Miami Blue Chapter
West's Signature Butterfly!
Once upon a time, the Florida Keys were covered predominantly with tropical hardwood hammocka plant association of broadleaf hardwood trees that is the northern extension of the flora of neighboring Caribbean Islands, like Cuba and Hispaniola. This fascinating habitat is home to birds, trees and butterflies unique to South Florida and the Florida Keys. Sadly, only remnants of this once glorious forest remain today.
A rather plain looking, but very special butterfly, the Zestos Skipper, Epargyreis zestos, is one of the rarest denizens of this ever-vanishing tropical forest system. The Key West Botanical Garden (KWBG), located on nearby Stock Island, is believed to be one of, if not the last stronghold for this butterfly in North America. As hardwood hammock was gradually lost to development and anti-mosquito spraying increased, the Zestos began to lose ground. This butterfly was formerly found on the southern Florida mainland and on the upper Florida Keys, but there have been no recent reliable sightings from those areas. Even sightings of the Zestos at the KWBG have become rare and sporadic.
Some butterflies, and the Zestos Skipper seems to be a perfect example of this, are tied directly to one host plant. The Zestos' plant is a small seldom noticed understory vine in the Pea Family, Florida Hammock Milkpea, Galactia striata. Without this Milkpea for the voracious larva of this butterfly to feed on, there is no Zestos.
To support and maintain the Zestos Skipper's survival at the KWBG it is crucial that action be taken to bolster the garden's population of Florida Hammock Milkpea as soon as possible. In addition, it should be planted in other, soon to be created areas, as this garden, under the guidance of Carolann Sharkey, continues to expand and work towards its potential of becoming a major attraction in "paradise" and who knows, perhaps someday a national treasure.
Now is the time for all good nature lovers to come to the aid of the Zestos Skipper. Collecting Galactia striata seeds and growing them should be fast-tracked and given high priority. Institutions with the capacity to facilitate this step should become involved, and the KWBG with its corps of volunteers must plant, as soon as possible, this necessary component for the Zestos Skipper's survival. We should all hope for and support the success of the Zestos Skipper at the Key West Botanical Garden. Its disappearance would be tragic and on our watch!
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