Saturday, August 3, 2013

Atala: A Butterfly Back from the Brink

During our first year and a half of living in Savannah, we'd not really had occasion to return to old stomping grounds in south Florida, although we sometimes reminisce about the species we've left behind: Snail Kites, Limpkins, and Spot-breasted Orioles were merely the stuff of dreams now. But wait! 6.5 hours isn't that long a drive -- surely, it's not impractical of us to dip down and catch up with our old favorites. And if we timed it right, we could leverage the 4th of July into a long weekend...

Well, okay, as romantic as that sounds, the real impetus for our visit was to see friends. But we did intend to soak up some of the area's distinct natural character while we were there, and at the top of our to-do list was walk the trails at Daggerwing Nature Center, where Maureen and I first came into our own as budding naturalists. The Palm Beach County budget hasn't been particularly kind to the park system during the past several years, but our friends who manage the nature centers have done a superb job with the little they have to work with.

One important new project, has been to help support the local population of the Atala (Eumaeus atala) butterfly, by shipping in caterpillars and letting them loose on the Coontie outside in the butterfly garden (and Atala love them some Coontie!). During the middle of last century the Florida subspecies of Atala was feared extinct after people overharvested Coontie, but thankfully these small butterflies have made a strong comeback as a result of conservation efforts like those at Daggerwing.

This one still had its wings all curled up, like he had just emerged and was straightening them out for the first time

Atala have an extremely limited range, and they can't be found anywhere in North America, other than at the southeastern tip of Florida. When we lived in Boca Raton, I managed, briefly, to spy one flitting across the FAU campus. Shortly after, I brought Maureen out to the same place so that she, too, could see an Atala, since our time in the area was running out and we wouldn't have the chance to see them anywhere else. Unfortunately, we missed finding one that day, and we moved away without Maureen having seen any.

What an awesome surprise then, when we learned that Atala were thriving in the Daggerwing butterfly garden. There were Atala everywhere, and in every stage of their life cycle! The Coontie was covered with them, in fact. When we returned to south Florida, we'd hoped to have some distinctly south Florida experiences, but we couldn't have asked for a better one than this. Special thanks to Kelli for her always superb work in making Daggerwing meaningful and beautiful!


  1. Thanks guys! I'll miss Daggerwing for sure.

  2. Great photos of the Atalas. Definitely one of the species I miss, not to mention Roseate Spoonbills and Painted Buntings.

    1. Thanks, Eva! Fortunately we still get to see Painted Buntings and occasional Spoonbills in Savannah, but we miss Limpkins and Snail Kites quite a bit. Always plenty to see in south Florida!