Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale
viceroy at GATE.NET
Wed Mar 19 18:37:22 EST 2003
Miami Blue butterflies may give rise to captive colony
By David Fleshler
March 19, 2003
Offering hope for a species on the edge of extinction, scientists said
Tuesday that they have created the very first captive-bred population of
Miami Blue butterflies.
Biologists at the University of Florida produced a male and a female
butterfly last Friday from eggs collected at Bahia Honda State Park in
the Lower Keys, the site of the only known population of the endangered
butterflies. They hope the two butterflies will form the beginning of a
captive colony that could serve as insurance against extinction and a
source of recruits for new populations in the wild.
"We hope, if everything goes well, to have hundreds of Miami Blues in
captivity," said Jaret Daniels, assistant director of the university's
McGuire Center for Lepidoptera Research. "It's primarily a reservoir to
hopefully re-establish in the Keys within the historic range of the
butterfly. And it's a safety net in case something happens, heaven
forbid, to the colony in Bahia Honda, if a natural disaster, such as a
hurricane, would strike."
Once found throughout South Florida, the quarter-sized Miami Blue has
dwindled to a few dozen in the Keys. No one is sure what caused the
species' decline, but among the suspects are urban development, mosquito
spraying and the decline of a native species of ant that had protected
them from predators.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission took emergency
action in January to declare the Miami Blue an endangered species. That
made it a third-degree felony to harm them.
To start the captive-breeding program, renowned butterfly expert Thomas
Emmel and his colleagues at the University of Florida obtained
permission from the federal government to collect up to 100 eggs at
Bahia Honda. They netted female butterflies, confined them around a
nickerbean plant and waited for them to lay eggs. They released the
The group took the pinhead-sized eggs back to the university. After a
few days, caterpillars about one-quarter-inch long emerged. They formed
chrysalises. And on Friday, a male and a female butterfly emerged. They
mated on Saturday, and scientists are now waiting for the female to lay
Scientists have begun assessing possible sites for reintroducing the
butterflies. They're looking for protected land such as a state park,
where development wouldn't take place and mosquito spraying could be
limited. And they're looking for healthy populations of nickerbean, the
vine-like shrub on which Miami Blues live as caterpillars.
There have been successful efforts to restore butterfly populations. In
the early 1990s, the Schaus swallowtail butterfly was down to a few
dozen in south Miami-Dade County. Biologists captured several of them
just before Hurricane Andrew swept in and almost wiped out the species.
Using captive breeding and selective reintroductions, Emmel and his
associates have re-established the Schaus. There are now 1,500 to 2,000
in southern Miami-Dade County and the Upper Keys, Daniels said.
But attempts to reintroduce butterflies to the wild fail half the time,
said Jeffrey Glassberg, president of the North American Butterfly
Association. Butterflies have specific habitat requirements, and
biologists don't completely understand them. A spot that looks perfect
-- with exactly the plants the butterflies need -- could turn out to be
a bit too shady or too sunny. Or it could harbor too many predators or
"Butterflies are in balance with the rest of nature," Glassberg said.
"They're very precariously balanced. They're on the knife edge."
David Fleshler can be reached at dfleshler at sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4535.
Copyright ? 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
An added note from Anne Kilmer: Half? Oh, that would be wonderful. I
don't think our odds are anything like that good. But we will succeed.
Of course the article is a bit wobbly here and there. Adam and Eve will
not create the new Miami Blue without a lot of other eggs from other
parents; captive populations do not create healthy individuals without a
lot of work.
But Daniels and Emmel are the A team, and we can give them a lot of help.
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