between SW 11th St and SW 10th St
Atala Butterfly, Lantana, and Coontie
Hey, it’s me again, the pollinator from the Oolite Room! In case you haven’t met me yet, it’s nice to meet you. I’m a pollinator and am responsible for making sure that many different plants (called flowering plants) live. When I visit their flowers for nectar (yum!) I get pollen on my legs. Pollen is a dust-like thing that will one day be the seeds of the new flowering plant.
Right now I am the striking atala butterfly. If you visit me in the Urban Gym, you’ll likely see me as a monarch butterfly or sulphur butterfly. That’s because pollinators can be butterflies, bees, and any other flower-loving insect.
The atala butterfly (Eumaeus atala) is very special because it only has one host (food) plant: the coontie (Zamia integrifolia), North America’s only cycad. Cycads look a little like short, sturdy palm trees and are from the Mesozoic Era, between 250 and 66 million years ago!
Watch out, though, because coontie leaves contain the toxin that atala larva (caterpillar) eats and keeps throughout it entire life cycle. The coontie cycad produces a toxin called cycasin, which gives the atala and other related butterflies, and their caterpillars, bright and bold color patterns. These colors protect the butterfly because they signal predators that they are toxic. The coontie’s seeds are also source of food for mockingbirds, blue jays, and other birds and small animals. However, the seeds are poisonous to people and pets if ingested or handled improperly.
Fun fact: Coonties are tolerant of brackish water flooding, which is extremely beneficial during Miami’s wet season. Brackish water is one type of water found in the Everglades: a mixture of fresh and saltwater.
The coontie and I, the atala butterfly, have a mutualistic relationship. We get a safe place to lay our eggs that will also provide food for them when they are caterpillars. The coontie gets nutrients from our caterpillar droppings and is pollinated by us. We have mutualistic relationships with other plants, like the Lantana (lantana involucrata), a flowering plant with white flowers (our favorite flower color!).
Catch you later at the Urban Gym, where you’ll meet the monarch and sulphur butterflies!
Why are ferns important? While you’re in the Fern Room, remember to breathe in the oxygen from the ferns! All plants let out oxygen and take in carbon dioxide in a process called photosynthesis. The ferns (Polypodiopsida) have been doing this on Earth for 300 million years! Pteridophytes ferns were around with the dinosaurs.
Ferns are plants that do not have flowers; they reproduce by producing tiny spores (seeds) on their leaves. Ferns provide food for many butterflies and moths during their caterpillar stage. Ferns are resilient and love shade and damp soil but will adapt to nearly any location.