Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly


I photographed a Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio troilus) last night in the Nescopeck State Park. My family was doing a formal photographic portrait, photos to come later on the family blog, and in the garden near the ranger station, several swallowtails were feeding on nectar. This spicebush female is identified by the blue color in the tail, while males are a bit more green. The photograph captures their unique characteristic of fluttering while feeding. Most butterflies are still while drinking nectar.


The name Spicebush comes from one of the host plants associated with it. However, the swallowtail does lay eggs and feed on many members of the Lauraceae family. They are found only in eastern North America, from Florida to southern Ontario. The species does not make it to my home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.


Queen Anne’s Lace 

I also captured this Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), or Wild Carrot. This is the wild version of the domesticated carrot. Like its cousin, the root can be eaten, but only when young. The leaves can be eaten as well in small quantities. It is native to Europe and is naturalized here in North America. Several states have labeled it a noxious, invasive weed.


Starry Sky Beetle


Nadia’s kindergarten students have been catching these Asian long-horned beetles (Anoplophora glabripennison our school’s playground recently. We have a terrarium in the school and since beetles are popular pets in Japan, it is easy to find beetle food (left of the beetle in the photo) Nadia is keeping three of them. The class is studying living things and so it is so it is great for the kids to have living things in school.

They are an invasive species in the US where the larvae kill many trees. They do not do so much damage here in East Asia, its native range, as there must be natural predators, which are lacking in the USA and Europe.

It is a big beetle and very beautiful. I like it’s other name, the starry sky beetle. It does look like stars shining in the dark night sky. It also has a gorgeous blue coloring on its appendages.


Black Pine Beach on Awaji Island

catching moon jellyfish

Numerous moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) were floating near the Keino Matsubara beach on Awaji island yesterday. In the video, Oliver is holding one. The four purple circles are the gonads. The tentacles of the moon jellyfish are so fine that they cannot penetrate human skin so as you can see, they are safe to touch. They are found all over the world and I’ve seen them in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and now the Seto Inland Sea.


One of my favorite trees in Japan is the black pine (Pinus thunbergii). They can grow in the harsh region of a beach and provide a stark contrast to the sun, sand and sea. The Keino matsubara beach features a stand of 50,000 trees, planted as a wind break and beach preserver against erosion. The light is so beautiful under the trees and Ocean, Oliver and I spent a delightful afternoon among them. We noticed the long needles are in bundles of two.


There was a small group of Oriental Greenfinches (Carduelis sinica) feeding on the ground underneath the trees. They were quite active and looked to be feasting up some type of seed.


How do they do it? Transformation to a Butterfly


A parent in my wife’s kindergarten class (she is a teacher) brought in several chrysalides (plural of chrysalis) she found in her garden. The students watched the emergence of this female Indian fritillary (Argynnis hyperbius). I arrived late but was able to see it first few minutes as a butterfly. The underside has a leopard-like print and the upper side of the wings, below, completely different.


It almost looks like two different butterflies. The species is also different in that it has a huge range, from India to Japan and the males and females have different coloring. Thinking about it, what an amazing process to go from a caterpillar to a butterfly! That is such a radical change of shape and lifestyle.



Rainy Season Nature Observations


June in Osaka is warm and rainy. It rains about 1/3 to 1/2 of the time, humidity is usually over the 80% and average temperatures are in the 80s F. On my bike ride today I photographed this pied skimmer dragonfly (Pseudothemis zonata) . They were numerous and flying above the pond in the Senri Chuo central park.


The most unusual feature of my ride today was spotting two Reeves’ Turtles (Mauremys reevesiion sidewalks in two different parks. I notice a lot of the exotic red-eared slider, but not many of the Reeves, or Chinese pond turtles. I was able to catch them quite easily so I see why they are threatened in the pet trade. In China they are disappearing from the wild, but are raised extensively on farms for medicinal and culinary uses. They were bigger than my hand and quite docile, not clawing or snapping at me.


I also spotted (photo above) a family of  “swamp chickens” (love the name) or common moorhens (Gallinula chloropus). The colorful beaked male above was with two females and three chicks. My final observation (photo below) was this Japanese Wagtail (Motacilla grandis) “Seguro sekirei” in Japanese. They are endemic to Japan but have been feeling pressure from the white wagtail, a species that thrives in human habitat and has expanded its range throughout Japan. The Japanese wagtail prefers feeding along the river, like this one was when I photographed it. I see more white wagtails in parks and a pair in our school. The Japanese wagtails are hanging tough, maintaining their numbers and range, but the white wagtails are becoming more numerous, especially in the past 20 years. I hope the Japanese wagtail can continue to survive as it is truly Japanese.




Limestone Forests of Guam (Part I)


We spent the afternoon in the Guam National Wildlife Refuge in the far northern tip of the island. It is a  385-acre strip of forest that abuts Anderson Air Force base. The park is trying to preserve and reintroduce some bird and plant species lost due to predation from the brown tree snake, beetle and other invasive species. They have some nature trails which we started exploring, but need to go back to see them fully. Above is the Blue-banded King Crow Butterfly (Euploea eunice). There were about ten of them fluttering about this one plant I could not identify.


Oliver gives perspective to a breadfruit tree leaf. 

I didn’t realize how large the leaves of the famous breadfruit tree were. As you can see, they are massive. The breadfruit is originally from the south Pacific and planted all over the tropics today. It is one of the most used plants in the world and has sustained humans on the islands for thousands of years. One tree can produce up to 200 huge fruits per year. Besides eating the fruit, the Chamorros, the native people of Guam, used the wood to build their outrigger canoes, and the leaves to wrap food in. The trees also provide habitat for many animals in the forest. They are hardy trees, growing on the sandy and salty coral atolls, resisting extreme sun and heat and the occasional typhoon. The fruit when cooked has the consistency of hot bread. I don’t think I’ve ever tried it.

Definitely have to go back to spend the entire day. I especially want to find some of the rare birds and trees of the refuge.







The Coral Reefs of Guam


My children and I spent the entire day on the reef in front of our rental home near Merizo, a small town on the far southern end of the island. We are becoming experts on sea cucumbers as the rubble mixed with live coral and tidal pools are full of them.


We saw two Lion’s Paw Sea Cucumbers (Euapta godeffroyi) today. They are long and look like snakes, except for the tentacles at the front end. They do not feel very substantive when touch, almost like a thin noodle.


This unidentified sea cucumber resembles a leopard sea cucumber, but does not have the yellow to orange patches. It might be in the same genus, Bohadschia. There were also hundreds of snakefish sea cucumbers, lodged under rocks but reaching out and feeding.


Snakefish sea cucumbers feeding 

Fish were quite abundant, but I am lacking an underwater camera. Saltwater coral fishes have an amazing array of colors and shapes. We identified flasher scorpionfish, three-spot wrasse and moorish idol. 

I am so impressed with the biodiversity of the reef in the Pacific. We probably saw over 100 different species of organisms in a very small area.