I have a new puzzle on my hands. I don’t know of any places in the neighborhood with enough coontie to support the Atala Blue butterfly (Eumaeus atala), but I’ve got one “sleeping” on my pool deck:
It’s been there all morning, from 8 a.m. when I got the right profile above, to noon, when I got the left profile, below.
From now on when we’re on our evening strolls, I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for its only known larval host plant: coontie (Zamia floridana). It’s a plant I want to have in my yard, but the seeds are poisonous, so we’re a bit worried about the boys eating them. My boys don’t have the millions of years of evolutionary adaptation that allow the butterfly larvae not only to tolerate the poison but to incorporate it into their tissues, rendering them unpalatable to predators.
The bright, warning (aposematic) coloration advertises their toxicity, so predators know to leave them alone.
Judging by the frayed wing edges and its sluggish demeanor, though, I don’t think this butterfly is much longer for this world. You have to respect its warning coloration, though: Not many insects would last four hours on that pool deck, surrounded by hungry lizards. In fact, the regal darner I “rescued” from the pool back in September didn’t last four minutes.
For more on the coontie plant and the butterfly it supports, read this information sheet from UF/IFAS.
And have a Happy Thanksgiving!