Ecological Services in the Caribbean
Oficina de Servicios Ecológicos del Caribe -- Southeast Region
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PRESS RELEASE

Puerto Rican Harlequin Butterfly Placed on Federal Candidate Species List

May 31, 2011Contact:  Lilibeth Serrano, Lilibeth_Serrano@fws.gov,787-505-4397

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The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service on May 31, 2011 will place the Puerto Rican harlequin butterfly, also known as the Quebradillana, on its Candidate Species List for federal protection.

As a result of a status review, called a 12-month finding, the Service finds this butterfly, warrants addition to the federal list of threatened and endangered species.  However, for now the Service must focus its limited funding for species at greater risk.  The Puerto Rican harlequin butterfly will be added to the candidate list upon publication in the Federal Register.  Its addition to the candidate list means the harlequin’s status will be reviewed annually.

The results of the 12-month finding for the Puerto Rican harlequin appear on the Service’s Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office website at http://www.fws.gov/caribbean/es/harlequin.html.

“Adding the species to the candidate list also continues to allow the Fish and Wildlife Service and other organizations to work cooperatively to understand the species’ needs and habitat requirements,” said Edwin Muñiz, field Supervisor for the Service’s Caribbean Ecological Services Office. “This includes financial and technical assistance, and the ability to develop conservation agreements that provide regulatory assurances to landowners who take actions to benefit this butterfly.  Researcher Hernán Torres from the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayaguez Campus is making progress with successfully reproducing the harlequin butterfly in captivity.”

This butterfly depends on a single plant species, commonly known as the prickly bush, for feeding, resting, laying eggs, and providing nutrients for the larvae.

On February 25, 2009, a private citizen, Javier Biaggi-Caballero, filed a petition to list the Puerto Rican Harlequin butterfly as endangered with critical habitat.  The Endangered Species Act requires the Service to determine whether the petition seeking protection for a species presents substantial scientific or commercial information to indicate that such petition may be warranted.  A 90-day substantial finding was published in the Federal Register on April 26, 2010, after which the Service initiated the more in-depth 12-month status review.

Currently, the Puerto Rican harlequin butterfly is found in the northern karst (landscape formed from dissolvable rocks) in Puerto Rico, in forests associated with the coastal cliffs of the area. The harlequin butterfly is also found, in the central-western volcanic region, specifically at the Maricao Commonwealth Forest in the municipality of Maricao.

The Puerto Rican harlequin butterfly resembles the larger monarch butterfly. The top view of this small butterfly is mostly orange with black spots.  The bottom view of the Puerto Rican harlequin is distinctive, showing an intricate pattern of spots arranged in rows of white, orange, black, and red.  The pattern is somewhat similar to the diamond patterns used to make the costumes worn by jesters and harlequins for Italian comedies more than 400 years ago. 
The butterfly has a wing span of over two inches wide.

Habitat loss and fragmentation caused by large-scale urban development are the primary threats to the species survival.  Other threats include a low capacity for reproduction, low population numbers, and its dependence upon a single host plant species.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.   Please visit the Service’s websites at www.fws.gov or http://www.fws.gov/southeast/.

Last updated: May 27, 2011