TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A butterfly once thought to be extinct, the Atala butterfly, is coming back in Florida.
The Sanibel Capitva Conservation Foundation said in a Facebook post on Saturday that the butterfly is making a comeback, likely due to increased popularity of its host plant, a plant where a butterfly lays its eggs, coontie.
According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Atala butterfly is the largest and most iridescent “hairstreak” butterfly in southeast Florida.
The butterfly was initially thought to be extinct due to overharvesting of its host plant’s root by early settlers. It was believed to be extinct from 1937 until 1959.
“Although still considered rare with limited distribution, it is now found in local colonies where its host plant, coontie… is used in butterfly gardens or as an ornamental plant in landscapes,” the university said.
The butterfly’s habitat includes Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, as well as the Bahamas, Turkos and Caicos, the Cayman Island and Cuba, where coontie grows.
The University of Florida said “short-lived” colonies of the Atala butterfly have been introduced into Martin, Monroe and Collier counties.
“The coontie is a hardy plant and grows easily without much attention,” said a Sanibel Capitva Conservation Foundation Native Landscapes & Garden Center staff member, Sue Ramos. “It can grow well in full sun or full shade and in poor soils, which makes it ideal for use in our sandy soils.”