Atala Butterfly

Report your atala butterflies here…

The Florida atala butterfly (Eumaeus atala Poey) is a beautiful, somewhat rare hairstreak butterfly characterized by satiny black wings featuring an iridescent turquois shimmer. It was thought to be extinct due to overharvest of its host plant, Zamia integrifolia Linnaeus. f. (a.k.a. coontie). These beautiful butterflies are now found on coontie plants in localized colonies primarily in South Florida. During the warm summer months (especially in August) a significant abundance of these beautiful butterflies can be found at locations on the Treasure Coast such as Ft. Pierce Inlet State Park, Heathcote Botanical Gardens and other locations proximal to the Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean.

Help us track the locations of Florida atala butterflies on the Florida Treasure Coast.  To report atala sightings, please send an email to UF/IFAS Extension Agent Ken Gioeli at ktgioeli@ufl.edu and include the following details:

Your name:
Address of atala colony:
Is this location accessible to the public?  Yes or No
Please include photos of caterpillars, chrysalis or adults as verification (there are lookalikes such as the purple hairstreak).


Once thought to be extinct, the Florida atala butterfly was rediscovered and now has established populations in subtropical southeast Florida (Koi and Hall 2019). Ephemeral populations were also discovered in coastal St Lucie County with a large protected population at the Fort Pierce Inlet State Park. The Florida Natural Areas Inventory has listed this butterfly as S2 – either very rare and local in Florida or found locally in a restricted range or vulnerable to extinction from other factors.

The Fort Pierce Inlet State Park is a unique environmental treasure in St. Lucie County that features beaches, dunes and a coastal hammock. It is 340-acres on the north side of the Fort Pierce Inlet. According to the USDA Hardiness Zone Map, the park is in zone 10a which features an average annual extreme minimum temperature of 30-35 degrees. The subtropical climate and abundance of the Florida atala host plant, Zamia integrifolia, has enabled this population to survive in this site.  They can be found at other sites on the Florida Treasure Coast generally close to the Indian River Lagoon or Atlantic Ocean.

Atala butterfly adult

Figure 1. A Florida atala butterfly perches on a sea grape leaf at the Fort Pierce Inlet State Park. Atalas are found in ephemeral populations at Fort Pierce Inlet State Park. Photo credits: K. Gioeli

atala caterpillars

Figure 2. Florida atala butterfly caterpillars are host-specific to Zamia integrifolia (a.k.a. coontie) which is found in the landscaping at the Fort Pierce Inlet State Park. Toxins in the coontie plant are ingested by the caterpillars making the caterpillars toxic to predators. Photo credits: K. Gioeli

Acknowledgements
Much thanks to Annmarie Loveridge for her commitment to conservation of Florida’s native plants and animals.
Literature Cited
Koi, S., & Hall, D. W. 2019. Atala Butterfly, Atala Hairstreak, Coontie Hairstreak, Eumaeus atala Poey 1832 (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae). Retrieved May 14, 2019, from https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in326