Creating Miami blue butterfly habitat among projects.

By TIMOTHY O’HARA, Key West Citizen Staff

Key West and Stock Island account for the most butterflies and butterfly species in the Florida Keys, according to one expert who has been intensively studying them for the past three years.

Miami Blue ImageThe butterfly garden at Key West Tropical Forest Botanical Garden on Stock Island, which was first created in 2004, has 58 different species, and at times, hundreds of butterflies swarm the 1-acre site.

The garden hopes to add one more species to its impressive roster, the endangered Miami blue butterfly. Once found throughout South Florida, it now lives only in Bahia Honda State Park and Key Biscayne.

The Monroe County Tourist Development Council on Wednesday approved giving the garden a $50,000 matching grant to create a Miami Blue Garden. Butterfly expert and published author Marc Minno, who has received grant funding from the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District to conduct butterfly counts in the Keys, plans to reintroduce the Miami blue to the Botanical Gardens property.

Miami blues were common there in the 1980s, but their populations since have been wiped out. Butterfly populations in the Keys overall have declined, and Minno fears it is because of increased development.

“We want to introduce them in places we feel they will best survive,” said Minno, who will oversee the Miami Blue Garden project. “Habitat is extremely important. There has been a tremendous loss of habitat because of development.”

The garden also plans to plant nickerbean and other plants that provide food and larva nurseries for the Miami blues.

“It is really quite an honor to be selected as a site to introduce Miami blue butterflies,” said Carol Ann Sharkey, director of restoration for the botanical garden. “The butterfly garden has become a huge success.”