Atala Butterfly BioBlitz: Finding Nature’s Secrets in Our Backyards

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Valeria Mejia

Valeria is a sophomore at Doral Academy Charter High School. She is currently a Junior Ambassador for Miami Waterkeeper and a Deering Estate intern.

On December 5th, the Atala Coontie BioBlitz will take place, open for all residents in Miami-Dade County. This is great opportunity to involve yourself, friends, and family in a local citizen science project. Natalie Salman, an FIU intern, organized the event with the goal for participants to focus on all the Atala butterflies they find and their favorite plant, the Coontie.

With its bright orange abdomen and contrasting black wings with ultramarine spots, the Atala butterfly is truly remarkable to see. They were nearly extinct and have been making a comeback throughout South Florida in recent years. The Coontie is essential to the Atala as it is its only native host plant and where the Atala lays its eggs.

Using the app iNaturalist, participants will get to automatically map and share their sightings of the Atala and Coontie. In partnership with the Deering Estate, Lauren Coll, a local artist, will be giving out a pop-art style artwork of the Atala to the top participants.

Here is an interview with Natalie Salman about the BioBlitz project and her personal expectations:

Q: Why did you choose to do a BioBlitz on the Atala Coontie?

  A: I chose to study the Atala and its host plant because I noticed some discrepancies in the observations on iNaturalist for both species. Where one species would be observed where the other species hasn’t been observed yet and vice versa

Q: What are your goals and expectations for the BioBlitz event?

A: I am hoping through the volunteer efforts of everyone that participates in the BioBlitz that we see more observations and a better visual map of the population of both species in the area.

Q: What do you want people to gain from participating in the Atala Coontie Butterfly BioBlitz? 

A: (Natalie) I hope that by learning how to use iNaturalist that people start to record more observations of species in their area and help with species observations and data for other future projects.

Lauren Coll also gave her own personal artist statement about her experience as a Miami native and love for the environment around her, including the incredible Atala Butterfly:

“Engagement with our native habitat and species is what ultimately makes us human by reminding us that we are connected to all living things around us. As a Miami native, I have been blessed with the beauty of our area from birth. Like all metropolitan areas, Miami has lost the abundance of its wildlife to development and population growth. This makes it all the more important that as a community, we come together to protect and celebrate what remains.

As an artist, I have been inspired by the delicate beauty of the Atala butterfly. As a native Floridian, I want to make sure that our special butterfly thrives in its home. This butterfly is one of us. I am proud to come from the same land as this stunning butterfly and my hope is to see its population grow through preservation, education, awareness, and community involvement.

I present my Atala butterfly print to celebrate this rare and beautiful species, to inspire its preservation, and to invite you to fill your souls with the experience of the forest, the butterflies, the song of the birds, and the stars at night.”

Here is an interview with Coll in regard to the BioBlitz and the role of art when it comes to spreading awareness:

Q: What inspired you to join the BioBlitz project for the Atala Butterfly?

A: I felt blessed with the opportunity to be invited to join a great team of people who are as interested as I am in the preservation of our native South Florida habitat and wildlife. I am a native Floridian and love the natural beauty of our area. Working with kindred spirits in a common cause, I hope to reach out to the community to spread awareness of one of our most beautiful species, the Atala butterfly.

Q: What is one thing that you want people to learn from your art on the Atala?

A: The Atala butterfly is one of our best kept local secrets. I do not believe that many people in our area know very much about this stunning little denizen in their backyard. By being part of the BioBlitz team, my hope is to inspire our community members to make a home in their gardens for this butterfly and to report through the iNaturalist app the whereabouts of this beautiful species. By creating my art, my wish is that people will be reminded of this butterfly, even after the BioBlitz event, and that my art will continue to inspire them in seeking out, reporting,  preserving, and making a home for the species.

Q: In your opinion, how does art help to spread awareness and support on different issues?

A: Art is a visceral experience which can affect us deeply. Its reach is beyond words and instruction. It’s emotion. The aesthetic aspect of art is one dimension, but the emotional component is what completes the picture. To be engaged by an image is to be emotionally touched by it and those feelings stay with us long after we experience the artwork itself. No artwork can ever match the true beauty of what is the Atala butterfly, but an artistic rendering can serve as a reminder of our kinship as living creatures and our duty to protect it. In this way, art connects and helps to create awareness and support for the butterfly that may last long after an event passes.

For all the nature-lovers out there, this is an amazing chance to give back to science and the environment! Take time on December 5th to look for South Florida’s hidden secret, the Atala Butterfly. Download the iNaturalist App, search under projects for “Deering Estate Atala Coontie BioBlitz” and click join. You can also check out the link https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/deering-estate-atala-coontie-bioblitz


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