The federally endangered Florida leafwing (Anaea troglodyta floridalis) is a butterfly that is native to the pine rockland habitat of south Florida. In flight, the bright orange upper wings make this species easy to spot. However, when at rest, the cryptic coloration of the lower wings makes this species look like a dead leaf, giving the Florida leafwing its common name. Adult leafwings can be found every month of the year but are never very abundant. Careful observers may be able to spot caterpillars feeding in pine rockland habitat throughout the year.
The Florida leafwing once occurred in pine rockland habitat throughout Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. Over time, leafwing populations have declined throughout their historic range and their distribution is now extremely limited. While no one is certain of the exact cause, the reasons for this decline may include destruction of pine rockland habitat, introduction of exotic plant and insect species, fire suppression or exclusion, use of insecticides for mosquito control, and collecting. Until very recently, leafwings were still found in in a few pine rockland fragments near Everglades National Park (NP) and on Big Pine Key in the lower Florida Keys. Unfortunately, this imperiled butterfly species has not been seen outside of Everglades NP since 2007. Scientists now believe that Everglades NP is the only place in the world where the Florida leafwing is found.
Caterpillars of the Florida leafwing feed only on pineland croton (Croton linearis), a shrub that grows in the understory of pine rockland habitat. Consequently, Florida leafwings are dependent on the health of their host plant populations. Pineland croton and most other plants found in pine rockland habitat are dependent on periodic fires that maintain an open understory, reduce competition from other plant species, and help prevent infestations of nonnative plants. The Everglades NP Fire Management Program uses prescribed fire to ensure that pine rockland habitat, along with all of its associated plant and animal species, is maintained.
National Park Service scientists study Florida leafwings and their host plants to help answer two main questions. Surveys of areas in Long Pine Key where leafwings have been found in the past help the National Park Service understand where host plant and butterfly populations are located and how those populations are doing over time. In addition, these surveys also allow Everglades NP to ensure that management activities do not have unintended impacts on this and other species. Park scientists also collect data on host plants, caterpillars, and adults at specific locations. This detailed monitoring has helped the park understand how the Florida leafwing responds to the application of prescribed fire.
The National Park Service also shares information about Florida leafwings with its sister agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition, scientists at Everglades NP work with local conservation groups such as the Imperiled Butterfly Working Group and citizen scientists concerned with long-term status of the Florida leafwing. The ultimate goal of these efforts is to ensure that the Florida leafwing does not disappear into extinction from the last place on Earth where it is found.
Last updated: July 23, 2015