Over the weekend my good friend Jim Monk sent us an email. Suddenly, in the bushes around his home, he had lots of butterflies. Jim lives in a house that he had built on a bluff, surrounded by ten acres of coffee trees. All this is perched at about 2,000 feet with a sweeping view of the South Kona coastline. His home is a mile or two north of Paradise, which is a collection of homes built on roads that split off form a precarious artery that winds steeply down to the Pacific.
|Sandra and Jim Admiring the Rosemary and the Butterflies|
Jim had sent a couple pictures of the butterflies and wondered if they were monarchs. It wasn't the best picture, but these butterflies, albeit out of focus, were the color of cheddar cheese. In Hawaii, that makes them Gulf Fritillaries. As I explained to Jim, our monarchs are more bronzy and the hind wing is usually a soft yellow.
Suffice it to say, I immediately invited myself, and my lovely companion, down to Paradise for a gander at the butterflies. We decided that Monday in the late morning would be perfect for butterfly watching.
Sandra and I arrived about 10:30, having been held up by road construction on the Mamalahoa Highway. Jim greeted us at the car and led us only a few steps to a wall covered with a woody vine that reminded me of pyracntha. A second vine was intertwined with the pyracantha and offered up delicate blue flowers which were attracting butterflies galore. One would presume those flowers were full of fragrant nectar.
|Gulf Fritillary Butterflies on Blooming Rosemary|
The first butterfly I saw was a monarch, but after that it was all Gulf Frits. We hung around the wall for a bit taking pictures and enjoying the beautiful butterflies. We then made our way through the garage into the back yard.
As we passed through the garage, much to our delight, we came upon our friend Mort. We had met Mort at Jim's house at a couple parties. He's a Jewish guy with a charming Japanese wife, which makes them a perfect Hawaiian couple. As an example, our senator, Brian Schatz has an equivalent, and apparently very happy, marriage. Samurai shalom! And it must be a successful marriage; how much more successful can a politician be than holding a seat in the US Senate? But I digress.
Mort has an understated sense of humor and a wide ranging interest in the world around us. Although he practices as an accountant, at the party two years ago we had a chance to look at his entomological research, which was being carried out in our host's back yard. And who says chardonnay and fruit flies don't mix?
|Mort with his digital dissecting microscope.|
In the garage Mort was working with a small computer. Whether he was doing Jim's taxes or cataloguing fruit fly data, he didn't say.
Out in the back yard Jim had a raised bed full of rosemary. The rosemary was blooming and it was full of butterflies. Here we found a plethora of Gulf Frits, but also a fiery skipper who permitted a quick snapshot and several Orange Sulfur butterflies, who were two fast for us.
Looking at his raised bed full of butterflies, I commented to Jim that someone must have a lilikoi around to account for all the Gulf Fritillaries, which are also known as Passion Butterflies. This is because their obligate host plant is passionfruit, or lilikoi. Although it may seem like this single host plant relationship would restrict the Gulf Frit, passionfruit (which, like the eponymos butterfly, must be native to south Florida and the Carribean) is popular, both for its fruit and for its lovely passion flowers. Thus, wherever lilikoi is grown, the Gulf Frit is found as a garden butterfly. Jim allowed that just over yonder he had lilikoi growing on an arbor. However, it was in a state of decline.
|A Gulf Frit caterpillar on a lilikoi leaf, Panasonic Lumix.|
We walked the fifty feet towards the Pacific and considered his planting. The arbor was ten feet tall and twenty feet long, and mostly bare. A sad lilikoi plant clung to the trellis at the north end, nearest the house. There might have been as few as one hundred leaves remaining on the lilikoi. Que triste!
As it turned out the paltry number of leaves worked to our advantage. A lush lillikoi vine would have thousands of leaves. Here we had relatively few to peruse. And we were able to concentrate on the ones that had small fenestrations suggestive of munching caterpillars. It took only a minute or so before we started seeing tiny caterpillars.
And tiny is the critical word. Sandra and I are used to ogling Monarch caterpillars, the smallest of which dwarf what we saw here. These caterpillars ranged in size from tiny to very small. The largest we saw was about a millimeter across and a centimeter long. We used the camera to get a picture of a feeding caterpillar in hopes that the photo would better show us what the caterpillar looked like. As you can see, the caterpillar has a brown body from which projects numerous black spikes.
|Caterpillar on dissecting microscope screen|
I wasn't satisfied with the look that I was getting and headed back to the car for my reading glasses. On the way, i passed Mort, still working with the computer in the cool garage, who asked what we were up to. On hearing about the tiny caterpillars, he volunteered to get a device better suited for looking at tiny animals and departed post haste.
The reading glasses helped a little, but it appeared that we would need to be satisfied with our modest photographs. Then out of the blue, who should appear, but Mort, bearing a small instrument associated with a compact monitor. We walked with him over to the lanai. Jim plopped down in a comfy chair (I fear he had been working hard in the garden prior to our arrival) with Sandra to keep him company. Mort set up his contraption on a convenient counter. It turned out to be a digital dissecting microscope. Once he had it turned on, he proceeded to show me dried fruit flies that were left on the device after his last series of observations. He was particularly enthusiastic about the unusual mouth parts of this miniscule fly.
|Another look at the Gulf Frit Cat under the microscope.|
It was the group consensus that we could sacrifice a portion of one of the few remaining leaves on Jim's lilikoi, and so I found a larger caterpillar, ripped off a portion of the leaf on which he was both dining and residing. (Did it ever occur to you that it is a caterpillar's fate to eat himself out of house and home?) Here you see a picture of Mort's monitor with the caterpillar magnified. As we watched, the caterpillar moved around the leaf, either trying to escape or looking for the tasty part.
The show drew to a conclusion. I took the caterpillar back to the arbor and maneuvered him onto a fresh leaf. Sandra and I took one more look at the wonderful butterflies and Jim gave Sandra a couple sprigs of fresh rosemary. If the butterflies like it, I'm sure we will, too!
If you have a hankering for some delicious Kona coffee, we highly recommend Jim's grind. I can personally attest that it is the perfect beverage to end an evening full of wine, food and friendship. You can order the coffee at:
There may or may not be a butterfly on the label!
|A Gulf Frit prepares to nectar on one of those blue flowers.|