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Atala Eumaeus atala


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credit: Patrick Coin/CCSA

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Family: Lycaenidae, Gossamer-wing Butterflies view all from this family

Description The Atala, Eumaeus atala, is a small colorful butterfly in the family Lycaenidae. It is found in southeastern Florida, the Bahamas, and Cuba. Its coloration and habits are unique among butterflies within its range.

In Florida, the caterpillar feeds on a native cycad, Zamia pumila, called Coontie, as well as introduced ornamental cycads. (Another name for the butterfly is Coontie Hairstreak.) In Cuba, the cycad Cycas revoluta is used as well. The hostplants contains toxic chemicals, known as cycasins, and the bright coloration of the adult is believed to be aposematic. Birds and lizards attempt to prey on the adults, but find them distasteful and learn to avoid the brightly-patterned butterflies.

Adult butterflies take flower nectar and sometimes roost in trees. Adults fly through much of the year. The natural habitat is open brushy areas and subtropical hammocks, often in pine woodlands.

Many populations now exist in suburban areas with ornamental cycads. Adults keep close to a site with host plants, thus the species forms small colonies. The females, however, may disperse in search of more hosts. The butterfly's flight is slow, unlike the swift, erratic flight of many other Lycaenidae. Like many lepidoptera, male Atalas have hair pencils ("coremata") on their abdomens used in courtship--the male hovers in front of the female, wafting pheromones exuded from the pencils in her direction. Eggs are laid in clusters of 10-50 on the leaf tips of the host plant. Larvae feed on the leaves. Pupation is usually on the host plant.

The Florida populations of this butterfly were almost wiped out by urban development, but the species has rebounded to some extent as it has begun to use ornamental cycads planted in suburban areas.

The species was originally described by the Cuban Zoologist Felipe Poey. He named the butterfly for Atala, the Native American heroine of an 1801 French novel by Chateaubriand, Atala ou les amours de deux sauvages dans le dÈsert.

Dimensions 1 3/4" (44 mm).

Habitat Forests & woodlands, Freshwater swamps, marshes & bogs, Scrub, shrub & brushlands.

Range Florida.