Saturday, September 06, 2008

September 2008 Atala News

September is here already, and we are finally getting the heavy rains and hurricane warnings that have been threatening us all season…read last month’s blog if you have vulnerable butterflies, such as atalas, in your garden…they can be protected with little effort on your part, after you secure your family and home, of course. Some of us consider the atala family and friend….

Some history may be in order here. Some of you may not realize that one of the reasons the atala is so vulnerable is because after the coontie was decimated by the starch industries in the early part of the 19th century, remnant colonies held on in isolated areas---but hurricanes impacted those fragile populations brutally. There were more than twenty Category 3 and higher hurricanes between 1921 and 1945, all of which did terrific damage and many people died---but even then tiny remnants of atala colonies persisted deep in wild lands, unbeknownst to anyone. The key, of course, is that there still were wild lands and places we hadn’t managed to destroy yet. But by the 1950’s, most lepidopterists considered the atala extinct!

But then, in the late 1950’s, a small colony was found intact in Broward County….Hey, I got this information from someone who was actually there at the time: Dr. Charlie Covell at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera at the University of Florida---some of those atalas were taken to Gainesville and reared in a safe environment (remember, this was decades before the awesome McGuire Center was even imagined).

That new colony was released in Everglades National Park, and was doing fine until Hurricane Donna struck South Florida in 1960. The colony was devastated and scientists gave up while everyone was trying to recover from the damages. Then Hurricane Andrew…and Gilbert….and increasingly less native pinelands or wild lands. Some of you know the happier ending—Roger Hammer found another population in Virginia Key in 1979! The whole world of butterfly enthusiasts reeled with the good news.

To my knowledge, every one of the atala colonies now extant in South Florida can trace its ancestry back to Virginia Key (that is my PhD thesis, by the way). Fairchild Tropical Gardens raised the larvae Roger found, and scientists since then have been introducing the atala back into its historical range, while enthusiasts have been planting the coontie host plants and re-establishing the nectar sources that development paved over in the name of progress.

The atala did not crash because of its natural cycles; it crashed because we took its host plant and concretized its habitat. The natural disasters simply pushed it over the edge toward extinction. So, this is why your gardens and your colonies are so important.

Atalas aside, my Monarch pupae are safe in a butterfly cage right now and hopefully will not emerge until Ike (and WHOEVER else is out there) has left the premises.

I hope that you will join us at NABA’s next meeting, Thursday, September, 11th at 6:30 for our social time, at the Broward County Extension Office, on College Avenue in Davie. The meeting will begin at 7:00. Our program for the evening will be Alex Schore's power point presentation, "A Comparison of Spring and Summer Butterfly Counts". This evening also marks BCBC's Six Year Celebration, so plan to enjoy some birthday cake decorated with our Chapter's logo, designed by artist David Maxwell, member Mary Maxwell's dearly departed husband. If you would like to contribute native plants for our Plant Raffle at the conclusion of our meetings, we welcome your donations. Tickets are $1 for one or 6 for $5.00. It is a great way to bolster your garden with new native plants, too!

NABA’s next meeting: Thursday, October 9th: Guest Speaker: Kelly Whitney to present "Everything you wanted to know about Swallowtails." Every month this season, NABA members will be concentrating on particular butterfly orders: it’s a chance to learn the details from our experts!

Mark your calendar and plan to participate in the following events:

Sunday, September 28th, 9:00 a.m. to noon: Butterfly and Bird Walk led by yours truly at Hollywood's John Williams Park, Sheridan Oak Forest Natural Area which is a ten acre incredibly beautiful oak hammock. During September, we’re hoping for a lot of migratory warbler activity and migratory butterflies, and all year there are tons of wonderful plants to explore for the native plant people. This Natural Area is not open to the public, so take advantage of this opportunity. Please RSVP to Sandy at 954-449-5428

Volunteers Jessica and Lisa Cook, and Emily and Kevin Daycock helped out at an impromptu planting and exotics removal day out at John Williams on Saturday September 1.
The most exciting news was finding atala pupae while there---I had re-introduced this colony in 2004, so it was wonderful to see them still hanging in there (literally). We had planted numerous native plants some time ago, but the City’s “maintenance crew” got weed-whacker happy and slashed a lot of them horrendously. We were all very upset, but have learned a lesson: everything we plant from now on has to be “caution-taped” and caged to prevent damage.
I have the same battle going on where I live now with the “landscaping crew”---and I have had to threatened them with bodily harm if they so much as attempt to turn my butterfly plants into flowerless squared-off hedges. (Yes, I have spoken to them nicely, in Spanish and English, but the only thing that seems to actually work with them is not so pleasant loudly enunciated verbal expletives….in either language :-)

There will be another Exotics Removal Workshop on September 13th, and November 15, too; John Williams Park, 6101 Sheridan Street, Hollywood, 9 AM to noon. Everyone is welcome to participate—bring water, sunscreen, and snacks if you’d like; it is wise to wear long pants and long-sleeves as mosquitoes can be an issue until winter finally arrives. We remove the ubiquitous invasives, but you’ll also learn about the native plants and wildlife, as well! Hope to see you there, or at one of the other events scheduled soon:

NABA Fall Seasonal Butterfly Counts are coming up soon! TIMES: 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
October 4, 2008 Saturday, we’ll be counting in two areas: Tree Tops Park/Pine Island Ridge and Long Key Natural Area.
October 11, 2008 Saturday, four areas: Crystal Lake Pine Scrub, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, Hillsboro Pineland and Coconut Creek Tamarind Village.
Please add your name to the sign up lists at the meeting or RSVP to: Janice Malkoff 954-993-9449 or ; Barbara DeWitt 954-584-3123 for Long Key; Sandy Koi for Hillsboro.

I have also finished a list of over a hundred native butterfly host and nectar plants, specific to an area, for NABA's national website, which should be available for viewing within the next month; Art Constantino, and Mona and Walter Johnston are working on compiling yet another list for the basic cultivated domestic gardens (some native, some not--but NOT invasive!) Linda Evans, at Fairchild Tropical Gardens, is working on a list for Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, too. Between the five of us, we have wonderful photographs to share with you.
Examples: Giant Cutgrass (Zizaniopsis miliacea), host plant for the Clouded Skipper (Lerema accius) and Least Skipper (Ancyloxypha numitor).
Or the ubiquitous Beggarweed (Desmodium incanum), host plant for the Long-tailed Skipper (Urbanus proteus), Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) and Dorantes Skipper (Urbanus dorantes).
And YOU thought they were just weeds...not so! These are just a few of the more intriguing plants for a native landscape (NO weed-whackers allowed!)

South Florida has such a vast diverisity of ecosystems and habitats that a list "for Florida" just isn't adequate, so we recognized the many little micro-habitats we have here, from coastal to pinelands, to make success in your garden better than ever!
Here's wishing you and yours a safe end to Hurricane Season!


Anonymous chris h. said...

this blog just keeps getting better all the time!

10:42 PM  

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