Miami blues

Anne Kilmer viceroy at
Wed Jan 16 13:39:51 EST 2002

John Calhoun wrote:

 > Anne,
 > Actually, a species of Camponotus ant often tends the larvae of the
 > Miami Blue.  However, these ants do not appear to be a necessary
 > component of their life cycle.  Larvae nibble a hole in the side of
 >  the pod.  This hole subsequently allows tending ants access to the
 >  larvae.
 > We also found the newly established C. ammon also tended by ants,
 > Camponotus planatus, on acacia hostplants.  Again, we have reared
 > the species without the ants.  Unlike some other butterflies, these
 >  species do not spend part of their life cycle actually within ant
 > colonies.
 > Best, John Calhoun
I wonder, then, whether the fire ant might not have been a factor in the 
disappearance of the Miami Blue.
Imagine that naive larva, nibbling the hole and admitting the assassin.
I wonder, also, whether Technomyrmex albipes, the white-footed ant, 
which seems to have replaced fire ants in some neighborhoods, might tend 
this little butterfly. Or whether it also would invade the pods and eat 
the larvae.
Balloon vine might provide better shelter from the wrong sort of ants, 
than the natives we would prefer to use?
Since the bug seems to be willing to use other legumes, as well as the 
exotic balloon vine, I suspect that lack of the host plant is not the 
Restoring other possible host plants would certainly be an interesting 

As John wrote to me, "Documented hostplants for C. t. bethunebakeri 
include the native tropical
trees and shrubs, Caesalpinia bundoc, Pithecellobium keyense (Fabaceae), and
Pithecellobium unguis-cati (Fabaceae).  These trees are primarily restricted
to coastal strands and coastal hammocks.  It has also been reported to feed
on Caesalpinia pulcherrima, a widely cultivated exotic that has escaped into
disturbed sites of South Florida.  It also is likely capable of feeding on
species of acacia, similar to its newly established cousin, C. ammon."

Cat claw? That would be a hard sell; it's an unfriendly plant. Well, it 
is welcoming; it just doesn't let you leave. ;-)
Some sources  also list Gray nicker, Caesalpinia crista. I don't know 
Caesalpinia bundoc ... Blackbead is a coastal plant along the east coast 
of South Florida; cat claw the west. They meet in the Keys ...
I hate to fall back upon C. pulcherrima, although it is a sweet little 
flowering tree, much used in butterfly gardens in Florida. I would 
certainly like more reports of its use by the rare butterflies, as 
larval host, before I went broadcasting it in vacant lots, speaking as a 
gardener. I'd wonder what better plant it was replacing.
(I speak purely speculatively. I intend no personal planting forays.)
Balloon vine is on the State list, and is famous for its invasive 
characteristics on tropical islands worldwide. I don't know that the 
world, the state or Miami would thank anyone who set all the school kids 
to planting it out.
Still ... in the sort of vacant lot that is overgrown with Brazilian 
pepper, ear leaf acacia, Old World Climbing Fern and such invasive 
pests, why not throw in a handful of balloon vine seeds in an unofficial 
sort of way? Since it is already there ... ;-) That would be a 
short-term instant fix, assuming that lack of host plant is the reason 
for the Miami Blue's alleged demise. I don't suppose they're actually 
using the ear leaf acacia, by the way? That would be amusing.*
I'd rather see the children planting out cat claw, blackbead, gray 
nicker, to provide long-term politically correct habitat. ;-)
Always remembering that change is what butterflies thrive on, and that 
today's vacant lot is tomorrow's supermarket.

But if, as I suspect, the ant is the problem, we can plant larval hosts 
until our eyes bubble without solving it.
When it comes to Lycaenid problems, cherchez la fourmi. Or, as my first 
lesson in Latin remarked, Formica est parva.
But she's mighty powerful.
Anne Kilmer
South Florida

*A reason the Atala butterfly overwhelmed its larval host plant, I 
surmise, is the year-round availability of appropriate nectar from 
Schinus terebinthefolius and ear leaf acacia, both pest plants. I 
watched them. Bless their little hearts.
When their chief nectar sources were Spanish Needle and Saw Palmetto 
flowers, which are seasonal, that would have limited their success. But 
now, wow.


   For subscription and related information about LEPS-L visit: 

More information about the Leps-l mailing list