Saturday, 15 March 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary Part 3: Insects

Canary Speckled Wood - Tenerife
With the huge variety of endemic plants and habitats on the various islands, it is not surprising that there is an even greater variety of endemic insects. On my trip the weather was not usually sunny enough to bring out a large variety of butterflies and dragonflies, but we still managed to see five species of dragonfly and eight species of butterfly.

The invertebrates of the Canaries are derived from both Europe and North Africa, plus a high proportion of endemics that originated on the islands themselves. In addition, there are a few that derive from even further afield – both birds and insects are occasionally blown across the Atlantic from the Americas, and in this way American Painted Lady and Monarch have established themselves on the islands. The Monarch is dependent on cultivated Asclepias grown in gardens for its larval food plant, and only colonised about a hundred years ago.

Monarch - Fuerteventura
A great deal of work still remains to be done on the taxonomy and conservation of the endemic invertebrates of the islands. Most of the islands have their own endemic species or subspecies, and the lengthy geological history of each island, combined with repeated colonisations from both other islands in the group and the neighbouring mainland have further complicated the picture. Today the estimated species list for Lepidoptera alone runs to over 700 species (mostly moths), and there are also extensive endemic groups of beetles, flies, and grasshoppers, with some beetles and grasshoppers having evolved into flightless forms which are for obvious reasons restricted to single islands.

Sadly, this high degree of endemism, combined with tourist developments, especially near the coast, have placed a number of species on the endangered list. Aside from direct habitat destruction, an increase of fires has also had an effect. The destruction of laurasilva forest for agriculture was probably the main cause of habitat destruction prior to the modern era, but natural causes such as the desiccation of the Sahara in the last 10,000 years, which especially affected the eastern islands, will also have affected the resident species.

Butterflies seen:

Canary Large Whie - from wikipedia
Canary Large White Pieris cheiranthi (endemic)
Small White Artogeia rapae (widespread European species)
Bath White - Tenerife
Bath White Pontia daplidice (widespread Europe/ North Africa)

African Grass Jewel - from wikipedia
African Grass Blue Zizeeria knysna (N.Africa, Spain)
Monarch Danaus plexipus (N.American colonist)
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta (widespread Europe/ North Africa)
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui (widespread Europe/ North Africa)
Canary Speckled Wood Pararge xiphiodes (endemic)

Dragonflies seen:

Sahara Bluetail Ischnura saharensis
Vagrant Emperor Anax ephippiger
Blue Emperor Anax imperator

Broad Scarlet - Fuerteventua
Broad Scarlet Crocothemis erythraea
Red-veined Darter Sympetrum fonscolombii

(Images from Wikipedia, my own photos)

1 comment:

  1. I spent a considerable amount of time on Tenerife recently, searching for the Canary endemic non-biting sand-fly Nemopalpus flavus. This species has no close relatives in contemporary Europe or North Africa, but is very similar to a fossil species found in 44 million years old amber from North Europe (baltic amber). There are also similar species in temperate parts of South Africa and Namibia. Probably the European populations of Nemopalpus spp got extinct during the ice ages, now you have to go to Tenerife to find them. See for pictures.
    While I did not collect Nemopalpus, I enjoyed the beautiful cloud forests (mostly laurel), the astonishing volcano succession and the subtropical lowland vegetation.
    Beautiful landscapes and habitats. I also succeeded in collecting the Tenerife endemic fly Phthiria antiqua and a species of the Macaronesian endemic planthopper genus Cyphopterum which I haven't been able to identify.