Endangered butterflies released in park

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Endangered Butterflies Released in Florida

By TONY WINTON
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.

Endangered butterflies released in park
Jaret Daniels, a biologist with the Florida Museum of Natural History, holds an endangered Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly before releasing it into the wild on Elliott Key, Monday, June 9, 2014, in Biscayne National Park, Fla. A collection and captive breeding operation, begun in 2012 in an effort to save the butterfly from extinction, has shown initial success. Over a thousand butterfly larvae have been produced at the University of Florida and adult butterflies and larvae have been released into the wild in an effort to increase the population. Each adult released are numbered with a permanent marker for identification. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Jaret Daniels, a biologist with the Florida Museum of Natural History, holds an endangered Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly before releasing it into the wild on Elliott Key, Monday, June 9, 2014, in Biscayne National Park, Fla. A collection and captive breeding operation, begun in 2012 in an effort to save the butterfly from extinction, has shown initial success. Over a thousand butterfly larvae have been produced at the University of Florida and adult butterflies and larvae have been released into the wild in an effort to increase the population. Each adult released are numbered with a permanent marker for identification. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Elsa Alvear, Chief of Resource Management at Biscayne National Park, prepares to release an endangered Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly on Elliott Key, Monday, June 9, 2014, in Biscayne National Park, Fla. A collection and captive breeding operation, begun in 2012 in an effort to save the butterfly from extinction, has shown initial success. Over a thousand butterfly larvae have been produced at the University of Florida and adult butterflies and larvae have been released into the wild in an effort to increase the population. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Jaret Daniels, a biologist with the Florida Museum of Natural History, holds a pupa of an endangered Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly, attached to a tongue depressor, on Elliott Key, Monday, June 9, 2014, in Biscayne National Park, Fla. A collection and captive breeding operation, begun in 2012 in an effort to save the butterfly from extinction, has shown initial success. Over a thousand butterfly larvae have been produced at the University of Florida and adult butterflies and larvae have been released into the wild in an effort to increase the population. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
A sign announcing a habitat enhancement project for the endangered Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly i shown on Elliott Key, Monday, June 9, 2014, in Biscayne National Park, Fla. A collection and captive breeding operation, begun in 2012 in an effort to save the butterfly from extinction, has shown initial success. Over a thousand butterfly larvae have been produced at the University of Florida and adult butterflies and larvae have been released into the wild in an effort to increase the population. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
The Schaus' Swallowtail butterfly, which is on the endangered species list, is now thriving in the Florida Keys, thanks to research at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Here, Jaret Daniels, left, a doctoral student who heads UF's captive propagation program, and Professor Thomas Emmel, of UF's Endangered Species Lab, look at at two of their colorful charges, mating in a butterfly house on campus Wednesday, May 8, 1996. Daniels and Emmel will join Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt Monday to release some of the UF-reared butterflies into the wild at the Charles Deering State Park in Dade County. May and June mark butterfly season in South Florida's subtropical hardwood hammocks where the butterflies used tothrive, but fell victim several years ago to development and pesticides. UF scientists bred the butterflies in the lab and reintroduced them to the region last year. "In sheer numbers, this is the most successful captive propagation program for reintroduction of an animal species," said Daniels. "It is also the only invertebrate species ever successfully saved within the endangered species program. It's such a big beautiful butterfly and a good symbol to show that we can bring back an endangered species from the brink of extinction." (AP Photo/Univ.of Florida,Milt Putnam)
Biologists walk through a wooded, mosquito-infested area as they prepare to release endangered Schaus’ swallowtail butterflies on Elliott Key, Monday, June 9, 2014, in Biscayne National Park, Fla. A collection and captive breeding operation, begun in 2012 in an effort to save the butterfly from extinction, has shown initial success. Over a thousand butterfly larvae have been produced at the University of Florida and adult butterflies and larvae have been released into the wild in an effort to increase the population. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
This photo provided by the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. shows a female Schaus' swallowtail butterfly found in Elliott Key, Fla., May 12, 2013. University of Florida researchers are hoping to jumpstart a captive breeding program of this rare butterfly captured in the Florida Keys. (AP Photo/University of Florida, Marissa Streifel)
Schaus' Swallowtail (Papilio Aristodemus) butterflies copulate in the branch of an Anacahuita (Schinus molle) in Pinamar, some 40km east of Montevideo on February 6, 2008. AFP PHOTO/Pablo PORCIUNCULA (Photo credit should read PABLO PORCIUNCULA/AFP/Getty Images)
Schaus' Swallowtail (Papilio Aristodemus) butterflies copulate in the branch of an Anacahuita (Schinus molle) in Pinamar, some 40km east of Montevideo on February 6, 2008. AFP PHOTO/Pablo PORCIUNCULA (Photo credit should read PABLO PORCIUNCULA/AFP/Getty Images)
Schaus' Swallowtail (Papilio Aristodemus) butterflies copulate in the branch of an Anacahuita (Schinus molle) in Pinamar, some 40km east of Montevideo on February 6, 2008. AFP PHOTO/Pablo PORCIUNCULA (Photo credit should read PABLO PORCIUNCULA/AFP/Getty Images)
Schaus' Swallowtail (Papilio Aristodemus) butterflies copulate in the branch of an Anacahuita (Schinus molle) in Pinamar, some 40km east of Montevideo on February 6, 2008. AFP PHOTO/Pablo PORCIUNCULA (Photo credit should read PABLO PORCIUNCULA/AFP/Getty Images)
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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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