Saturday, August 07, 2010

August 2010

Unfortunately, the atalas are crashing almost everywhere...for everyone! In fact, in the past few weeks, I have gotten quite a few emails from people with atala gardens, as well as from organizations, telling me that this year either the butterfly did not show up, or did and has already crashed. The slight showing we had in June crashed without the usual irruption. I took this photo in south South Dade a few years ago, but it is not there this year.

In turn, this crash instigated an influx of requests for "where to find atalas"...I do not want to be too tough here, but the atala is not a commodity that can be ordered up like a lunch plate, or picked up at the handy-dandy local marketplace!

So I have to add with all seriousness: PLEASE do not take any pupae or larvae from a site IF you do find them somewhere. With the colonies collapsing the way they are now, taking pupae or larvae from a site could be very detrimental for the colony....although I am sure that some of you may thinking that it would be 'helping' the atala to establish new sites, what you may not realize that you may indeed be causing two sites to die out...yours and the one from which you took individuals!

Think of this: There has to be a certain number of viable adults of both sexes for the colony to survive (as well as host plants and nectar sources for the adults). If you remove any life stage from a site that is barely hanging on, the colony may die out completely. There is a good chance that the individuals you take from another site, to put in your garden, will not survive (for many reasons!) In fact, more introduced colonies fail than succeed!
On the other hand, when an irruption does occur, there are usually an abundance of larvae or pupae that people can collect in an attempt to 'seed' their own colony or establish a new one. Always take within reason when that occurs, and only with owner permission; follow a conservative guesstimate so that there are still plenty of individuals in all life stages in the extant colony --unless, of course, the owner wants you to take them all because the coontie plant is more valuable to them than the butterfly! I don't get that value-system, and probably neither do you, but some people really are like that :-)

Also remember that you are probably not the only one taking larvae or pupae from a site. If you take ten larvae, and John Doe takes ten pupae, and Jane Doe takes another ten of each...well, you get the picture. This is one reason why I seldom give out specific locations on this blog. People can cause a collapse as quickly as weather or other natural causes. I have had organizations ask me point blank if people steal their atala larvae or pupae and I have to answer that it has been known to happen....But, by removing individuals in any life stage from a colony, you are altering the natural balance of the colony, and it may fail.

Everyone wants to have this beautiful butterfly in their garden. Right now, everyone's coontie plants are flush with new green growth and the nectar sources are rich. With so much available for the atala right now, the fact that it is not showing up is telling us that the insect is not doing well this year.
The past two winters of lower-than-normal temperatures has given them a slower-than-usual year. Again, this may be part of a bigger cycle of which we are still learning. So...if you do find a colony, I would appreciate your letting me know, as this is one of the insects that I am tracking not only for my own research, but for Florida Natural Areas Inventory, too (more on that below).

The atala is truly an insect "poster child" for the many challenges that butterflies face, perhaps even more so than many other butterflies--because once established, the atala will happily live in your garden and people feel a personal loss when their colonies crash. After all, people have a lot invested in their colony....time, money and emotions!
I'll be speaking about the atala colonies and population status for Butterfly Days, organized by the Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA), and hosted by Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens on September 25, 2010, at 2:30 PM. This event is a winner for everyone and I do hope that you will join us for one of the events, September 24-26th!

I have also accepted the position as liaison between FNAI and the Broward County Chapter of NABA, as well. This is a much needed Citizen Science project in which anyone and everyone who loves butterflies (and other wildlife) can get involved! I'll be presenting a program about the project, the butterfly species we're looking for, and how you can make a contribution to the FNAI database at the Broward County IFAS Extension Office (3245 College Avenue, Davie, FL 33314; 954-370-3725) on August 12, 2010, at 7 PM.

Come early to browse the plant raffle, filled with native butterfly plants supplied by our members and chat with nature-loving people like yourself! FNAI is tracking nearly thirty species in Broward County and the volunteer work you do is important: it helps scientists establish management plans for imperiled butterfly species, make suggestions to the State of Florida's policies, and impact federal guidelines.

This lovely Statira butterfly, by your truly, was one of the FNAI target species that we found in Broward County! The Lyside Sulphur, another target species, was photographed by Barbara DeWitt on one of our forays in Broward.

This is a photograph that I took of a Dainty Yellow (Nathalis iole) very early in the morning at one of our survey is not a target species, but I liked the way the rising sun shone through the wings as it nectared on Fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora), surrounded by the morning mist!

I have been performing surveys for FNAI for the past month, sometimes with Barbara DeWitt, and we have been very pleased to locate four of the targeted species in previously unknown locations! The surveys also helps us establish new distribution and range maps for the species. The Miami Blue NABA chapter has also located several of the more southerly species and I would venture to say that Palm Beach NABA has been as busy.
You can be a part of this exciting research study and I urge you to join us this Thursday night to learn more about how you can help with the surveys!

Hug the trees~hug your friends and family~ and go find butterflies!

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