Atala (Eumaeus atala)
Atala butterfly, also known as coontie hairstreak or just atala, is an attractive species from Florida, some other parts of the United States and the Caribbean Islands. Their Florida population has been listed as endangered by the State of Florida, but re-colonizing attempts from the Bahaman population is yielding positive results.
Pale flesh colored when newly hatched; develops a striking bright red coloration with two rows of yellow dots on the back.
During the warm seasons, the chrysalis is golden brown, marked with black spots, while in winter it is dark brown marked with black spots.
Sexual dimorphism: Males are slightly smaller than females
In a folded position, the outer surface is black with three rows of brilliant blue or teal iridescent spots in both sexes. The eyes and the legs are also marked with the same blue. The lower middle portion of the wing has a bright red or orange blotch, that also marks the lower part of the butterfly’s torso.
In a spread out position, the inner surface of the wings in a male is of an iridescent teal (in colder seasons) or Caribbean blue (in warmer seasons), marked with black vein-like pattern. Females have bright iridescent royal blue marking high on the forewings, along with a row on blue dots in the lower end of the hindwings.
Average wingspan: 1.5 – 2 inches
Flight pattern: Slow and moth-like
|Distribution||Florida, Cuba, and the Bahamas|
|Habitat||tropical open woodlands, grasslands, gardens, and shrub areas|
|Lifespan of adults||3 weeks to 3 months|
|Breeding season||Throughout the year|
|Host plants||Coontie (Zamia pumila), a shrubby plant native to its distribution range; certain introduced plants in the Cycadaceae family|
|Adult diet||Flower nectar (periwinkle, lantana, wild coffee, and shepherd’s needle)|
Did You Know?
- The size of the adult butterflies depends on the quality and availability of host plants during the larval stage.
- The iridescent markings on their wings are unique for each individual
- The species name is derived from the literary character Atala, the Indian princess from a French novel of the same name by François-René de Chateaubriand.
- The caterpillar feeds on toxic plants (cycad) and retains the toxins in their body for protecting themselves against predators. Their bright coloration, being an example of aposematism, warns any potential predator to stay away.