Puerto Rican Butterfly, Rare Virgin Islands Flower One Step Closer to Endangered Species Protection


A report from the Center for Biological Diversity.

In a legal victory for the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today agreed to decide this summer whether to protect the Puerto Rico harlequin butterfly and Marrón Bacora plant under the Endangered Species Act.

The butterfly is found only in northwest Puerto Rico and was hit hard by recent hurricanes. The Marrón bacora (Solanum conocarpum) is found only on St. John’s, Virgin Islands, and is also threatened by urban sprawl and climate change.

“U.S. islands in the Caribbean are home to some of our nation’s most tenacious plants and animals, but they are barely surviving urban sprawl and increasingly intense hurricanes,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center. “This agreement will help ensure these treasures get the help they need to survive and thrive.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service published positive 12-month findings for the butterfly and flower in 2011 but found that even though federal protections were warranted, they were precluded due to other priorities. Both were placed on a waiting list. The Center sued the agency in May 2019 to spur a decision about whether they should receive Endangered Species Act protection.

With today’s agreement, the Service must decide what protections will be given to the butterfly and flower by Aug. 31, 2020 and July 31, 2020, respectively.

“It’s great news for our battered endemic species that the most fragile of all will finally be protected by everyone concerned, not just by scientists but by the communities, the colonial state and the federal government,” said Javier Biaggi-Caballero, who also petitioned to protect the harlequin butterfly.

Species Backgrounds

The Puerto Rican harlequin butterfly (Atlantea tulita) is a small, dark brown butterfly with black and deep orange markings. The butterfly uses the prickly bush (Oplonia spinosa) as a host plant for laying eggs and a food source for larvae.

Although the prickly bush is common and widely distributed throughout Puerto Rico, the butterfly is a slow and weak flier and is considered relatively sedentary. It is only found in the Mariaco Commonwealth Forest and the coastal cliffs in a small area in Quebradillas.

The Quebradillas population occurs in scattered patches among approximately 356 acres of deforested habitat — with estimates of around 45 or fewer adult individuals. The Mariaco Commonwealth Forest population occurs near PR Highway 120. The region was hit hard by Hurricane Maria and is still recovering.

The Marrón bacora (Solanum conocarpum) is a flowering shrub that occurs in dry forest on St. John’s, Virgin Islands and can reach heights of 10 feet. It was believed extinct until 1992, when it was rediscovered. It is threatened by urban sprawl and climate change. St. John’s was devastated in 2017 by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

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