As of April 2012, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the Miami blue butterfly is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The situation for the Miami blue is dire. Less than 50 butterflies have been surveyed in the wild in 2010 and 2011. The tiny, brightly-colored butterfly once occurred across coastal South Florida but disappeared from 99 percent of its range. The Miami blue is about one-inch long. Males are brightly colored, flashing irradiant blue when they spread their wings. The Miami blue butterfly is found on only one protected Florida Key.
Fish and Wildlife Service acted only after aggressive legal wrangling from the Center for Biologic Diversity
The rule finalized protections for the rare Florida butterfly in accordance with a landmark settlement agreement reached between the Center for Biological Diversity and the Fish and Wildlife Service speeding up protection decisions for 757 species.
“The Miami blue butterfly is on the very brink of extinction, and this finalized protection gives it a real shot at survival and recovery,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist at the Center. “The Endangered Species Act is 99 percent effective at preventing the extinction of the species it covers, so we do have a hope, under the safety net of the Act, of stopping the loss of this beautiful butterfly.”
The Service is funding a study to search remote areas for additional populations, but none have been detected. Attempts to reintroduce the butterfly have been unsuccessful. Captive populations at the McGuireCenter for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the University of Florida in Gainesville have been allowed to die.
Once thought extinct
The Miami blue, whose adults live for just a few days, was believed extinct after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but in 1999 an amateur lepidopterist discovered a population in Bahia Honda State Park. In 2010 this population was found to have disappeared; the species survives only as scattered individuals in the Marquesas Keys in Key West National Wildlife Refuge.
Butterflies with similar appearance also given protection
Three similar butterflies overlap in range with the Miami blue in south Florida, but their entire natural ranges include the Cayman Islands, Bahamas, Cuba and Greater Antilles. In addition, the Service established prohibitions on collection and commercial trade within the United States. This action also prohibits the import into, and export from, the United States of the three similar butterflies. Protection is extended to these butterflies:
- Miami blue butterfly (Cyclargus thomasi bethunebakeri)
- cassius blue butterfly (Leptotes cassius theonus)
- ceraunus blue butterfly (Hemiargus ceraunus antibubastus)
- nickerbean blue butterfly (Cyclargus ammon)
The Miami blue butterflies’ decline attributed to multiple causes
Dennis Olle, an attorney who serves as a board member of the North American Butterfly Association and president of NABA’s Miami Blue Chapter, wrote of the Miami blue butterfly that:
“The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in the G. W. Bush administrations failed to declare them an endangered species; the State of Florida, despite good intentions, failed to implement management plan; and personnel at University of Florida failed to learn what factors have caused their decline or to maintain the laboratory colony created as a safety valve if disaster befell the Bahia Honda colony.”
The butterfly has severely declined due to physical stresses such as urban sprawl, fire suppression, mosquito-control pesticides, severe weather events, illegal collection, accidental harm from humans, restricted range, small population size, loss of genetic heterogeneity, rising sea levels from climate change, and loss of host plants due to non-native iguanas. The iguanas, released after pet-owners tire of them, eat plants the butterflies require for successful life-cycle reproduction.
- Center for Biologic Diversity
- North American Butterfly Association: Miami Blue Chapter
- Who Killed All the Miami Blues?
- US Federal Register
Amy Lou Jenkins is the author of Every Natural Fact: Five Seasons of Open-Air Parenting.
“Nothing less than Sensational”—Minneapois Star Tribune
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