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With Only Four Left, UF Researchers Work to Replenish Schaus Swallowtail Population

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The Schaus butterfly...
A single Schaus butterfly was captured last month in Biscayne National Park on Elliott Key. ” credit=”Contributed: Marissa Streifel / University of Florida

University of Florida scientists are hoping they have a second chance to save a rare Florida Keys butterfly.

Federal wildlife authorities issued an emergency order in 2012 authorizing the capture of up to four female Schaus swallowtail butterflies to begin a captive breeding program in Gainesville.

It took until May 21  for researchers to find one.

The Schaus population dropped over the past few decades from the hundreds to just four confirmed sightings last year. Jaret Daniels, UF associate professor of entomology, said the butterfly is unique to the Florida keys.

“(The Schaus is) part of our natural heritage, and it’s also sort of an icon for the tropical hardwood hammock habitat in which it occurs, which itself is a globally endangered ecosystem,” he said.

A breeding program at UF began just before Hurricane Andrew swept away the butterfly’s habitat. That program was credited with saving the species in 1992.

More recently, its population dropped after a series of droughts. The large, pale yellow butterfly is now found only in northern Key Largo and Biscayne National Park.

“Like many other insects, they pollinate plants and are food for a wide range of other organisms,” Daniels said. “If it goes instinct (in Florida), it goes extinct globally. There’s no way of getting it back.”

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