Butterflies are generally viewed as gentle, colorful little creatures, but the possibility of three endangered species living in the Lower Keys is wreaking havoc on efforts at mosquito control there.
The possible presence of the Miami blue, Bartram's hairstreak and Florida leafwing butterflies also could someday limit development on Big Pine and No Name keys, as the flying insects' habitat is protected.
The hairstreak and leafwing lay their eggs, and their larvae feed, on the croton plant, which is commonly found in the greater Big Pine Key area. The Miami blue does the same on the nickerbean plant, also found in the Keys.
The U.S. Fish Wildlife Service is considering adding the Bartram's hairstreak and Florida leafwing butterfly to the endangered species list; the Miami blue butterfly is there already.
The blues were once found throughout the Lower Keys, but last spotted three years ago on Boca Grande and Marquesas keys.
The County Commission will hold a special meeting Thursday in Key West to discuss development issues and the possible impacts of the two other butterfly species being on the federal Endangered Species List, said Mike Roberts, a county environmental planner.
Mosquito Control had to cut back on its bug spraying efforts on Big Pine and No Name keys because of the habitat protection. The agency can still use larvicide, but in April indefinitely suspended the use of pesticides on the two islands, Mosquito Control Director Michael Doyle said.
The Mosquito Control District is currently working with the Fish Wildlife Service on reviewing Big Pine and No Name keys to see where the butterflies' habitat is and to determine where in the future it could use pesticides.
"They may allow us to do some limiting spraying," Doyle said.
The problem is that many of the homes on the two keys abut the butterflies' protected habitat -- which Doyle has likened to a "checkerboard" due to the parcels of private property.
Also problematic is the fact that as flying insects, butterflies are not limited to one area, Doyle said.
The County Commission will discuss several issues tied to development, such as how to pay property owners if their land is "taken" -- unable to be built upon -- by the state possibly not issuing more Rate of Growth Ordinance (ROGO) units in the Keys. ROGOs are needed to develop vacant land.
"There will be a lot of discussion that day," Growth Management Director Christine Hurley said of Thursday's meeting.
The state has given the county and Keys municipalities 10 years' worth of ROGO allocations, but it's unknown if it will allocate more after that.
Roberts will "brief" the County Commission on the butterfly issue. "We're going to have to think about it in the near future," he said.
The County Commission will meet at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Harvey Government Center, 1200 Truman Ave, Key West.