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Endangered butterflies released in park

Endangered Butterflies Released in Florida

Associated Press

BISCAYNE NATIONAL PARK, Fla. -- Biologists released six rare Schaus swallowtail butterflies into Biscayne National Park on Monday in the hopes of repopulating a species that was all but extinct just two years ago.

In 2012, federal park rangers found only four of the colorful insects on Elliott Key, part of the largely marine park near Miami.

The Schaus swallowtail is a large yellow butterfly with a stained-glass pattern on its lower wings and up to a 5-inch wingspan. It was once found from the Middle Keys north through Miami, but now it is limited to northern Key Largo and Biscayne National Park.

It was "on the brink of extinction" said Jaret Daniels, a biologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History, who was part of a team that released the colorful insects on the island. The species has been struggling for several years, and was the first insect to be placed on the U.S. Endangered Species list. It found its way to a postage stamp in 1996.

Then, "it really crashed in the population numbers," and officials ordered an emergency response, Daniels said. Scientists collected 100 eggs in 2013, and reared butterflies in the lab.

Monday's release brought to 45 the number released to repopulate the species. The butterflies were gently placed on fingertips to be launched - although a couple of the insects seemed happy to stay perched on researchers' hands until given a very gentle nudge to flutter away.

Unlike other butterflies, the Schaus swallowtail has only one generation a year and is susceptible to dry weather conditions, along with threats from pesticides and loss of habitat.

Park service officials are working to restore some of the insect's habitat by removing invasive, non-native plant species on the island and replacing those plants with lime and torchwood - plants that larvae can munch on while growing into adulthood.

With the earlier releases, scientists say they are already seeing some growth in the population. This year, they have tallied 150 Schaus swallowtail butterflies on Elliott Key

"We hope 2015 will be a banner year for this butterfly," Daniels said. "We have several years to go, but the good thing is, we're on the road back to recovery."

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KingBrian June 09 2014 at 7:59 PM

I was always under the impression that you shouldn't grab butterflies by their wings? That the color comes off and it affects their ability to fly? That picture goes against that theory, but I KNOW I've heard that before, anyone have an answer?

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2 replies
aunax19 KingBrian June 10 2014 at 12:09 AM

Their wings are covered in scales (what looks like powder) that overlap and protect the very thin membrane that is their wings and that is what will come off when you handle them. If you maintain a firm and stable but gentle hold that prevents the wings from rubbing and lift your fingers straight off when you're done the damage will be minimal. Most butterflies will still be able to fly after some damage to their wings. But why risk it when we can admire them as they're fluttering by.

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mrdonstevens KingBrian June 10 2014 at 3:22 AM

Staff from the Butterfly Pavilion in Denver CO, area emphatically stated to persons in the Butterfly Release Rain Forest that touching a butterfly as shown ultimately decreases their already short life span. Although discovery of rare butterflies is wonderful, the photos and story does great public disservice to preservation of the species. And isn't there an existing sketch, or photo of open wings that would have offered more admiration for the beauty of the creature? This news report promotes destruction rather than preservation.

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elegentroyboy June 09 2014 at 8:49 PM

FINALLY, some good news. We never hear good news. Bad news is, oddly enough, more interesting. But, the side effect of bad news is that it depresses, and dispels gloom. The news of the butterfly release is sunshiny and positive. So rare, these days. Thank you, AOL.

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Mike June 10 2014 at 6:51 AM

We need to stop the forced sexual exploitation of butterflies now!

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gserlin June 09 2014 at 8:24 PM

Finally, scientists doing something good for ecology, other than complaining about how humans are ruining the planet.

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1 reply
Kate gserlin June 10 2014 at 10:54 AM

They WERE complaining about humans destroying the ecology, just not in this particular article. It's humans who are destroying their habitat and spraying pesticides.

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rreggaeredkc June 09 2014 at 7:39 PM

Another beautiful creature. Quite different markings on the top than the bottom. We need all creatures that pollinate. I live in the country and have 2 chords of wood ready for next winter and the catepillars (sp?) camp out in volumes. They are always welcome. I also have honey bees. There's a lot of clover in my yard this year (almost an acre) and they are flocking! However for the last 10 years I have planted pollination friendly perennials to encourage their continued growth.

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dgibson4news June 09 2014 at 7:20 PM

I'd like to know what the caterpillars eat, what kind of plant? also what are the colors of the caterpillars? I hatch out monarchs and just hatched out a black swallowtail and just released it last week! This is a cool color for a swallowtail!

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1 reply
eric dgibson4news June 10 2014 at 9:30 AM

My guess would be lime and torchwood.

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steves1709 June 09 2014 at 11:12 PM

Nice butterfly! Perhaps they can increase its range.

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Mike June 10 2014 at 9:38 AM

Why wasn't Mothra interviewed for this article?

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1 reply
johnre9999 Mike June 10 2014 at 11:05 AM

Previous scheduling commitment with Gamera

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Scooby June 10 2014 at 9:45 AM

Well I need to get my camera and find out who to contact because I sh!t you not these butterflies live in my swamp! We see them almost daily in the spring and just saw one the other day. We live on some cleared land and part of a beaver swamp here in NC. They are out here in full force. I am soooo getting pics of them the next time they're getting a drink in the mud!

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steves1709 June 09 2014 at 11:11 PM

I am aghast that ANYONE would spray pesticides on a lawn to kill insects. If they didn't fertilize lawns as much, they wouldn't become such a juicy target for grubs and such. Or water it so much it never slows its growth during the hot dry season...

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