What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Subject:  insect ID
Geographic location of the bug:  south central Virginia
Date: 07/31/2019
Time: 09:04 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Please help me identify this bug.  Thanks.
How you want your letter signed:  Marc

Atala Hairstreak

Dear Marc,
This is such an unusual sighting, that we are quite excited to post it.  A black butterfly with a red abdomen is quite distinctive, and we quickly identified at the Atala Butterfly on the Blue Butterflies page of the University of Florida Gardening Solutions site where it states:  “
The Atala butterfly (Eumaeus atala Poey) is a rare butterfly with a limited distribution in South Florida. The outside of the butterflies’ wings (when folded together) are deep black, with curved rows of iridescent blue spots. They have a bright red-orange abdomen. The open wings of the male butterflies feature an iridescent, bright blue, while the females have only small streaks of blue on the wings. Newly hatched caterpillars are very tiny and pale yellow. Over a day or two they develop into bright red caterpillars with yellow spots.  Atala butterflies suffered massive population declines in the early 1900s; early settlers nearly wiped out the Atala’s preferred host plant, coontie, for its starch. Today, Atala butterflies are considered rare, but the planting of coontie in butterfly gardens and as an ornamental landscape plant has helped the butterfly populations rebound a bit.”  According to Featured Creatures:  ” the Atala butterfly was thought to be extinct from 1937 until 1959 (Klots 1951; Rawson 1961). Although still considered rare with limited distribution, it is now found in local colonies where its host plant, coontie (Zamia integrifolia Linnaeus. f.), is used in butterfly gardens or as an ornamental plant in landscapes. ”  According to BugGuide where it is called the Atala Hairstreak:  “considered by FL to be a ‘Species of Greatest Conservation Need’ (SGCN).”  We are excited not only because of the rarity of the Atala Hairstreak, but also because though it is found in the Caribbean, North American sightings seem to be limited to southern Florida.  We cannot imagine how this gorgeous Atala Hairstreak found its way to central Virginia.  You might want to contact the Prince William Conservation Alliance and the Butterfly Society of Virginia to report your significant sighting.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination
Location: Virginia

2 Responses to Rare Sighting: Atala Hairstreak in Virginia!!!

  1. USERBOSCO says:

    Just going to say it: Wow!

  2. Cat says:

    I believe the TRI airport (in TN just below the VA state line) included a great deal of coontie in their new parking lot landscaping (it’s really lovely, not kidding– like a mini greenspace).
    It would be lovely if this is contributing to a northward expansion of the Atala range… maybe we’ll see some too!

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