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Miami blue butterflies. Photo by Mark Yokoyama, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Rare Miami blue butterflies discovered in Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge

Two adult Miami blue butterflies were detected fluttering on host plants, one of them ovipositing, or laying eggs, as they were spotted at Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. Eggs were also found on host plants along the beach berm of several additional islands during the search, documenting the first time that this rare butterfly has been detected within the refuge.

Until recently, the Miami blue butterfly, one of the rarest butterflies in the world, was found on just a handful of offshore islands within Key West National Wildlife Refuge on sandy beach berm habitats. This butterfly, historically distributed all along the coastline of Florida, has declined drastically over the last 100 years, primarily due to habitat loss along the coastlines of Florida, as well as the application of broad-spectrum insecticides for mosquito control.

The two adult Miami blues were found in April 2016 when Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex biology staff and research partners from the University of Florida and North Carolina State University were monitoring islands for butterfly activity within the neighboring Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. This discovery occurred while the adult densities of Miami blues were at their highest levels on their core islands within Key West National Wildlife Refuge. This sighting may expand the range of this butterfly beyond the few isolated islands found west of Key West, and will likely renew the search efforts of this species across the Florida Keys and select areas of South Florida. Recovery efforts aim toward restoring a network of these small and potentially connected populations, as a way of increasing their resilience in the face of future habitat losses due to sea level rise and major storm events.

A successful partnership between Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex and the University of Florida’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History has led to increased monitoring of this rare population, and better understanding of the ecology of the species. Jaret Daniels, director of the McGuire Center, was the recipient of a Disney Conservation Fund grant to study and help recover imperiled butterfly species in Florida and California. Efforts to research, captively breed, and establish new populations of imperiled butterfly species are currently underway.

Originally published in E-Grits, March-April 2016 issue

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