In August of 2011, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced an emergency listing of the Miami Blue Butterfly as endangered, “We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), exercise our authority pursuant to section 4(b)(7) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act), to emergency list the Miami blue butterfly (Cyclargus thomasi bethunebakeri) as endangered. This subspecies is currently known to occur at only a few small remote islands within the Florida Keys. Current population numbers are not known, but are estimated in the hundreds of butterflies.”
It may have come too late, because no Miami blues have been reported on Bahia Honda since 2010, meaning they could have been driven into extinction. (Source: Seattle PI)
Miami blues were once found on both Florida coasts and in large numbers. Converting wild habitat to shopping malls, roads and residences reduced their area to virtually nothing. By the early 1990s they could only be found in the Keys.
After Hurricane Andrew, it was believed perhaps only 50 were left. From 2003 to 2010 scientists grew a population in the lab to 30,000 and then relocated them to the Keys. None of them survived. Then the last ones remaining in the wild at Bahia Honda also went into decline. The reason was thought to be invasive iguanas. These lizards were likely the descendants of former pets released by people who no longer wanted them, just like the pythons currently plaguing the Everglades. Iguanas were destroying the plants Miami blues using for laying their eggs.
The following related species in Florida are also imperiled:
What is the point of the Endangered Species Act, if the species needing it most don’t get protected until they are already so low in numbers, they can’t recover, or are already gone? With climate change intensifying weather and disrupting habitats, it seems more likely the response to protect animals under the ESA needs to be much faster.
Image Credit: J Glassberg, NABA