MIAMI – The Miami blue, possibly the rarest insect in the United States, is fighting for survival as the tiny butterfly’s habitat disappears in southern Florida.
“This is definitely considered one of the rarest (insects) because it’s only found in a very small area of the country and has been thought extinct more than once,” Florida Museum of Natural History field biologist Sarah Steele Cabrera told EFE.
Specialists from the Florida Museum of Natural History, which is in the north-central city of Gainesville, are working to help the Miami blue (Cyclargus thomasi bethunbakeri) survive by increasing the insect’s numbers.
In 1999, when the Miami blue was considered extinct, a remnant population of about 100 butterflies was found in the Florida Keys.
The museum has been trying since then to save the species by establishing a Miami blue colony in captivity, a project that Steele Cabrera runs.
The rare butterfly, which the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed as endangered in 2012, is currently found only in the Florida Keys.
Steele Cabrera headed to the island chain after Hurricane Irma made landfall just north of Key West on Sept. 10, fearing that the powerful storm had dealt a fatal blow to the Miami blue’s population and habitat.
The biologist, however, was surprised to find eggs, larvae and adult butterflies in the area.
“We’re still working to complete the population surveys, but based on our initial evaluation, it doesn’t appear that the Miami blue butterfly or its habitat were severely affected by Hurricane Irma,” Steele Cabrera said.
A Miami blue colony in Key Biscayne, located just off Miami, was wiped out by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
The Miami blue’s range once extended across central and southern Florida, but urban sprawl decimated its habitat and the insects are currently found in the Florida Keys, with most of the colonies on small islands north of Key West in the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge.