Panama - field trips 2022

Share your notes and experiences in the field
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Luehdorf
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Panama - field trips 2022

Post by Luehdorf »

I have been living in Panama since January now, and I go into the field every week but what surprised me most is that butterfly numbers are really low all over the country.
I live in Panama city near the Panama canal, surrounded by the Soberania National Park, and my apartment building is just next to the national park where I have been running my bait traps every day. I catch the occasional Archaeoprepona , prepona and caligo but no rare species, just the common ones. In January I had one catagramma tolima. I can see morpho helenor flying sometimes and I caught one morpho menelaus amathonte, but only one. Whenever I go walking into rainforest trails I might see one or two within four or five hours, and that is during bright sunshine after two or three days of rain, in June, July and August.
The only time when I saw a few dozen butterflies at once was in May here in the canal zone at a flower bush, where I found Parides anchises farfan in great numbers, and almost nothing else for about six weeks. The flowers are gone right now, probably will come back next year.
Trying to attract moths at night was even more disappointing, many times when I tried it at night in Boquete, in Anton Valley, and in the lowlands, there was literally nothing coming to the light. The only time where I caught about 20 sphingidae was in Cerro Azul at 900m in June, and that was also 20 moths in one night, not really big numbers.
I also never found any butterflies mud puddling and I really tried it hard, driving around for hours around the panama canal after rain when the sun came out.
What makes me write this post now was a conversation last weekend with a good Panamanian friend, 70 year old, parrot breeder who has been here for the last thirty years, and goes into the rainforest a lot. He told me 20 years ago there were so many butterflies mud puddling on the streets that you were killing hundreds of them driving through them, swarms of butterflies, and actually the meaning of Panama is "abundance of butterflies and fish".
So I am just wondering, has anyone of you had the same experience in tropical countries? Have numbers declined a lot? Or have I just not found the right spots yet?
I know that they are fumigating a lot of the areas around cities and villages here in Panama because of mosquitoes and there are almost no mosquitoes alongside roads and wherever there are houses. Could that be one of the reasons?
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Trehopr1
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Re: Panama - field trips 2022

Post by Trehopr1 »

I think you nailed it with your last question. Yes, pesticide "drift" is an enormous problem in any open air spraying.

It could also be said that some of the pesticide/herbicide products used have sometimes been "banned" in other countries (like the US) and, are purchased wholesale on (the cheap) for use by many third world countries. The presiding government simply wants to look good in the people's eyes by ridding themselves of the mosquito pestilence.

Of course, there could be other issues at hand also affecting what you (are not) finding; and I would say that probably the next big reason for such low numbers is destruction of the local habitats. Larger numbers of people means more expansionism for infrastructure, housing etc.

I think your best bet for success is to get away from any major city or town and hit the more rural locations. Of course try to find a trusty guide who is familiar with the country. Perhaps someone could take you out on one or two day excursions for collecting purposes.

Money talks (as always) so a little "green" passed along for their time, gasoline, or use of a vehicle will go a long way.
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Trehopr1
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Re: Panama - field trips 2022

Post by Trehopr1 »

I forgot to mention that the dismal showing that you are having with your moth collecting may in large part due to light pollution. In urban and suburban areas there is simply too many sources of light available. Of course, in a tropical zone like Panama there are a lot of chameleons, geckos, frogs, and spiders which all take a crack at the assorted things that are attracted to lights; so they take their toll.

Also, it may very well be that Panama might very well be switching over to LED or halide type bulbs which do not do much to attract insects.
Chuck
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Re: Panama - field trips 2022

Post by Chuck »

I think insecticides and population around the Canal are probably your two greatest challenges.

A knee-jerk response to the moths is "you're seeing what I'm seeing so it's the same cause!" but of course I cannot prove that. The drop in NE USA moth populations has been noted for a couple decades, but no concrete study has been done. So there is no basis to say the cause is the same.

Anecdotally: we were in a remote jungle area and hired a 4WD truck to take us up into the hills with the MV. It was perfect- a hilltop overlooking a locally-farmed (i.e., farmed by hand,no pesticides) valley, with mature jungle all around. We got almost nothing. The next morning I walked around the seaside bungalos at which we were staying, and picked all manner of moths off the walls under the 20W flourescent lights. Go figure. I have no way to explain, it's counter-intuitive. It wasn't voodoo, there must be a scientific explanation, but I don't have the answer.

Then there's the old rule: location, location, location. Panama, like everywhere else, is indeed seasonal. And some places are just better than others. It's finding the right place and right time. In targeting Papilio glaucus this year, one end of the field was loaded with them, the other end devoid, a matter of 400 meters. And one day they were gone *poof* only to be discovered less than 1km away, nectaring on a different plant.

I'd reach out to the local natural resources organization, NGO, or university. See if you can accompany them places, even if they are not after Leps.
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Re: Panama - field trips 2022

Post by Jshuey »

First - I've never been to Panama, so I am extrapolating from elsewhere in Central America.

When people talk about "swarms of butterflies" on the roads, they are almost always talking about Phoebis and similar genera. This phenomenon seems highly seasonal. You have to be in the right place (and at the right mudpuddle) to see the big numbers. But when you do see it, it makes an impression!

Or they may be talking about some of the seasonal migrations. Again, these are usually pierids of some sort, all flying in the same directions. You don't see clouds of butterflies, you see 10's at once (but for hours at a time) - all headed to the same place - where ever that is? Or they may be talking about migrations of species like Uranus or Eunica - you do see clouds of these at the right time of year. But it is just for a week or two, once every few years. These make a huge impression of people.

My experience in Belize, Brazil, Guatemala, and southern Mexico since the mid 1980's, is that butterflies are not generally abundant in the neotropics. It's not like going to a butterfly house where they swarm around you. There may be patches of Bidens next to a forest that has 10 to 100 butterflies on them. Or a liana in bloom that is attractive. But more likely, you walk a roadside or a trail through forest, and you see a butterfly or two a minute. Perched on leaves, flying along trails, or simply flying about.

At least that has been my experience.

John
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Re: Panama - field trips 2022

Post by Luehdorf »

@trehopr1 @chuck @Jshuey really appreciate your detailed responses. It must be a mix of all the different factors. When taking into account the pesticide drift, the areas where I was searching being heavily used by humans, a lot of light pollution and then probably not hitting the right location at the right time and missing the best peaks of emergences, that must explain my failure of finding a lot of butterflies.
When I first started in Germany it took me about three to four years until I fully understood how to read the weather, time the emergence according to the weather which is different for each spot and then going to one location in vain at three or four times before hitting the emergence time, and then there could be still days when everything is right and there are still no butterflies.
In the meadows of South Germany for certain lycaenidae or burnet moths out of 365 days in a year you will sometimes only encounter them on four or five days....now imagining some butterflies here in the tropics are similar that is a lot of searching until finding the right time and spot.
I will definitely search the help of some local entomologists and also look for some more spots like liana that bloom or other flowering bushes that I can go to when they bloom.
In terms of "hotspots" what other good locations would you target if you go into a country in the tropics and have no local knowledge yet? What about hill-topping?
There are a few good mountain tops where the mountains are deforested on top, and below there is rainforest. I only accidentally saw a few swallowtails on a hilltop when visiting a friends ranch. Around what time would you say is it best for hill-topping? Beginning of rainy season which would here in Panama be April-May, or beginning of dry season in December, or all year round?
I really appreciate all your experiences because that really helps me what to look out for, where to go, where to spend more time in the field and a better expectation management in terms of butterfly numbers... I admit I had this "butterfly house" tropics in my mind. :D
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Re: Panama - field trips 2022

Post by Jshuey »

Here are my thoughts.

Figure out what "high-quality" forest habitat looks like relative to crappy habitats (like old pasture that has re-grown to scrubby forest). You don't need virgin forest or anything - but you need forests that have a high diversity of trees with all the epiphytic plants that grow on them plus a decent understory shrub and herbaceous community. The interesting Central American butterflies are really adapted to forests - and their hostplants are really dependent on forest that have retained their integrity. Find open trails and narrow dirt roads through such forests. This is where the bugs will be. Narrow roads especially, allow bugs that fly in the canopy to drift downward to human level.

Use high-quality baits, and recognize that you need to use more than one bait trap to get decent results. For fruit baits - the recipe I outline here (https://www.researchgate.net/publicatio ... utterflies) has NEVER failed me. If you leave the traps up for 2-3 days at a time, keep the fermentation active by adding additional sugar water every day. Important to note that traps that are placed out for a few hours may or may not work well. 24 hours is my minimum, and I usually try for longer. (But, if you leave the traps in one place for too long, fruit-eating bats will eventually clean the traps up for you).

Use a combination of fermenting urine and "fish broth" to attract metal marks, hairstreaks, some nymphalids, and skippers. Fish broth is made by decanting the water off a rotting fish in a jar, or easier, using the juice from canned "tuna in water" as the base. Let this get really smelly, and then use a small pressure sprayer (the kind you pump up) to spray on leaves along shaded trails. Add small pieces of unscented toilet paper to attract skippers (these act as visual bird-poop cues).

If you are in the same area for 3+ days - find a small, sunny mud puddle that stays wet next to a forest, and add as much urine to it as possible. After a couple of days, it should be pretty fragrant, and should attracting good pierids and papilionids.

Hill topping - is a real thing in the tropics - but I have never been very successful with this if the hill top has been cleared (like for a radio tower). This probably depends on if the area has been recently cleared - or if there has been time for flowering shrubs to establish. Alternatively, steep ridge lines that support open forest or some sort of stunted shrubs are excellent. If you find natural clearings along such ridgelines - you hit the jackpot! Here is an example from Belize - https://www.researchgate.net/publicatio ... _of_Belize

Altitude matters - and you don't have to go all that high to see a big difference in Central America. Forest at 1,000m support very different species than sea level. 2,000m is a complete game changer. Cloud forest probably has the rarest stuff, but you have to be there early in the morning before the clouds fill in to collect.

Hope this helps,
John
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jhyatt
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Re: Panama - field trips 2022

Post by jhyatt »

John Shuey, Have you found the saliva-soaked tissue paper bait for skippers to work in Central America? I had zilch positive results in Costa Rica with this method...

Tks,
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Re: Panama - field trips 2022

Post by Jshuey »

jhyatt wrote: Wed Oct 19, 2022 9:34 pm John Shuey, Have you found the saliva-soaked tissue paper bait for skippers to work in Central America? I had zilch positive results in Costa Rica with this method...

Tks,
jh
It works a little. That's why I've been told to use fermenting fish juice / urine instead. I think this adds an olfactory aspect plus gives the bugs more to eat than just saliva (so they stay put longer). I have not yet tried this, but have seen amazing photos from Honduras.

Spit-based lures have worked well in two types of situations for me. Once, I was right in the middle of a major army ant surge in the forest. Army ants were every where. Insects and spiders (soo many spiders!) were jumping around like crazy trying to get away. Birds were chasing down the jumping insects. And skippers were following the birds and stopping at my fake bird poop. This has happened exactly twice for me.

The other situation is at dusk, where I put a lot of fake bird poop on the black soil of a heavily shaded trail through forest. If there are crepuscular skippers around, that black on white is very attractive, and they will stop for a few seconds to investigate. I've used this fairly regularly, but you have to be in an area where the skippers are living.

Otherwise, it seems like I've given up lots of spit on hot days, just to see one, maybe two ok bugs. Usually not worth the spit!

j
Chuck
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Re: Panama - field trips 2022

Post by Chuck »

If the target is broad, "butterflies", I think Panama is the same as anywhere else.

You best bet is overgrown flowering areas that get a lot of sunlight and have forest very close: roads with broad shoulders of "weeds", overgrown yards and gardens, abandoned properties. These are usually in the areas immediately outside of suburbs. Former logging roads as well.
Cassidinae
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Re: Panama - field trips 2022

Post by Cassidinae »

Luehdorf - as far as moths, can you post a photo of the canvas and lighting you are catching at night? It is also very important to catch in the new moon. But you probably know that.
Luehdorf
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Re: Panama - field trips 2022

Post by Luehdorf »

Cassidinae wrote: Sun Nov 27, 2022 10:46 pm Luehdorf - as far as moths, can you post a photo of the canvas and lighting you are catching at night? It is also very important to catch in the new moon. But you probably know that.
I use an EntoLED by Bioform Germany, here is some detailed info about it, its in German but google translate works good and there are some photos, apparently it works well for other researchers: https://www.bioform.de/shop.php?action= ... reeid=5273
And I use a light tower over the light:
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Light Tower Cerro Azul 2022.jpg
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Luehdorf
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Re: Panama - field trips 2022

Post by Luehdorf »

@Cassidinae yes I made sure it was a new moon night, it was even cloudy, and very light mist was falling, so it was very wet and humid, but no rain, absolutely perfect night, in the mountains of Cerro Azul, view into a valley of primary rain forest and secondary growth, at least two or three kilometres on the left and the right side, 800m elevation in June 2022
Cassidinae
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Re: Panama - field trips 2022

Post by Cassidinae »

Luehdorf wrote: Tue Dec 06, 2022 9:16 pm Luehdorf - as far as moths, can you post a photo of the canvas and lighting you are catching at night? It is also very important to catch in the new moon. But you probably know that.
A friend had something similar - maybe even exactly one of the variants on bioform.de. See first photo. I had an ordinary mixed discharge lamp (= without ballast) 250 W and several energy-saving UV (BLB) fluorescent lamps and the result was many times better. See second photo. Mercury lamps are said to be even better. E.g. nobody catches Titanus in French Guiana on UV. Strong white light is irreplaceable in my opinion.

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FOXXDOC
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Re: Panama - field trips 2022

Post by FOXXDOC »

ANY TIPS ? WHERE TO STAY ? WHERE TO COLLECT ? GUIDE ? PERMITS ?

TOM
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