in the cottonwoods.  Everynow and then an osprey would circle the eagle and they would talk to one another.  Half a mile further we encountered an area under development with lights, a small slide and a sasquatch toiling against a cable.  That hairy ape, according to my son James, gives its name to this area,  At this stage it is locally known as Sasquatch Park.  

   Just beyond the sasquatch, Sandra spotted what is so far the best bird for our trip.  She had discovered a house wren singing in a small tree.  If you look over the apes right shoulder you can see the tree. 

    The wren was extremely cooperative, giving us several minutes of song from a distance of about twenty five feet.  So cooperative was this diminutive songster that I was able to nab the picture you see here with my point and shoot camera.  

   I have a long and varied relationship with house wrens.  They are one of several wrens that occur west of the Cascades,  Bewick's wren, with its rufous coat and bold black eyeline was my first wren, seen in my parent's yard.  What we used to call Winter Wren, now split from its East Coast cousin, to become the Pacific Wren, is a tiny bird that sings its heart out in the moist coastal forest.  Finally, the Marsh Wren (you can guess where this furtive bird lives) makes up the other wrens found west of the Cascades.

The House Wren sang his heart out.
    Thirty years ago, house wrens nested behind a board in our house in West Salem.  After a couple years I made a bird house which they used for several more years.

    Three years ago we visited my nephew Andrew and Shawn in San Rafael, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  They had a charming duplex, the back yard of which was a dry hillside.  Deer, coyotes and a variety of birds would appear at times on that hillside.  One day I noticed a family of house wrens living in a pile of dried sticks.  Two days later the owner had the hillside cleared, presumably to protect against a brush fire.  While this may have made good sense, it was a bummer for the house wrens.

   Which brings us to this happy songster.  While the wren was the best bird for the day, the main point of the outing was to look for butterflies.  Although we saw two species of bumblebees feasting on the lupine, and there were daisies and dandelions in abundance, we saw no lepidoptera.  If this field wasn't tailor made for nectaring, what was?   In my disappointment, I wrote to Daniel Rubinoff at UH Manoa, my go to butterfly source.  Daniel wrote back,

Bumblebees flocked to the lupine, but their were no butterflies to be seen.
 "Yeah I think that Teh Portland area is even worse than foggy Berkeley where I grew up!  The combination of cool weather and conifers doesn't help much... down by the river, where there is open space you might have better luck."

   Well, not so far!  But  a few chirps from a house wren is a good tonic.  And Daniel's advice will undoubtedly lead to an expedition into the mountains.  What could be better than that?


Sunday, May 16, 2021

Tiger Cowrie in the Night. Or was it in the Morning's Light?

     For the last ten days we have been living on the right bank of the Columbia River, in that nouveau riche village of Camas.  Once a paper making town, Camas has been transformed by its proximity to burgeoning Portland combined with the tax incentive of living in Washington.  They still make a little paper in Camas, but the economy is 99% white collar.

Weatern Tiger Swallowtail, courtesy Greg Dean
    I had been hoping to find  some  butterflies. in the Pacific Northwest.  In my previous life as a bird watcher I seldom saw a butterfly.  I had hoped that this was because I wasn't really focused on seeing butterflies.  In search of Lepidoptera, we have gone to several parks and gardens, including an enterprise ten miles north of Vancouver called Naturescape.

  I had high hopes for Naturescape, which boasts butterfly and bird gardens.  In actuality it turned out to be about three acres of trees and cultivated wildflowers plopped in the middle of a cow pasture.  There were a variety of attractive plants that, if there were more of them, might attract birds and butterflies.  It could be that this project is aimed at selling these plants, but there was no one there to sell them and no obvious source of stock, as one might expect to find in a nursery.  It was a lovely day and we enjoyed an hour in the garden, recording our first black cap chickadee for the trip.

   We have remained vigilant and recorded a fleeting Western Tiger Swallowtail in the parking lot of Mccuddy's Marina on Hayden Island.. 

   We are hoping that the butterflies will appear with the migratory birds in two weeks.

Money Cowrie with extended mantle and siphon
   While we have been here, spending the majority of time with our children and their progeny, our house exchangers,  Gail and Martin DeLuke,  have been minding the fort at Casa Ono and snorkeling in our stead.  Two days ago, while on a baby sitting assignment, I was greeted with a text from Gail, which included pictures of a cone shell hermit crab, a Christmas Tree Worm and a bristle worm.  But hold the presses!  Her fourth picture was of a cowrie that I could not readily identify.  As far as I could tell, it was almost black with a bit of lighter mottling and a myriad of white spots. 

   This resulted in a flurry of trans-Pacific text messages which ceased when my cell phone died.  As Gail was, at this point in her evening,  was equally interested in ono tacos, mango margaritas and marine biology, the best information would come later.  Suffice it to say, it can be frustrating for us scientific types to deal with normal people, no matter how well intended.

   It wasn't until the following morning, back at Chateau DeLuke,  that I transferred her picture to the

Reticulated Cowrie, Kailua Pier 2012

computer.  Once we had a better look, it was apparent that the cowrie was covered by a dark mantle which was projecting a panoply of short white papillae..  

   Suffice it to say, I was dumbfounded.  Fifteen years ago I captured a money cowrie and kept it overnight in our aquarium at Alii Villas.  An hour or so after dark, it extended a white mantle with amazing fimbriated papillae. That was the one and only time that I have seen a cowrie with its mantle extended.

   (It was with this picture, that you see here, that I seduced the winsome Marta De Maintenon,PhD who has been our go to invertebrate zoologist lo these many years.  You have to admit, its quite a picture, especially when you consider that our aquarium was a large mayonnaise jar and we were shooting through the plastic.) 

   The key concept in all the above is "after dark".  As far as I knew, cowries always retracted their mantle before first light.  I had not known that our friends swam at night, so as soon as it became 0630 in the land of the swaying palm trees I gave my correspondent a call.  Her field notes, now liberated from the intoxicating influence of ono tacos, were this:  The cowrie was seen at about 0730 at Kahalu'u in roughly four feet of water.  It was huge...she thought six inches.  At this point I recalled an scrub nurse telling a critical surgeon, "But doctor, the boys always told me this was six inches." 

Tiger Cowry with extended mantle, Kahalu'u 2021 Gail DeLuke,

    I gave poor Gail a lecture on how you have to be careful with measurements underwater, stating the the reticulated cowrie was probably the biggest at Kahalu'u,  reaching a maximum size  just under four inches.

   With this new information in hand, I went back to the computer.  Gail had forwarded a video of a Tiger Cowrie extending its mantle.  I found it, as well, and had to admit that it looked very much like what she had photographed.  Here is a video with lots of great information about Tiger Cowries along with a look at the mantle. 


   Tiger Cowries grow to 6 inches in Hawaii and are among the world's largest.  Due to their large size, they have been prized for arts and crafts.  That is one of the reasons they are now uncommon.  If you are lucky enough to see one of these behemoths, please do not take it home.   And if you happen to see Gail DeLuke, tell her I'm sorry I doubted her.

   I do not have this species on my list.  We will check with Kathleen Clark to see if it is on her list for Kahalu'u.  While Wikipedia says that this animal lives below 30 feet, other internet sources put it at deeper than 10 feet.  With Ms. DeLuke's excellent picture in hand I believe we can reduce that further to four feet.  

    When we return to the Land of the Coqui Frogs we will definitely take a few swims just after sunrise in hopes of seeing a cowrie with its mantle extended. In the meantime, where the heck are all the butterflies?


A follow up note. 

    Kathleen Clark, who does regular surveys of Kahalu'u. reports that she sees large Tiger Cowries occasionally.  The last was in August of 2021.  On the other hand, Bob Hillis, who spent a heck of a lot of time both in deep and shallow water, before moving to Utah a few years ago, never saw a Tiger Cowrie in shallow water.  He did see them on walls in places like City of Refuge. You have to trust me...in his prime Sr. Hillis was an astute and indefatigible observer of the shallows.  

   I feel a bit like Carl Linnaeus, whos sat in his chair at Uppsala University, sending out his young proteges around the world to find new plants and animals to add to his taxonomic lists.

    On the other hand, who would you rather be,  Linnaeus or Peter Artedi ?  Those of you who are students of the blog, or possibly the science of ichthyology, will recall that Artedi was a colleague of Linnaeus, who was strictly a botanist. Linnaeus never left Scandinavia, while Artedi and others traveled widely discovering and collecting.  Artedi was the prime collector of marine animals.  He died while collaborating with a famous Dutch collector in Amsterdam, falling into a canal on his way home and drowning. 

    Following his death, his observations were co-published with Linnaeus as  in "Ichthyologia sive opera omnia de piscibus ..."  However, when it came time to publish the seminal work,  Sistema Naturae,  old Carl shamelessly took credit for his friend's work. There are no fish attrbuted to Peter Artedi.  Quid pudor est.

    So here's to Peter Atedi, Bob Hillis, Gail DeLuke and Kathleen Clark (for I am but a hmble scribe.)  Enjoy the toast, but try not to fall off a bridge on the way home.



Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Tale of Liomera Tristis at Kahalu'u

     When you're playing cribbage, as Sandra and I do most every afternoon, the best you can do is hold for the run and hope that Lady Luck is on your side.  When it comes to snorkeling, the best you can do is get in the water as often as possible, be observant and, as in cribbage, hope that Lady Luck blesses your effort.

    Tuesday morning we showed up at Kahalu'u a bit before 9 AM.  While Yasuko was setting up the ropes and posting the admonitions (Don't step on anything!) I had a brief conversation with the boss, also known as Kathleen Clark-san, and then it was time to hit the water.  The tide was high enough that getting in was fairly painless, there was virtually no current  and the water was really clear.   

    Not too far out, I looked into a coral depression and saw a tiny xanthid crab.   John Hoover tells us that xanthid crabs are sometimes called dark fingered crabs, stone crabs or mud crabs.  Most are pedestrian in appearance and spend their lives in crevices or under rocks, so they are rarely seen.  

Liomera tristis,  Kahalu'u Bay, Hawaii Island April 2021

    This little crab, which was a mere 15 millimeters across his carapace, was very patient with me.  He permitted me to take four pictures over a couple minutes without moving a single one of those aforementioned  millimeters.  Either I was looking at the molted exoskeleton of a crab or, to paraphrase John Clease, he had ceased to be, he was bereft of life...he was an ex-crab.  Despite his apparent morbidity, and his being truly miniature, I could see that his walking legs were striped red and white, much like candy canes or the the stripes on the flag of our country.  (In foreign and domestic affairs may she always be in the right.  But our country right or wrong.  Stephen Decatur, loosely.)  As you can see, in addition to the stripes he does have dark fingers.

   The crab was well documented and one can only look at an inanimate object for so long, no matter how stripey, so I shoved off in search of other worthy critters and fish.  I turned over a couple shells, including this nice punctured miter, without coaxing any hermits to make an appearance. 

Punctured Miter sans hermit.  C'est domage.
    Towards the end of my swim I saw a pair of Achille's Tang and two female Pearl Wrasse.  Both pretty good species for Kahalu'u and I captured them in short video clips.  For those of you who prefer fish over crab, I am including those tasty morsels as a post script.  Finally, in the sand right outside the entrance was a large Reticulated Cowry.  As he wasn't moving, he did not rate a video.

    By this time, almost 10 AM, there we plenty of human bodies littering the rocky entrance, but soon I was up in the shelter, hailing Kathleen Clark.  Quick as a sea hare she had John Hoover's critter book.  The closest thing we found was Liomera rubra, Edwards 1865.  This small crab is pictured blow.

   I wasn't sure if Kathleen was willing to accept that identification, but I certainly was not.  Once I got the camera dried off and the SD card into the computer, I improved the picture to what you see above. 

    Now having a good look, I referred to that wonderful source for the identification of absolutely anything, Google Images.  Dr. Google, PhD did not disappoint me;  a few minutes of perusal revealed a picture, supplied by the floridamuseum.ufl.edu very similar to the crab I had photographed.  The picture had been taken in Guam and the name applied was Liomera aff. tristis

Liomera rubra, courtesy of the Crab Database, University of Florida.

    As it turns out, aff. is short for affinis which means that the species may be similar to another and the nomenclature is not finalized.

    As the crab was not in John Hoover's book, I forwarded it to the Great Oz.  He agreed that my identification was probably correct.  He had not heard of this crab before, but returned to me a reference from Peter Castro's checklist of Hawaiian Crabs:

Liomera tristis (Dana, 1852)
Carpilodes tristis (Dana, 1852a): 77 [type locality: archipelago Puamotensis ? (=Tuamotu Archipelago, French
Polynesia); type material presumed lost].
Hawaiian Is. records:
Carpilodes tristis (Dana, 1852) — Rathbun 1906: 842 [H.I.] — Edmondson 1946: 292 [Rathbun’s record]; 1962a:
248, fig. 8d [Rathbun’s record].
Liomera (Liomera) tristis (Dana, 1852) — Serène 1984: 59, fig. 19, pl. 5, fig. B [H.I.].
Taxonomy. Serène (1984)
Geographical distribution. Across Indo-West Pacific region.
Habitat. Intertidal, shallow subtidal.
    In the meantime, I had found the following reference:
 American Fisheries Society Special Publication 31 version 18-May-04  
2004  McLaughlin et al2005 Common and Scientific names of Aquatic Invertebrates...
Liomera tristis
Hawaii, Native                          McLaughlin, et al(2005) Occurence values: H

    For me, this was akin to a visitation from a friendly spirit.  In 2007 Sandra and I discovered a small hermit crab on the reef outside Alii Villas, where we lived.  Sandra worked the computer for all it was worth and we came up with the identification,  Calcinus revi.  This was the first record for the United States and we got some attention from two prominent carcinologists with an interest in small hermit crabs, Joseph Poupin, of the Ecole Navale in Brest, and Patsy McLaughlin of Western Washington University..  
Patsy McLaughlin 2007

    Before our next trip back to the PNW, Patsy had us put one of the three Ca. revis we had found in a small bottle filled with Southern Comfort (Patsy explained that this beverage is higher in alcohol than other whiskies) and we brought it to her at her home in Bow, Washington.  Bow was, at that time, extremely rural.  Patsy lived in a cabin completely devoted to the study of crabs.  She greeted us in her muddy yard bedecked in a flannel shirt stout trousers and Wellington boots.  She was accompanied by her two large dogs to whom she was feeding McDonald's Cheeseburgers, while berating them at the top of her lungs.  I must tell you, it left an indelible image.
    Soon enough she had our specimen under a microscope and confirmed our identification.

Sandra's delicate fingers and Calcinus revi.
   A year ago, I had the opportunity to write to Joseph Poupin, who informed us that Patsy had passed.  He sent along this photo he had taken of his fellow carcinologist and their friend Alain in a
restaurant in France.  (Hence, a French restaurant.)

   So here we are.  Its is far from clear to me how uncommon this little crab is.  Was the reference by Dr. McLaughlin the last time it was seen in Hawaii?  I have written to Dr. Poupin and I'm hoping that he will  confirm our identification and, at the same time tell us just how uncommon was this sighting.  Will I be referred to another esteemed carcinologist? In the meantime, I have had the opportunity to reflect upon my friend Patsy McLaughlin.  I'm sure she is out there on a beach somewhere, turning over rocks, looking for hermit crabs.


After only a few hours I received this email from Joseph Poupin:

Dear Jeff,

    What a nice surprise to get some news from you! I remember very well the time we were working together with Patsy. I feel like you: she was an incredible human being.    ...

    Your crab does not pose a real problem. Although we cannot see the carapace, the banded legs pattern plus previous records of this species in Hawaii in Castro list seem enough to propose with confidence Liomera tristis, a species widespread in the IWP, especially in Western and Central Pacific. You will find a few photos of this crab in my database.

Rare sightings of common species are not unusual for Decapoda, living mostly at night and experts in the art of camouflage.

I hope that you are still well and enjoy your life in Hawaii, far away from the COVID.

Take care of yourself.

Joseph that has kept the spirit of Patsy!


Achillles Tang, Kahalu'u  April 2021




Female Pearl Wrasse, Kahalu'u April 2021

Monday, April 19, 2021

Saturday Morning at Kahalu'u

    Last weekend was probably the end of Spring Break season.  For the last few days the traffic on the Kuakini Highway has been half of what it was a week ago.  Hoping that this would translate into fewer tourists at the beach, we headed down to Kahalu'u for a swim on Saturday morning.

Annie with Punjab.  She's not the only brave girl!
    As it turned out, even before 9 Am there were plenty of people at the beach park.  The maddening crowd not withstanding, I was able to claim my usual table for changing.  And in a favorable wind shift of the first order, one of the Reef Teachers brought in a three gallon bucket full of aquacates with a small sign saying "Free Avos."  Well, I stowed two of his cute little avocados in my tucker bag and, only then, headed down to the bay entry.

    Working my way over the pebbles, I stumbled around a lady and a small girl and plopped on a mossy boulder, where I planned to put on my fins before crawling, amphibian-like, over the rocks and through the narrow channel.  As it turned out, the lady was probably a young grandmother and she was gently coaxing the girl, who was most likely just 4, into her mask and fins.  I asked the nice lady if it was her (the young girl's) first time snorkeling.  She replied that it was her first time snorkeling here, at Kahalu'u.  At this point you should remember that this is not the easiest place to go snorkeling; the entry is annoying and there can be plenty of current.  

I'iwi!  The male bird wrasse taking care of business April 2021
   Through my mask I looked at the little girl, who also had her mask on.  Just like two google eyed frogs we were.  I said, "See a fish for me."  Her grandmother coaxed her ever so gently and she looked me in the eye and said,  "I will."  In the words of Punjab, as he saved Annie with his gyrocopter," A girl without courage is like a night without stars."   This little lady was like the Milky Way.

   Out in the bay the water is getting warmer.  This is good news for Gail and Martin DeLuke, who in three short weeks will become the Stewards of Casa Ono.  Which is sort of like being the Stewards of Gondor without the orcs and Ring Wraiths.  

   Immediately I saw a cooperative male bird wrasse.   the juvenile bird wrasse is omnipresent at Kahalu'u, so one might expect to see more breeding males.  Apparently one male can service a plethora of females.  The male bird wrasse in Hawaiian is named I'iwi, like the red honeycreeper with the long, red decurved bill. And what a handsome fellow he is.

   After I finished photographing the I'iwi I saw the snorkeling grandmother with her young charge.  they were plying the bay swimmingly.  I caught her eye and gave her a thumbs up and she replied in kind.  Heart warming.

    Heading towards the breakwater, I found the same cleaning station that we discussed a week or so ago. I watched the goings on and nabbed the video you see here.  I have made much of the way fish, in the process of being cleaned, appear totally detached.  Here you see a juvenile star eye parrot that is in absolute rapture.  Rolling over into a totally unnatural position, for a moment, at least, he couldn't care less about anything.
Ambon Toby  Kahalu'u April 2021


   Further out by the breakwater I found a cooperative Ambon Toby.  This is a common small puffer fish with beautiful electric blue lines and spots.  I used the flash in hopes of accenting that iridescence.  My sense is that bright sunlight would better display those brilliant lines and spots. But this ain't too shabby.

    I was well aware that the best picture I have of the Ambon Toby was taken  many years ago with the Canon D10.  At the minimum we now have an acceptable picture with our current camera.

     A short distance away I encountered these gorgeous blue goatfish in concert with a small ulua.  This is a common association.  Its hard to tell how these two species improve each others hunting, but, as they are ever seen together, they certainly must.

A pair of Blue Goatfish hunt with the Ulua.  April 2021









  Back into the bay I encountered a large school of Orange Spine Unicornfish and nabbed a fortuitous video. Towards the end of this clip you get a look at a behavior that it is far from uncommon but difficult to demonstrate with a s still photo. It is relatively common to see an orange spine unicorn ,often one that is slightly larger, probably more mature, get excited and chase other members of the species.  When engaged n this excited disciplinary behavior their forehead, pectoral fin and, as you see here, the ventral fin light up, bright yellow. When the chase is complete, these bright yellow features soon return diminish; the ventral and pectoral fins return to gray and the forehead to a dull yellow.  Most often when I see an excited orange spine unicorn, there are only a few other fish around and its difficult to pick out the social territory that the aggressor is defending.  Here we see a large school and I presume that the excited fish is lord to them all.  Most must be females, but mixed in the group thee must be young males, as well.

     I certainly do not want to read too much into this.  They are fish, after all.  So let's not compare this behavior to that of a silverback gorilla maintaining lordly discipline over his troupe.  But is this so different from the wild stallion who leads his herd, maintaining his dominant position with teeth and hooves?  The orange spine unicorn is still fairly common at Kahalu'u and if you visit you may see a large grouping like this one.  Watch the school for a few minutes and perhaps you will be lucky to see the dominat mail, colors ablaze, asserting his position.

     Back ashore, the young girl and her grandmother were nowhere to be seen.  I'm sure she is out there, though, and I'm equally certain that she saw a fish for me.


Red Pencil Sea Urchin, Kahalu'u April 2021




Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Shortnose Wrasse at Last or What do you do with really stubborn ear wax?

    Monday morning an unexpected change in plans left us with the day off.  Following breakfast, a look from our lanai revealed minimal surf and so I decided to bop down to Kahalu'u for a swim.  

   By the time I got there the surf was coming up, but the current was weak enough to make getting around fairly easy.  I saw little close in and gradually worked my way further out in to the bay. 

Does the Mona Lisa of Blennies know where to find Shorty?
   The surf was gradually increasing.  By the time I got out to where I could hear the surfers talking to one another, there were waves breaking over me. In that bouncy environment I spotted a  small speckled fish.  Having lots of experience with this little fellow, not to mention having it right up front as my target fish, I knew it was a juvenile Shortnose Wrasse.  I turned and looked at him for an instant and then he disappeared.  

    Having gone so very far, I was not going to give up on this fish.  While looking for him, I spotted a female Coral Blenny.  This species is usually quite skittish, heading for cover the moment they notice that you are looking at them.  This lady, however, was delightfully patient with me and I got five usable photos.  Dispensing with the other four, I kept the one you see here.  How do you like that wry smile?   Is she the Mona Lisa of blennies or what?  Did that hint of a smile mean that she knew where the shortnose was hiding? 


    I continued scouting around for the Shortnose Wrasse and in the process spotted a large Haig's Hermit Crab in a depression.  Of course, this is one of the smaller hermit crabs, so in actuality, the fact that he was large meant that he wasn't miniscule.  This is one of my favorite species of hermits, in large part because he has purple legs.  Go Huskies! 

     I took a few photos of him in his depression and then made a lucky
grab.  Once I had him in my clutches he peeked out and then withdrew.  I wedged him into a crevice near the surface and started looking for a hand hold for myself.

    It is a curiosity of many bays in Hawaii that you can swim quite far out and yet the bay remains shallow.  Here I was more than a hundred yards from the beach and the bottom was only five feet down with coral and rubble extending up to within two feet of the surface.  

    Before I was able to get situated (the waves kept washing me off my hand holds) the small hermit poked out and flipped over.  In addition to the the still photograph you have here to enjoy, you get a short movie showing the Haig's Hermit making his escape from his lofty prison.  While you are watching you might consider swimming in the waves while holding the camera still at an acceptable distance from the small crab.


  At this point, I entreat you to remember your hermit crab anatomy.  In this picture with General Haig looking up at you from inside his crevice, you can see the long orange antennae, used for feeling, and the two antenulae, which in this colorful species are a handsome blue, beneath the eye stalks.  Remember that the antenulae are used for tasting so they are in close proximity to the mouth.

    By the way, I love that color of blue.  It is my recollection that Meryl Streep, in The Devil Wears Prada, comments on just that shade of blue as she berates Anne Hathaway, who is a Philistine when it comes to the world of fashion.  Knowing young adults from New York City as I do, I suspect that Anne is equally unversed in the world of carcinology.  And by the way, Miranda Priestly calls that color cerulean.

Shortnose Wrasse 1

     Finally I tore myself away from the hermit crab and, lo and behold, I had wasted enough time and our friend Shorty had returned to our wave swept patch of coral and rubble.  In a quixotic effort to impress Kathleen Turner with my photographic prowess  (or to paraphrase the Cowardly Lion, I was trying to be a Lion not a Mowess) I chased that little fish around the coral for at least ten minutes.  As we have previously noted, this juvenile does not like to stay in one place.  Unfortunately, with the waves and the current I could not stay in one place either.  Every time I went for a handhold I was flipped back and forth like the tail of a kite in a hurricane.  

   So what you see here are pictures of a small, darting fish as taken by a consumately immobile photographer.  In each picture I offer you the challenge:  Is it the fish or the photographer creating the motion that distorts the image?  At the end of the day, the pictures aren't perfect, but they aren't terrible and it gives you a good idea what this fish looks like.

Shortnose Wrasse 2  Is it getting better?

   Feeling like I had just been put through the heavy duty cycle on the old Maytag, and with enough material for a stab at a blog, I headed for the beach.

   While I was rinsing off the multiple garments that constitute my winter snorkeling outfit, I noticed a young lady who I had seen earlier, when I was putting on these very same shirt,vest and weight belt.  At that time, I noticed that she was fair skinned, but.it was hard to tell how fair she was because she was standing by the sunscreen dispenser that the Reef Teachers provide, doing her best to cover herself in that sticky white paste.  She looked like Casper's girlfriend.

   Now she was sitting on the rock wall between the showers, cleaned off and looking a more normal shade of slightly pink tourist.  She looked up and gave me a small smile, sort of like that female Coral Blenny we had encountered out in the bay.  This was all the invitation I needed, so I asked her where she was from.  "Minneapolis" she replied.

The Shortnose Wrasse Juvenile.  In focus at last.

    "Oh." I said,  "Minneapolis in the news."  

 "And not for a good thing."  she replied with a bit of a
frown..  To make matters worse I said, "With any luck they won't burn the place down tonight."

    Little did I know that George Floyd, the famous martyr of the Twin Cities,  was becoming old news.  Just a few minutes earlier, in a suburb of Minneapolis, a policewoman had  killed a black boy, stopped for an expired license plate.   She did this with a single bullet when she thought she was using her taser.  Whoa to the land of Hiawatha.  Not to mention all the rest of us. 

   So as you go about your day, concentrate on something pleasant, like little wrasses flitting about among the coral.  And for goodness sake, remember that your gun is on your right hip and your taser is on the left.


    Not everybody has an earwax problem.  If you don't go snorkeling, you may not even realize that you have a problem.  But if you do go snorkeling, you may notice that earwax can prevent the saltwater form leaving your ear canal and this can create significant problems.  

    Suffice it to say, I have been in a life and death struggle with wax for forty years.  One can use alcohol to make the sea water thinner and that often helps.  Or you can try irrigating your ear with warm water and a bulb syringe.  Until recently, this worked for me.  If you don't use warm water you get tremendous vertigo!

     Here is a tip for when all else fails.  In your local pharmacy you will find tiny bottles of ear drops, which are very expensive.  Nearby you might find a large bottle of mineral oil for a relative pittance.  It is apt to be in close approximation to the chocolatey flavored laxative tabs.  As it turns out, the mineral oil is the same thing as the expensive ear drops and, assuming you are using it for ear drops,  you can purchase a lifetime supply for next to nothing.  

     The first time I attempted to use the mineral oil (which is administered in a very small quantity by a sympathetic second person)  I didn't leave it in long enough. My sympathetic person looked into this and suggested that I stopper up the ear with a bit of cotton and leave it for an hour.  Following this treatment the wax washed right out (with the bulb syringe).

    Never leave sea water in your ears unless you want to end up in the emergency room.  Progress from alcohol, to warm water irrigation and then to this new trick.  Most of all, good luck in finding a sympathetic second person.  He or she will be the key for any number things, ear and not ear related.