Sunday, September 25, 2005

Atala Rescue Before Rita

Rescuing Atalas Before Rita

Hurricane Katrina certainly taught us a small lesson in conservation. We lost a lot of our atalas in the storm, so when Hurricane Rita was knocking on Florida’s door, I emailed and called the atala foster homes urging everyone to bring the butterflies indoors to relative safety. In the meantime, Ripley III and I made rounds to the sites that got slammed last month in order to gather up pupae and bring them in until the storm passed by. (Thanks, Ripley!)

Now I am re-releasing the butterflies as they emerge, most of them back to their original home. Almost every site that was hit hard from Katrina managed to keep a few butterflies alive somehow, but the toll was high.

If you can do so, please do bring any pupae that you find indoors until a storm has passed. The butterflies are so rare, and so fragile in their environment, that one major disaster could wipe out the entire population. To bring them indoors, all you need to do is clip the frond to which the pupae have attached themselves and bring them in. The fronds do not have to be placed in water for the pupae, but it is helpful if you think you may have to keep them indoors for a while.

This picture is from a foster home during Rita. If adults emerge while they are indoors, as one did here, they will be fine for about 24-36 hours without nectar (See below for more info.)

Larvae can be brought in this way, too, but the fronds will have to stay green, so place them in a vase of water. Be careful that the vase in which the fronds are placed is not too wide at the top, so that larvae won’t accidentally fall in. Sometimes larvae will refuse to eat; if the storm passes quickly, they may be OK anyway. If they stay outside during a hurricane, chances are high that they will not survive.

If you capture adults, they will do all right for 24-36 hours without food. This is a reptile cage made by “Fresh Aire.” It is a great temporary home for atalas! But you can place them in a big plastic storage container. If you give them flowers, they may not nectar while in captivity even if it is a favorite flower. But they will probably die if left outside in the storm. Fortunately, adult atala butterflies are easy to capture. Hold them gently at the base of the wing, and place them in the container until it is time to let them back outside. Then just open the lid and they will fly off on their own!

Several of us have tried to feed atalas “fake” nectar, in a similar way to feeding hummingbirds, but these critters are gourmets and want nothing to do with it. Real flowers, or nothing! They will sometimes use potted flowers, but seldom nectar from cut flowers (no, I don’t know why…yet!)

In the meantime, I hope that you and your family are safe and sound.