Atala (Eumaeus atala)
The Atala is one of Florida's most distinctive and sought-after butterflies. These large, slow-moving hairstreaks are so tame that they don't flinch when you touch them. It seems that they know they're too toxic to eat, as their warning colors advertise!
Impossible to mistake because of the large size, black hindwings with three bands of glittering pale blue spots and a large red spot, bright orange-red abdomen, thorax accented by glittering purplish-blue spots, and black eyes lined with more glittering purplish-blue. The hue of the glittering spots depends on the angle of view. Wow, what a stunner.
Tree Tops Park, Davie, Broward Co., FL 6/22/2010 (all photos)
The most similar butterfly to the Atala is the (also spectacular) Great Purple Hairstreak, though the two are not likely to be confused.
Atalas are very easy to approach, but a little tricky to photograph since they're always twisting and turning when they're nectaring. It's also difficult to get the exposure right for the combination of black butterfly and white flower. I took plenty of poor photos, too!
The top one is the same individual as in the first photo on this page.
Atala caterpillars on Coontie (Zamia pumila).
The caterpillars are quite spectacular, too, and clearly marked with red and yellow warning colors. Coontie and other cycads contain the toxin cycasin, which the caterpillar incorporates into its body.