What is going on in South Florida?
Ants, especially exotic ants, are potential agents in the decline of rare butterflies. Butterfly enthusiasts in South Florida have observed exotic ants consuming eggs and caterpillars of rare butterfly species in gardens, parks, and preserves. Red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) have been considered a threat to rare butterflies because of their highly predatory nature. Another exotic ant, the graceful twig ant (Pseudomyrmex graclis) is arboreal, posing potential risk to rare butterfly eggs and caterpillars as the ants actively search for prey on shrubs and trees. Current government management protocols for the federally endangered Schaus’ swallowtail and Miami blue butterflies report exotic ants as major threats to the eggs and larvae of both species. In addition, many species of blue butterflies (Lycaenidae Family) have mutualistic relationships with ants, which may be disrupted by exotic ants. Currently, there is no experimental evidence that confirm exotic ants are directly responsible for the reduction and extinction of butterflies in South Florida. A novel technique such as the use high definition video surveillance cameras to quantify encounter rates can be employed to investigate the impacts of predator-prey interactions between rare butterflies and invertebrate predators.