Plenty of rain and an increase in butterfly friendly gardening have made this a banner year for butterfly sightings in our area. I’ve noted an unusual number of zebra longwings and been delighted by the aerial balletics of monarch couples. I’ve seen Gulf fritillaries, sulphurs, hairstreaks, a ruddy daggerwing and some I can’t identify.
The most outstanding butterfly event of the summer has been an explosion of the imperiled atala butterfly population. They seem to be everywhere…everywhere, that is, that has coonties growing nearby. I’ve had many in the garden but the most I’ve seen have been at the foundation planting of coonties on the south side of Chase Bank on 5th Avenue. I’ve seen as many as twenty atalas at once there as well as atala pupae and caterpillars. They appeared to have recently emerged and were perched on the narrow leaves or making short tentative flights above the planting.
The atala, also known as the coontie hairstreak, is native to the Bahamas, parts of the Caribbean including Cuba and southeastern Florida. These lovely creatures with their brilliant crimson bodies and wings dotted with iridescent blue cannot exist without the coontie, North America’s only native cycad, or imported varieties of cycad. The females lay their eggs only on coontie and the caterpillars feed only on its leaves.
The following short article explains why they were once very common in South Florida, then thought to be extinct until 1979 and are now rebounding. Sandy Koi, an atala specialist, who visited my garden and several other Indialantic gardens last year, thinks that our population probably comes not from the south but from a release of atalas from Brevard Zoo in 2013.
A Nearly Extinct Butterfly Makes a Comeback in South Florida by Richard Levine
If that isn’t enough for you here is an atala article by Sandy Koi & Jaret Daniels
Please let me know if you have atalas in your garden or if you have seen them elsewhere. Sandy Koi and UF want to track their recovery.