Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Atala Update by Sandy Koi

Photo by Ron Nuehring
Some of you may know that I have been studying and monitoring the atala butterfly for six years in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Although I have not been able to visit as many sites lately as I could before, I do get updates from people who have atalas in their gardens, and from organizations, such as Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens. The atala populations in recent years have experienced  fairly low numbers, or have not yet made an appearance, even in areas that have had a stable colony in the past—and locations that, by this time in the summer, ‘should be’ irrupting with hundreds of individuals.

Unfortunately, some of the few extant sites have experienced suspected “robberies” of larvae and pupae from colonies that have not been stable to begin with, and that has caused some concern about the colonies’ survival.  It is quite a turn-around from previous years, when those same organizations were scrambling to find new release sites for the irrupting atala colonies numbering in the hundreds!

I am privileged to be working with Dean Jue and the Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) and the Broward County NABA chapter, searching for and documenting imperiled butterfly species, including the atala. Since I am living in Miami for the summer, I’ve also had the opportunity to find a few atala sites in Miami-Dade County, and am looking forward to working more closely with Miami Blue. You can read more about FNAI and the atalas on my “Atala News” blog--dedicated to Butterfly Conservation!

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Photo by Linda Evans
The Dina Yellow was spotted recently at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.  Absent for more than two years, this beauty is back.  It was seen in the area in front of the west Visitor Center parking lot as well as in the butterfly garden.  While extremely rare in south Florida, it is often found at the Deering Estate just inside the main gate, at Castellow Hammock in the hammock, at the Kampong and at Camp Owaissa Bauer.  Local gardeners have found that if they plant the host plant, Bitterbush (Pitcramnia pentandra) in their garden and are close to a known population, they too may see them in their garden.  The Dina also uses the native Mexican Alvaradoa (Alvaradoa amorphoides).
Dina Yellow male
   Photo by Hank Poor
Dina Yellow female
 Photo by Hank  Poor


South Florida has many varied habitats which support specific plants adapted to the varied plant environments. One of the best ways to learn your butterflies is to be aware of which butterflies live in each different ecosystem. One of these plant environments is the seashore where the soil is sandy, drains rapidly and salt air is prevalent. The leaves of the plants are likely small and the root systems of these plants are likely shallow. Some of the plants that support coastal butterflies are:

Black Mangrove (Avicennia germinans) - Mangrove Buckeye
Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) - Mangrove skipper
Seashore salt grass (Distichlis spicata) - Obscure skipper and
   Salt marsh skipper (rare)
Bay Cedar ( Suriana maritima) – Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak and Martial
Coinvine (Dalbergia ecastaphyllum) – Statira Sulphur
Saltwort (Batis maritima) – Eastern Pygmy Blue
Perennial Glasswort (Salicornia perennis) – Eastern Pygmy Blue
Nickerbean (Caesalpinia bonduc) – Miami Blue (rare), Ceraunus Blue,
   Martial Scrub-Hairstreak, and Nickerbean Blue (Keys only)
Coastal Searocket (Cakile lanceolata) – Great Southern White
Fanpetals (Sida acuta) – Gray Hairstreak, Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak,
   Tropical Checkered Skipper, and  White Checkered Skipper
Saltmarsh Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) - Saltmarsh Skipper and
   Aaron’s Skipper
Silver Palm (Cocothrinax argentata) – Monk Skipper
Sleepy Morning (Waltheria indica) – Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak and
   Martial Scrub-Hairstreak
Coontie (Zamia pumila) – Atala
Blue Porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) - Mangrove Buckeye
  and Tropical Buckeye

A few coastal nectar plants are:
Wild Sage (Lantana involucrata)
Morinda (Morinda citrifolia)
Marsh fleabane (Pluchea odorata)
Seagrape (Cocoloba uvifera)
Sea ox-eye (Borrichia arborescens)

This is only an abbreviated list. When observing butterflies, note the plants they are using. For a list of butterfly plants found on Cape Florida, go to the Miami Blue website
A really great book to learn more about coastal plants is: Seashore Plants of South Florida and the Caribbean, A Guide to Knowing and Growing Drought and Salt-Tolerant Plants, David W. Nellis, Pineapple Press, Inc., copywrite 1994.