Three Florida butterfly species vanish

2013-04-30 16:23
Monarch butterflies.

Monarch butterflies. (Mario Vazquez, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Orlando, Florida – After six years of searching, an entomologist has concluded that three varieties of butterflies native to south Florida have become extinct, nearly doubling the number of North American butterflies known to be gone.

“These are unique butterflies to Florida. This is our biological treasure. Each unique species that we lose, we won’t ever get that back again,” Marc Minno, who conducted the survey for the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, said on Monday.

The disappearance of butterflies should serve as a warning about the degradation of south Florida’s environment, he said.

“It’s indicating there are major problems, environmental harm to Florida. And this is an indication that quality for people is also degrading and people should be worried about that,” Minno said.

Before Minno’s survey, only four varieties of North American butterflies, all from California, were presumed to be extinct, and the last one added to the list was 55 years ago.

Besides the three varieties which Minno concluded are extinct, two more native butterflies no longer exist in Florida but are living in the Caribbean, and two more are heading toward extinction, he said.

What is happening to the Florida butterflies remains an unanswered question. The Schaus’ Swallowtail, found only in the upper Florida Keys, became in 1976 one of the first insects ever given legal protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Minno said only six of the swallowtails were sighted in 2012.

Decline

Scientists began noticing a general decline in the butterfly populations in the 1980s, and Minno, like many scientists, assumed the spraying of pesticides to kill mosquitoes might be at fault. But his survey suggested otherwise.

In urban areas, such as Key West which has little natural habitat remaining and is routinely sprayed, Minno said: “There are so many butterflies flying you can hardly keep track of them all. There are just swarms of butterflies sometimes. You just wonder what the heck is going on. It’s just the opposite of what you would think.”

By contrast, Minno said he found few butterflies in vast conservations lands without mosquito control, such as the million-acre Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park.

One of his theories is that mosquito spraying might bolster butterfly populations by killing off native and non-native parasitic wasps which feast on butterfly larvae and caterpillars.

Another theory is that invasive predatory ants, such as the Mexican twig ant and fire ants, which were introduced to the area in the 1970s and are unrestrained by pesticides in conservation areas, might be overwhelming butterfly populations there.

Minno said the three butterflies that were found only in southern Florida and are now extinct are the Florida Zestos Skipper, the Rockland Meske’s Skipper, and the Keys Zarucco Skipper.

In addition, the Bahamian Swallowtails and the Nickerbean Blues are gone from Florida but alive in the Caribbean.

Minno also expects the Schaus’ Swallowtail and the Miami Blue, both of which continue to decline despite formal recovery plans, to become extinct soon.

Of 120 varieties of butterflies documented in the Keys, Minno said 18 have become imperiled since the 1970s.

Minno said no state, federal or private agency has funded research to find out what is causing the decline.

Read more on:    insects

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.