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Copyright © Atala Chapter of NABA 2002
Atala History
Atala HairstreakThe Atala Hairstreak was thought extinct in south Florida until 1979. It was an abundant butterfly until the early 1900s, rare by the 1930's, and assumed extinct by 1965. The decline of the Atala occurred because its host plant, the coontie (Zamia pumila), was over-harvested to produce arrowroot and other starchy compounds used as a thickener in food products such as animal crackers.The coontie, a cycad, has an extensive history in Florida. The root of the coontie, though poisonous unless processed properly to remove the cycasin, was used to make a staple bread by Florida's aboriginal people such as the Calusa and Tequesta groups. The Seminole Indians and early settlers also found the coontie useful. It continued to be exploited into the twentieth century until it was difficult to find in its natural habitat, pine rocklands and hardwood forests of south Florida.

To further the threat to both the coontie and the Atala, their habitat disappeared with increased settlement and urbanization in Florida. A small population of Atalas was discovered in 1979 on Key Biscayne by Roger Hammer, a naturalist with Dade County Parks. It is unknown whether this colony was from the original population or if it recolonized from the Bahamas. With the cultivation of coontie plants and the rearing of the Atala larvae, the butterfly has made an amazing comeback to south Florida. A large population existing in Palm Beach County thrills butterfly enthusiasts although landscapers often consider the Atala a pest since its caterpillar eats the expensive coontie plants.In the 1998 4th of July Butterfly Count, Atala Chapter members of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) counted 1337 eggs, 1018 larvae, 1333 pupae, and 301 adults. It seems appropriate that the Palm Beach County chapter is named after the distinctive hairstreak, Atala.

References:
Edwards, A. (1998). The Atala Hairstreak - Eumeus atala. Unpublished manuscript.
Glassberg, J. (1999). Butterflies through Binoculars: The East. New York: Oxford University Press.
Opler, P.., & Malikul, V. (1992). Peterson Field Guides: Eastern Butterflies. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

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