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Endangered Beauties

One of the famous, and most elusive, of endangered butterflies is the Schaus' swallowtail, which was once common from Miami to the Middle Keys. The large brown and yellow butterfly, with orange and blue spots and brown and blue patches, was named for Dr. William Schaus, a physician who observed it and collected specimens in the early 1900s in a Miami area known as Brickell Hammock. Urban development eventually destroyed most of the swallowtails' hammock habitat and reduced the amount of food available. Mosquito control pesticides have also contributed to the butterfly's decline.

In the 1930s, a Schaus' swallowtail colony was discovered in Islamorada. Its habitat was destroyed by the 1935 Labor Day hurricane. Rediscovered in the Upper Keys in the 1960s, the species now is found in the lush, tropical landscape of Elliott Key in Biscayne National Park and North Key Largo. It is also infrequently seen in Everglades National Park. The State of Florida and the federal government put the Schaus' swallowtail on the endangered species list in 1975.

The tail-less atala hairstreak (Eumaeus atala), also endangered, lives in hardwood hammocks and adjacent open areas. The iridescent black, red, and white member of the gossamer wing family averages about 1.5 to 2 inches high. At Crane Point Hammock in Marathon, naturalists are attempting to sustain the atala hairstreak by planting Florida coontie (Zamia integrifolia), a primary food source for the butterfly. A bushy fern-like woodland member of the sago palm family, the Florida coontie is also becoming rare.

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