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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hunting Iguanas To Save A Butterfly

One of six subspecies of Thomas's Blue Butterfly, the Miami Blue Butterfly (Hemiargus thomasi bethune-ba​keri) was named for its range (formerly most of coastal South Florida) the color of the upper-side of the wings. (Photo courtesy of Florida Park Service)A closer look at a Miami Blue Butterfly (2006 photo by Volunteer Al Shayer) shows that it is a male (the wings of females have black margins). (Photo courtesy of Florida Park Service)The Miami Blue was once common along the coastal areas of south Florida. (Photo courtesy of Florida Park Service)Female iguanas can lay 10 to 70 eggs at a time, and can do this at least twice each year. Despite a cold winter in 2010, by the summer of 2011, iguana population​s in the Keys were already rebounding noticeably​. (Photo courtesy of Florida Park Service)At center, a green iguana basks out of sight (except from this third story window) in the treetops of Key Largo, with throat fan extended to increase exposure to warming sunlight. (Photo courtesy of Florida Park Service)Only very small iguanas adapt easily to captivity. Larger specimens, taken from the wild, often go on a hunger strike once they are caged. (Photo courtesy of Florida Park Service)

Biologist Jim Duquesnel gets up every day to do two things. First, find a Miami Blue Butterfly. Then, rid the Florida Keys of the Green Iguana, the invasive reptile he says is driving the Miami Blue to the edge of extinction.

Once a thriving species on Bahia Honda island, no one has seen a Miami Blue since July 2010.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the butterfly as an endangered species. The reason? The invasive Green Iguana has no predators in the Keys, its numbers are growing and it is eating the leaves of the Nickerbean Blue plant, the same leaves where the Miami Blue lays its eggs.

Duquesnel hunts the iguanas in the hope that if there are any Miami Blues left on the island, they’ll have a chance at survival.


  • Jim Duquesnel, biologist who runs the Miami Blue Recovery Project at the Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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