Creatures on Antigua

Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Fri 5 Jun 2009 19:30
Just a few of the many creatures and plants we have seen during our stay on Antigua








The Cicada - pronounced si-keida is an insect of the order Hemiptera, suborder Auchenorrhyncha, in the superfamily Cicadoidea, with large eyes wide apart on the head and usually transparent, well-veined wings. I first met them whilst living in Malta (1960-1964) and apparently called them cheese-bugs. There are about 2,500 species of cicada around the world, and many remain unclassified. Cicadas live in temperate to tropical climates where they are among the most widely recognized of all insects, mainly due to their large size and remarkable acoustic talents. Cicadas are sometimes colloquially called "locusts", although they are unrelated to true locusts, which are a kind of grasshopper, they are also known as "jar flies". Cicadas are related to leafhoppers and spittlebugs, in parts of the southern Appalachian Mountains they are known as "dry flies" because of the dry shell they leave behind.

Cicadas are benign to humans and do not bite or sting, but can be pests to several cultivated crops. Many people around the world regularly eat cicadas: the female is prized as it is meatier. Cicadas have been (or are still) eaten in Ancient Greece, China, Malaysia, Burma, Latin America, and the Congo. In North China, cicadas are skewered or stir fried as a delicacy. Shells of cicadas are employed in the traditional medicines of China.

The name is a direct derivation of the Latin cicada, meaning "buzzer". In classical Greek it was called a tettix, and in modern Greek tzitzikas - both names being onomatopoeic.



Cicadas are arranged into two families: Tettigarctidae and Cicadidae. The largest cicadas are in the genera Pomponia and Tacua. There are some 200 species in 38 genera in Australia, about 450 in Africa, about 100 in the Palaearctic, and exactly one species in England, the New Forest cicada, Melampsalta montana, widely distributed throughout Europe. There are about 150 species in South Africa.

Most of the North American species are in the genus Tibicen - the annual or dog-day cicadas -so named because they emerge in late July and August . The best-known North American genus is Magicicada, however. These periodical cicadas have an extremely long life cycle of thirteen to seventeen years and emerge in large numbers.


Description: The adult insect, sometimes called an imago, is usually one to two inches long, although some tropical species  - the Malaysian Pomponia imperatorial can reach six inches. Cicadas have prominent eyes set wide apart on the sides of the head, short antennae protruding between or in front of the eyes, and membranous front wings. Also, commonly overlooked, cicadas have three small eyes located on the top of the head between the two large eyes that match the colour of the large eyes, giving them a total of five eyes. Desert cicadas are also among the few insects known to cool themselves by sweating, while many other cicadas can voluntarily raise their body temperatures as much as twenty two degrees centigrade above ambient temperature.


Male cicadas have loud noisemakers called "timbals" on the sides of the abdominal base. Their "singing" is not the stridulation (where two structures are rubbed against one another) of many other familiar sound-producing insects like crickets: the timbals are regions of the exoskeleton that are modified to form a complex membrane with thin, membranous portions and thickened "ribs". Contracting the internal timbal muscles produces a clicking sound as the timbals buckle inwards. As these muscles relax, the timbals return to their original position producing another click. The interior of the male abdomen is substantially hollow to amplify the resonance of the sound. A cicada rapidly vibrates these membranes, and enlarged chambers derived from the tracheae make its body serve as a resonance chamber, greatly amplifying the sound. They modulate their noise by wiggling their abdomens toward and away from the tree that they are on. Additionally, each species has its own distinctive song.

Average temperature of the natural habitat for this species is approximately 29 degrees centigrade. During sound production the temperature of the tymbal muscles were found to be slightly higher. Cicadas like heat and do their most spirited singing during the hotter hours of a summer day.

Although only males produce the cicadas' distinctive sound, both sexes have tympana, which are membranous structures used to detect sounds and thus the cicadas' equivalent of ears. Males can disable their own tympana while calling. Adult cicadas have a sideways-ridged plate where the mouth is in normal insects.

Some cicadas produce sounds up to 120 decibels "at close range", among the loudest of all insect-produced sounds. Conversely, some small species have songs so high in pitch that the noise is inaudible to humans. Species have different mating songs to ensure they attract the appropriate mate. It can be difficult to determine which direction cicada song is coming from, because the low pitch carries well and because it may, in fact, be coming from many directions at once, as cicadas in various trees all make noise at once.

In addition to the mating song, many species also have a distinct distress call, usually a somewhat broken and erratic sound emitted when an individual is seized. A number of species also have a courtship song, which is often a quieter call and is produced after a female has been drawn by the calling song.


Life cycle: After mating, the female cuts slits into the bark of a twig, and into these she deposits her eggs. She may do so repeatedly, until she has laid several hundred eggs. When the eggs hatch, the newborn nymphs drop to the ground, where they burrow. Most cicadas go through a life cycle that lasts from two to five years. Some species have much longer life cycles, e.g., such as the North American genus, Magicicada, which has a number of distinct "broods" that go through either a seventeen year or, in the American South, a thirteen year life cycle. These long life cycles both happen to be prime numbers, perhaps developed as a response to predators such as the cicada killer wasp and praying mantis. A predator with a shorter life cycle of at least 2 years could not reliably prey upon the cicadas.

Cicadas live underground as nymphs for most of their lives, at depths ranging from about 30 cm (1 ft) up to 2.5 m (about 8½ ft). The nymphs feed on root juice and have strong front legs for digging.

In the final nymphal instar, they construct an exit tunnel to the surface and emerge. They then moult on a nearby plant for the last time and emerge as adults. The abandoned skins remain intact clinging to the bark of trees. They live above ground for 5-6 weeks, then they mate, and then they die. If that's the case I would rather forego the rudies and stay underground. Not a man comment.


Predation: Cicadas are commonly eaten by birds, but Massospora cicadina (a fungal disease) is the biggest enemy of cicadas. Another known predator is the Cicada Killer Wasp. In eastern Australia, the native freshwater fish Australian Bass are keen predators of cicadas that crash-land on the surface of streams.

Some species of cicada also have an unusual defense mechanism to protect themselves from predation, known as predator satiation. Essentially, the number of cicada in any given area exceeds the amount predators can eat; all available predators are thus satiated, and the remaining cicadas can breed in peace. 


Cicadas inhabit both native and exotic plants including tall trees, coastal mangroves, suburban lawns, and desert shrubbery. The great variety of flora and climatic variation found in north-eastern Queensland results in its being the richest region for the spread of different species. The area of greatest species diversity is a sixty mile wide region around Cairns. In some areas they are preyed on by the cicada-hunter - Exeirus lateritius which stings and stuns cicadas high in the trees, making them drop to the ground where the cicada-hunter mounts and rides them, pushing with its hind-legs, sometimes over a distance of a hundred meters, till they can be shoved down into its burrow, where the numb cicada is placed onto one of many shelves in a 'catacomb', to form the food-stock for the wasp grub that grows out of the egg deposited there. 






The Cicada emerging and the perfect skin left on the tree.


Cicada and symbolism: In France, the cicada is used to represent the folklore of Provence and Mediterranean cities (despite the fact some species live in Alsace or the Paris Basin). A summer insect (at least in temperate countries), the cicada has represented insouciance - that is nonchalance or indifference since antiquity. Jean de la Fontaine began his collection of fables Les fables de La Fontaine with the story The Cicada and the Ant based on one of Aesop's fables: in it the cicada spends the summer singing while the ant stores away food, and finds herself without food when the weather turns bitter.

Cicada songs are regularly used in Japanese anime to indicate that a scene is taking place in the summer. In the Japanese novel The Tale of Genji, the title character poetically likens one of his many love interests to a cicada for the way she delicately sheds her scarf the way a cicada sheds its shell when moulting. They are also a frequent subject of haiku, where, depending on type, they can indicate spring, summer, or autumn.

In China the phrase 'to shed off the golden cicada skin' is the poetic name of the tactic of using deception to escape danger, specifically of using decoys (leaving the old shell) to fool enemies. It became one of the thirty six Chinese stratagems. In the Chinese classic Journey to the West, the protagonist Priest of Tang was named the Golden Cicada; in this context the multiple shedding of shell of the cicada symbolizes the many stages of transformation required of a person before all illusions have been broken and one reaches enlightenment.


In 2004, "cicada" ranked 6th in Merriam-Webster's Words of the Year.










QUEEN CONCH - pronounced Conk: I collected three of these huge shells caught in the rocks on Stony Horn Beach these shells weigh two and a half pounds each and are about ten inches long, amazing to think they can haul themselves around. We have often seen them decorating people’s gardens. Conch when newly captured they have a pretty pink interior. Unfortunately this mollusc is becoming scarce as conch is a favourite nutritious West Indian food and so easy to dive for on sea grass beds on which this species feeds. They are definitely overexploited, even more so with the advent of island scuba divers who search them out in the depths. The female lays a cluster of half a million eggs, but the survival rate is not great as the hatched juveniles are eaten by other sea life when in the planktonic stage. Conchs can live up to twenty five years. The Amerindians also exploited this shell and used it to make sharp hand adzes with which to hollow out their canoes. Their middens (piles of shells) may be seen at various locations around Antigua. There is one on a small island in Nonsuch Harbour.








HERMIT CRABS: may be seen crawling with their borrowed seashells serving as ‘houses’ far from the ocean. Due to the scarcity or disappearance of seashells these days because of overactive human activity (e.g.. pollution and anchoring), the crab on the left has found an old plastic measure. Also known as Soldier Crabs, they live most of the time in inland forests, and only return to the sea to lay their eggs. The young become members of the plankton before they finally take up life on dry land. The West Indian top shell appears to be the popular ‘house’ for hermit crabs. As they grow they have to search out new shells. It is quite a performance choosing the right shell by feel, and then they quickly change into the new house before fellow cannibalistic crabs, which might well want that shell, eat them. Hermit’s soft bodies are well sought after by fishermen as fish bait. These crustaceans are not fussy about their food as they are scavengers, eating plants, carrion and even the poisonous Manchioneel apple. Had his own blog but I just cannot resist any excuse to slip him in.







SERGEANT MAJOR, Abdudefduf marginatus

This is a common seven-inch diurnal and gregarious reef fish and found in shallow water. They feed on zooplankton, algae and smaller invertebrates. The female glues eggs on to a cleaned off rock and the male guards the nest for 2-3 days, having turned a dark blue. This fish is so named after the dark stripes on the yellow body.








GROUND LIZARD, Ameiva griswoldi - One for you Lord and Lady Grizwold.

This 10-inch dark brown lizard with a reddish head may often be seen scrabbling on the ground of scrubby vegetation, making quite a noise in dead leaves. It feeds on insects, scorpions, spiders and roaches and even small bird eggs. These lizards do not climb trees, but confine themselves to rocks and the ground. There are 19 species of Ground Lizard.


LAND CRAB OR MANGROVE CRAB: had his own blog previously.







FLAMBOYANT Delonix regia  

One of the most beautiful trees of the world, it is indeed, the National Flower of Puerto Rico. This glorious flowering tree is also known as the Royal Poinciana or Flame Tree. In June and July, when these trees are in full bloom, with the dazzling bright red flowers covering the tree, it is a sight to behold. The tree is a native of Madagascar and is umbrella shaped and offers generous shade. It blooms profusely and then loses its leaves during the dry season, appearing to have died. One leaf holds about five hundred small leaflets and the tree is well adapted to drought. One petal of the five of each bloom is white. As soon as the rains come, the tree is filled with new growth and eventually the glorious flowers appear again. The seed pods are long (up to two feet) and when dry, make a distinctive rattle. This makes them popular as a musical instrument, locally called shack shacks (rattlers). The seeds are often used for making necklaces.







BOUGAINVILLEA Bougainvillea glabra

The Bougainvillea plant is named after a French navigator, Loius de Bougainville, who took a specimen back to France in 1768. It is a hardy cultigen and seems to flower in times of little rain. The brilliant colours red, orange, white or pink of different plants emanate from leafy bracts, while the minute flowers within, are white and have no petals. One of the first ornamentals we saw once we hit warmer climes, it is very common everywhere we now visit. We often see gardens where white, pink and red or peach have been intertwined to make fabulous colour displays.






HIBISCUS Hibiscus rosa sinensis

This is one of the most prevalent flowers of the tropics. Many are red, but there are 5,000 hybrids. China is thought to be the hibiscus’s native country. In the South Seas, girls wear them in their hair, as when picked, they stay fresh all day. Picked early in the day and placed in a refrigerator, they stay open all night. If you need to polish your shoes, the blossoms make a fine polish. The red blossoms make a good tea, especially if flavoured with lemon grass.







NIGHT BLOOMING CEREUS Cephalocereus peruvianus

This is a tall cactus very similar in appearance to the Dildo Cactus. The branching columns grow to about ten feet. The plant flowers several times a year, only by night, with many big, fragrant creamy-white flowers with large petals. This is a very showy plant when blooming.







MONKEY-NO-CLIMB Euphorbia lactea

This cactus-like shrub or small tree is often planted in hedges. Like other euphorbias it contains a milky white latex which is poisonous and dangerous to the eyes. The branches are numerous and very prickly hence it makes good barriers and fences. In the Virgin Islands the plant is known as Monkey Puzzle.