For Immediate Release,
October 9, 2020
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today a proposal to list the Puerto Rican harlequin butterfly as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and to designate 41,266 acres of critical habitat.
The proposal responds to a petition submitted by Javier Biaggi-Caballero 11 years ago. It is the result of litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity to compel a decision after years of delay.
“This proposal gives hope that this delicate beauty can be recovered if we just protect the forests where it lives,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center. “If we can shield its habitat from destruction and exposure to pesticides, we can save this enchanting creature from extinction.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service published a positive 12-month finding for the butterfly in 2011 but found that even though federal protection was warranted, it was precluded due to other priorities. The Center sued the agency in 2019 to force it to move through its backlog and make a finding for the butterfly.
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 only found in six isolated locations on the island.
The populations occur in scattered forest patches vulnerable to development, pesticides and hurricanes.