When travelling to a new place, the first thing I do is look for field guides or online checklists of species found in that area. This is easy for birds, but not so easy for types of wildlife, such as reptiles and amphibians, dragonflies, and of course butterflies. Once I get home with all my hundreds of photos, it’s easier to narrow down the species I’m interested in. Fortunately, finding online guides to the odonates of the Dominican Republic wasn’t difficult, even though there are fewer people studying odes than there are people studying butterflies; I was surprised that it was much more difficult to find similar websites or articles dedicated to the butterflies of the Dominican Republic, even when I widened my search to the island of Hispaniola. The best checklist I could find was the one on the BAMONA website (Butterflies and Moths of North America). Still, I wasn’t sure how accurate the list was, or if it encompassed all the species of the Dominican Republic or just those that have been recently reported by members of the BAMONA website. I ended up with a lot of photographs of skippers (one of the most difficult groups of butterflies to identify), and clicking on each species link to view the photos quickly became a tedious chore.
Trying to identify my butterflies this way proved more frustrating than rewarding – I was able to identify three of the skippers by this method. So I gave up and, as a last resort, uploaded my pictures to iNaturalist in the hope that someone familiar with the butterflies of the Dominican Republic would see them (normally I only upload species once I have identified them myself). The great thing about iNaturalist is that when you upload your photos, it will make suggestions as to the species. Not surprisingly, the non-skipper species were easier to identify.
I only saw one species in family Pieridae; that is, the whites and sulphurs. We saw several of these large yellow sulphurs fluttering around the flowers on our trip to the National Park of the East. This is the species that made me question the BAMONA checklist as it is not on it. However, this was the most likely species according to iNaturalist, and after reviewing the sulphur species on the BAMONA checklist, I couldn’t find anything that matched. The most similar species on the BAMONA checklist is the Apricot Sulphur, but the submarginal line on the underside of the hindwing is broken and angled in that species. Interestingly, the Large Orange Sulphur has two seasonal forms: the winter form has heavier underside markings while the summer form is almost entirely yellow.
In Costa Rica, I had found a couple of spots on the resort that attracted plenty of birds and butterflies; one spot was the mango grove, where the Malachite butterflies were attracted to the fallen fruit; the other was the red-flowering tree which attracted at least two species of hummingbird as well as several lepidopteran species. Our resort in Punta Cana had the Lantana garden, which attracted several butterfly species, one hummingbird species, and even a dragonfly one visit! This is where I spent most of my time butterfly-watching, as it was always full of activity in the afternoons when I visited.
I only saw the Gulf Fritillary once in the garden, but it was a species I recognized from my trips to Florida and Costa Rica.
Another familiar butterfly from my trips down south was this Julia Heliconian. I saw two on my trip, a fresh, dark orange one and a worn, faded pale orange one. Even though it seemed like a simple enough ID to me, two people disputed this ID on iNaturalist and suggested Juno Silverspot (Dione juno) instead. While this species looks identical, it was not on the BAMONA list, and I was at a loss as how to differentiate the two species in light of the photos I had taken. Fortunately, some time later another naturalist (Martin Reith) disputed the Juno Silverspot ID and advised that Punta Cana was “out of range of every known Dione species” and the butterfly I had photographed looked like the locally common Dryas julia.
I was thrilled by receiving such a knowledgeable response rather than a simple ID correction, so I asked Martin if the BAMONA checklist was accurate. In response he advised that is was “a nice start”, but noted that it added some butterfly species that are not on the island (Strymon columella), and omitted some others such as the two high mountain Choranthus species (C. schwartzi and C. melissa). He was also able to point me to his own site which is fairly up-to-date, despite some revisions to the genus Calisto and recently suggested name changes.
Another species I had no issues identifying was the White Peacock, first seen in the Everglades in Florida as well as in Costa Rica. A pair of them were visiting the garden the day I took this picture, and later I saw another one by itself.
Crackers are interesting butterflies with gray and white checkered patterns. These butterflies were fluttering all along the trail at the National Park of the East, and there were so many that their movements became a distraction while looking for birds. Still, this is the best photo that I managed. The BAMONA checklist suggests that the only cracker species present in the Dominican Republic is the Pale Cracker, so I was confused when that wasn’t the first choice offered by iNaturalist (that honour went to Gray Cracker). I left it as Cracker sp., then received notice a few weeks later when two people identified it as a Red Cracker. When I looked up the Red Cracker, this was clearly not the right species. First, the Red Cracker has beautiful blue marbling on the upperside. Second, it has a large orange patch on the underside of the wings. I later found a naturalist to review my photos, and he also confirmed Pale Cracker.
It was easy to narrow down this species to one of the Calisto species on the BAMONA checklist; there are only four species on the list, and I was able to narrow it down to three: Obscure Calisto, Confused Calisto, and Bates’ Calisto. The red patch below the yellow circle on the upper hindwing does not appear to be present on either Obscure Calisto or Confused Calisto, leaving Bates’ Calisto as the probable ID. These tiny members of subfamily Satyrinae (the browns and ringlets) were quite common on the resort, and I saw them perching on the vegetation in other spots on the resort.
This checkered skipper was the easiest one for me to identify, because it reminded me of the Orcas Checkered Skipper I had seen on our trip to Costa Rica. There appear to be only two black and white checkered skippers in the Dominican, and the other species (Antillean Checkered Skipper) has a black background with white spots. I believe this is a male as they have many white hair-scales covering the basal area of the upper wings, giving them a very grey appearance. Females have dark brown hair-scales giving them a much darker appearance. I only saw this pretty butterfly the once, and would have liked to have seen it more often.
Every time I visited the Lantana gardens I noticed one or two of these large, flashy brown butterflies whose subtle iridescence intrigued me. Although moth-like in appearance, the thin, hooked antennae gave them away as skippers. It was iNaturalist that suggested the ID of Yellow-tipped Flasher, though the BAMONA checklist only has Frosty Flasher on it. That species has a sky-blue patch covering the top of its thorax and the basal part of its wings, so my butterflies clearly weren’t Frosty Flashers.
My butterflies also didn’t have yellow tips, although after further reading I couldn’t disagree with the ID. There are 29 species of Flasher butterflies (genus Astraptes) which are all large with chocolate brown wings and stubby tails on the hindwings. While most Astraptes species have a translucent diagonal stripe crossing the forewings and three small translucent spots near the apex, the Yellow-tipped Flasher lacks these. The Yellow-tipped Flasher also lacks the metallic blue or green “fur” covering the head, body, and wing bases that are present in most other Astraptes species.
The Yellow-tipped Flasher occurs on the larger islands of the Caribbean, and from the southern USA to Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. Of the five subspecies, only two show the eponymous yellow patches on the hindwings, neither of which are found in the Caribbean.
This Ocola Skipper was distinctive enough with that abnormally elongated forewing that I was able to ID it using the BAMONA checklist. The undersides are generally plain brown, but some individuals may have a trace of a pale row of spots across the hindwing. The striped abdomen is also distinctive. Its range encompasses the southern US states, the Greater Antilles islands of the Caribbean, and northern South America. This species is highly migratory, with numbers travelling to North Carolina, Massachusetts, and even a few straying into Ontario in the fall.
The only other skipper I was able to identify using the BAMONA list was the Mesogramma Skipper, another distinctive butterfly where the female has two diagonal white stripes on dark brown wings. In males the stripes are yellow. It is found only in Mexico and the islands of Bahamas, Cuba, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. I only saw one on our trip.
After my experiences with iNaturalist left me with two misidentifications (the Julia Heliconian and the Pale Cracker), I began looking for a naturalist experienced with the butterflies of the Dominican Republic. As this proved to be difficult, I began looking for any naturalists experienced with any species of the island. My Google searches led me to Mike Burrell’s blog and a spider expert named Tony Tosto. I found his contact information and emailed him, figuring that most naturalists can at the very least identify most common species in their area, even if they are not their main topic of interest; otherwise, they may know someone who can! Tony was kind enough to put some identifications on my Pbase gallery, helping me identify a few more skippers.
The first was a beautiful dark reddish-orange skipper I saw on most of my visits. Despite its large size it was very quick, and it took me a few days to get some good shots of one. This species is found only on the islands of Bahamas, Cuba, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. There are three subspecies, with subspecies antiqua found in Hispaniola.
This was probably my favourite skipper other than the Yellow-tipped Flasher, as most skippers are shades of brown or orange and it is so difficult to distinguish between most of them. This brightly-coloured species commanded my attention every time it flew into the garden.
Tony also identified this Haitian Skipper for me. I could find little information about it on the internet; it seems to be endemic to Hispaniola, though I’ve seen references that it may be found on Puerto Rico as well.
The Baracoa Skipper, also known as the Little Tawny Edge Skipper, is found in the southern US states and the islands of Cuba, Hispaniola, and the Bahamas. Like its more familiar relative the Tawny-edged Skipper, the tawny edge to the forewing contrasts with the brown hindwing. The brown hindwing underside with its pale scales and a pale curved band is diagnostic. Not surprisingly, Lantana is listed as one of its nectar plants.
The final skipper that Tony identified for me is not new for my life list; the range of the Fiery Skipper includes the southern US states, south to Argentina as well as the Caribbean. It regularly wanders north into Ontario, and I got my lifer at Presqu’ile Provincial Park in September 2011. This was the first time I had seen a female, however. This was also the only one that I photographed on my trip.
I ended up with lots of photos of skippers, though several remain unidentified. I even saw some tiny, drab skippers that looked about the size of my thumbnail; I wasn’t able to get any photos of these, as it was too difficult to focus my camera on the butterfly among all the foliage before it flew off elsewhere. I don’t know how many species I saw in total there, but usually on each visit I would see between five and ten individuals fluttering among the flowers.
This one looks like it should be easy to identify. Perhaps one day I’ll go through the list of Dominican species again and see if I can find it.
These two might be the same species; it’s so hard to tell. Without a good top view or side view, however, I don’t know if they can be identified.
I also saw a few tiny blue gossamer-winged butterflies at the resort and on Catalina Island, but without any photos there is no way of knowing which species I saw.
It would have been nice to see some more exotic-looking brushfoots or swallowtails; but similar to the dragonflies, I think I would have needed to venture further afield to see them. I’m just happy that I saw so many beautiful butterflies on our trip, at a time of year where no butterflies are flying in Canada, and was able to get help identifying them.
For other people interested in identifying or learning about the butterflies of the Dominican Republic, these websites were helpful:
- The Good, the Bad ‘nd the Ugly – An updating checklist of the Hispaniolan butterflies – Martin Reith’s WordPress site, probably the most up-to-date
- The Butterflies of Cuba – Useful for reading about species common to both islands; this one gives details on how to distinguish each species
- The Butterflies and Moths of North American (BAMONA) – A useful starting point, but not completely accurate. The list links to the species page for each butterfly
- List of Lepidoptera of Hispaniola – A checklist of both butterflies and moths found inadvertently in a “Distributed Wikipedia Mirror” page while looking up one of the Latin names.