Butterfly decline a worrying portent

ButterfliesButterfly decline in the US may be getting out of hand. Photo: Getty Images

Butterflies are the essence of cool in the insect world, a favorite muse for poets and songwriters who hold them up as symbols of love, beauty, transformation and good fortune.

But providing good fortune apparently goes only one way. As humans rip apart woods and meadows for housing developments and insecticide-soaked lawns, butterflies across the US are disappearing.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced that two brown, moth-like butterfly subspecies are likely extinct in south Florida, which some entomologists say is ground zero for the number of butterfly species on the verge of annihilation.

The rockland grass skipper went missing in 1999, and the Zestos skipper hasn’t been seen since 2004. Several other species, such as the ebony-and-ivory-colored Schaus swallowtail, are listed as endangered, and many others are threatened, including the silvery Bartram’s hairstreak.

“We look at it as a signal that we’ve got a serious problem with butterflies and other insects and pollinators here in Florida,” said Larry Williams, a supervisor for the ecological services program at Fish and Wildlife. “We’re looking at this as sort of a wake-up call that we need to be watching butterflies more closely.”

At least one species of butterfly has vanished from the United States, along with the two subspecies in Florida. Seventeen species and subspecies are listed as endangered nationwide, and two are listed as threatened.

Habitat loss is a major problem, as are insect sprays, especially those used by municipalities and homeowners to control mosquitoes. “We know that it’s becoming increasingly popular for individual homeowners to use misting systems to spray low levels of pesticides. As those become more abundant, we have to evaluate if those are contributing to the decline,” Williams said.

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Two South Florida butterflies declared likely extinct

  Seen here are the Zestos Skipper and Meske's Skipper  butterflies. The Zestos butterfly is likely extinct, federal wildlife managers say.

Seen here are the Zestos Skipper and Meske’s Skipper butterflies. The Zestos butterfly is likely extinct, federal wildlife managers say.

Federal wildlife managers on Monday pronounced two South Florida butterflies likely extinct.

The announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came after surveys going back more than a decade failed to find any Zestos skippers or rockland grass skippers.

Larry Williams, the service’s regional supervisor for ecological services, said in a statement that he hoped the loss “serves as a wake-up call that we really need to intensify our efforts to save other imperiled butterflies in South Florida.”

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NEWS Channel 5


Schaus Swallowtail butterflies: A glimmer of hope for endangered butterfly at University of Florida


WPTV Schaus Swallowtail butterfly

An entomologist at the University of Florida is raising seven immature butterflies belonging to Schaus Swallowtail, a species of butterfly that is critically endangered and just “hanging on.”

Photographer:   By: Phil Gast, CNN


(CNN) — At his version of an ICU unit, Jaret Daniels pays extraordinary attention to his young charges.

Each of the creatures is kept in its own plastic cup, isolated to prevent the spread of disease.

Not just any food will do. In their climate-controlled environment, the Schaus swallowtail caterpillars munch voraciously on wild lime.

Daniels, an entomologist at the University of Florida, is raising seven immature butterflies belonging to a species that is critically endangered and just “hanging on.”

The pressure, Daniels said, is enough to keep him up at night.

He and others are trying to save an insect that is on the brink of extinction and in need of human intervention.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued an emergency directive in 2012 to collect females in Biscayne National Park and raise their eggs.

While no females were collected last year, officials announced this week that an adult female was snared on the park’s Elliott Key last month, along with six larvae. The female produced one egg.

Federal and state officials say the Schaus’ hopes might depend on a breeding program that may help safeguard a portion of the remaining population.

“I know what I am doing,” Daniels told CNN on Tuesday. “I am going to do the best that I can do.”

The Schaus swallowtail, contained to a relatively small area in southeastern Florida, in 1976 was listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened. It reached the endangered status eight years later.

The colorful butterfly’s numbers have dropped precipitously over the decades. Captive breeding was tried in the 1980s and 1990s, boosting the Schaus numbers for a time.

That didn’t last long.


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