Eumaeus atala Röber (Insecta:
Hairstreak, Coontie Hairstreak
and rare Atala
Click image to enlarge.
larva eating young coontie leaf.
image to enlarge.
One rare butterfly!
The Atala butterfly's
host plant is the
pumila syn. Zamia floridana).
In 1800’s Florida several factories here produced
starch from the coontie plant. The coontie grows
very slowly -- it can take 30 years to grow a plant
that might have a large enough stem to weigh five
pounds, so between the starch factories harvesting
them and development in Florida destroying it's
native habitat, wild coontie was almost wiped out.
Unfortunately for the
Atala, the only native host plant of this butterfly
Zamia pumila. With very few places were the
coontie was growing wild it was believed that the Atala
butterfly had become extinct. From 1937 until 1965
the Atala was not found in the wild in Florida. Now
that the coontie is popular for use in landscaping the
Atala has made a comeback and is now common in
southeast Florida. The Atala is found in Florida from Dade County north to St.
Lucie and Indian River counties.
Atala has a 38.1 mm wingspan with oval shaped wings that
are black with metallic blue spots arranged in three
bands on the underside of its hind wing with blue bands
on the wing's top side. The underside of the Atala
butterfly's hind wing near its abdomen as well as its
abdomen are bright orange-red.
The head and
thorax are black. Males have greenish patches on the
front wing and top of the hind wing margins. Females
have bluish patches across the top of the forewing.
caterpillars, or larva, are orange-red with seven pairs
of yellow spots running along the back. Atala larva are
about 31.75 mm long.
aposematic coloration throughout its life cycle is a
warning to potential predators. Its host, Zamia
pumila contains the highly toxic chemical
cycasin which the Atala caterpillar stores in its
tissues as it eats the tender young tips of the coontie.
The cycasin is retained through all life stages of the
Atala making them unpalatable and dangerous for
predators to eat.
During her 10 day
lifespan an adult female Atala may produce about 40
yellowish-white eggs which are deposited (singly or in
clusters of 5 to 15 eggs) on newly emerging fronds or
the top end of mature leaflets of the coontie plant.
Eggs may also be deposited on female coontie cones.
Atala eggs hatch in 4 to
5 days. At the first stage (instar), the larva measures
2.5 mm. Younger instars are found in groups, but often
become solitary when they reach full size. At the end of
the 18 day larval
period, the caterpillar will stop feeding, become
stationary and attach itself to a coontie frond and molt into the pupa (chrysalis).
The pupal stage lasts
about 10 days. At the end of this stage, the light
orange-tan color of the chrysalis changes to dark brown. The outer shell
becomes opaque and the adult butterfly emerges, usually in
the early morning.
Atala, Atala Hairstreak, Coontie Hairstreak, Eumaeus
atala Röber (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae),
Donald W. Hall and Jerry F. Butler,
Florida Coonties and Atala Butterflies, Daniel