Tampa Bay Times

BUTTERFLY

- Contact Craig Pittman at craig@ tampabay.com. Follow @craigtimes.

museum, Warren said. Their captive breeding efforts have been supported by the sale of a specialty beer, Miami Blue Bock.

But, Warren added, “despite many attempts to establish new population­s with this captive-bred stock, there is no evidence that any reintroduc­tion attempts were ever successful. So I guess just because we have a captive colony does not guarantee they can be successful­ly reintroduc­ed into the wild.”

Minno said he and other butterfly experts are heading to Cuba to see if there are any still fluttering around there. He’s hopeful about their prospects, based on the terrain.

The Miami blue colony in Cuba was in an area that was more protected from Irma’s wrath than the small islands in the Keys where the Florida colony lived, he said.

But Warren said the Cuban colony isn’t from the same subspecies, and thus no one should think it could be introduced here to replace the natives.

Not long ago the Miami blue was considered a common Florida butterfly. You could see its iridescent wings fluttering all across the southern half of the peninsula, from Tampa to Daytona Beach.

But developmen­t wiped out its habitat, including the nickerbean and wild sage that it feeds on. Insecticid­es intended for mosquitoes killed the blues as well. Meanwhile, invasive creatures such as iguanas and fire ants picked off the blues’ larvae.

By the 1980s, the blue had been squeezed out of all but the southernmo­st part of the peninsula and was ranked among North America’s rarest insects.

After Hurricane Andrew clobbered South Florida in 1992, the remaining colonies of the Miami blue appeared to have been completely blown away by the storm’s Category 5 winds. But in 1999 a new colony turned up at Bahia Honda State Park.

Then, in 2010, that population disappeare­d, too, leading to fears that this at last was the end. Once again, new population­s turned up at the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, based on Cudjoe Key, and the Key West National Wildlife Refuge, which stretches across a series of remote islands from Key West to the Dry Tortugas.

Butterfly experts acknowledg­ed then that one good storm could wipe them off the face of the earth and launched the breeding project at the museum, where Warren is the senior collection­s manager for butterflie­s and moths. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added them to the endangered species list in 2012.

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