Photo by Michelle Wisniewski
Why did we choose the Miami Blue butterfly for our chapter mascot? We wanted a butterfly that would symbolize the fragile, and rapidly disappearing natural areas of Florida. We wanted a butterfly that, while imperiled, still persisted in limited places – and thus might be saved from extinction. We wanted a butterfly that put us in touch with the marine blue of the Caribbean and Gulf Coast waters of its habitat. Thus, we became the Miami Blue Chapter of NABA.
The Miami Blue is a tiny (1 inch wingspan) butterfly with a heavily patterned white and brownish-gray underwing; from a top view, males are bright blue and females are blue with dark wing edges and two orange spots on the rear wing. The Miami Blue is currently known in the wild from only a few off-shore tiny islands between Key West and the Dry Tortugas. One disease outbreak or one storm surge could spell their end.
Miami Blue caterpillars are highly selective and are known to eat the coastal plants Blackbead, Gray Nickerbean, and until recently, Balloon Vine. (Now Balloon Vine is the larval host plant being used by the Silver-banded Hairstreak, but not to our knowledge, by the Miami Blue.) Like many species in the Lycaenidae or “Gossamer-winged” butterfly family, Miami Blue caterpillars associate with certain ant species and benefit from their protection.
Our mascot is thus a denizen of coastal scrub, but no longer of backyards. We receive numerous inquiries about the “little blue butterfly in my yard” and, if it dashes about rather frantically, high then low, to and fro, and might be seen in the vicinity of Blue Plumbago, then you probably have made a home for the Cassius Blue. If it flies languorously and low to the grass, it is likely to be a Ceraunus Blue. Both of these common, and beautiful, butterflies can be seen both in your yard and in wild places.
Coastal land in Florida has been intensively and increasingly developed – and with development has disappeared the Miami Blue’s habitat. Remaining patches of habitat are segregated from one another by miles of concrete, precluding natural distribution of tiny butterflies that can’t fly far. Development has also brought demand for the use of insecticides, including but not limited to mosquito spraying. Exotic ants, such as the various fire ants, compete with the species known to protect the Miami Blue. Parasitoids may be at play. Predators include small reptiles, birds and carnivorous insects and spiders. In the face of these obstacles, our mascot is struggling for its survival, despite numerous conservation efforts, including our own.
At the University of Florida’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity in Gainesville, Miami Blue butterflies have been very successfully captive-bred for re-introduction into the wild. However, re-introduction efforts did not produce populations of Miami Blues in any of their former haunts, such as Everglades National Park or North Key Largo. A new study proposed by Dr. Jaret Daniels, Associate Director of the McGuire Center, will attempt to understand what happens to Miami Blues released into natural areas with suitable habitat. Where do they go? What is their fate? This study will be one of the projects in which our chapter will collaborate by monitoring Miami Blues closely following release.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has set forth a new 2010 Miami Blue Management Plan, with input from several public agencies, parks and refuges, and NABA. In the new plan, there is heavy emphasis on research, protection of existing habitat, and management of habitat for sustainability of the Miami Blue. You can find a link to this document on our web site, on www.miamiblue.org, click the "conservation" button and then the link to "Miami Blue Butterfly."
There is plenty for NABA members to do – we invite you to join us in our work to keep the Miami Blue butterfly from extinction, and we are pleased to respond to your questions. Share your thoughts!