Brilliantly colored Florida native Atala caterpillars, once nearly extinct, are thriving at the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens, where their host plant, the Coontie, has made a comeback thanks to conservation efforts. The Atalas are joined by the Polydamus Swallowtail caterpillars making their home where their main food source, the Dutchman’s Pipe Vine has been cultivated.
Where would the Atala be without the Coontie plant? Extinct. In fact, the Atala butterfly, a Florida native whose dazzling colors rival those of coral reef fish, almost disappeared from the wild, all because the tiny insect’s host plant, the Coontie, was itself virtually wiped out. Now, both the Atala and the Coontie are making a comeback. Atalas have reappeared in small numbers on Florida’s east coast, and are at home now at the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens which has plenty of Coontie to attract the caterpillar. The lovely Polydamas Swallowtail is enjoying its lifecycle in the Gardens thanks to the unusually-shaped Dutchman’s Pipe Vine. It is one of only two United States swallowtails of the genus Battus and is our only eastern United States swallowtail without tails.