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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has issued an emergency authorization for the collection and captive rearing of endangered Schaus swallowtail butterflies in an effort to save the species from extinction.
The June 8 authorization came just two days after the lead researcher on the Schaus swallowtail reported alarmingly low numbers of the butterflies during a survey in Biscayne National Park, one of the last habitats for the Schaus swallowtail. The survey will continue while the USFWS, National Park Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the University of Florida initiate the emergency action to collect up to four female Schaus Swallowtail butterflies within the park.
Biological technicians count the endangered butterfly at Biscayne National Park near Miami each year and this year's tally plummeted to five from 41 recorded in 2011. "We've only confirmed three of the five butterflies sighted this year and only one of those counted was a female," said Dr. Jaret Daniels, lead project researcher for the University of Florida.
The emergency authorization allows the University of Florida crew to capture up to four female butterflies, collect their eggs then propagate them at the University of Florida McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. Adult butterflies would be released into their natural habitat in Biscayne National Park.
Daniels said, "Intervention doesn't guarantee survival, but it does offer hope and puts us into a better position to save this species."
Once collected, females will be temporarily confined in a mesh cage on site in natural habitat, where they will hopefully lay eggs on host plants. New eggs will be removed daily. Females will only be confined for up to four days and then released.
"National Parks like Biscayne protect entire ecosystems for the benefit of all species," said Mark Lewis, Biscayne National Park Superintendent. "Right now, with our partners in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the University of Florida, we must focus on a fragile but important part of the ecosystem -- the Schaus swallowtail -- to ensure it doesn't disappear from the planet."
As pollinators, butterflies are important members of south Florida ecosystem. They're also good indicators of the ecological quality of a habitat, as they are important components of the food chain, particularly as larvae.
The Schaus swallowtail was initially listed under the Endangered Species Act as "Threatened" in 1976 and then "Endangered" in 1984. During the 2011 survey, there were 41 individuals counted - 35 in Biscayne National Park (mostly on Elliott Key) and six outside the park on north Key Largo. Recovery of the Schaus swallowtail is hindered by insecticide use, habitat destruction, droughts, hurricanes and illegal collection.
"We're encouraging concerned citizens to help us save this species by submitting new scientific and commercial information and data related to the status of the Schaus swallowtail butterfly throughout its range in south Florida," said Larry Williams, Field Supervisor of the South Florida Ecological Services Office.
About the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: The USFWS works with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit www.fws.gov/verobeach. Connect with our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfwssoutheast, follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfwsvero, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwssoutheast.
About the National Park Service: More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America's 397 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more at www.nps.gov. Learn more about Biscayne National Park at www.nps.gov/bisc, and "like" us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BiscayneNPS.
Editor's Note: Subject matter experts from the partner agencies will be available to answer questions from news media representatives via a teleconference set for Wednesday, June 13 at 3 p.m. (EDT). To participate in the teleconference call 888-790-3325 and use the participant passcode: BUTTERFLY