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Iguana invaders' taste for butterfly caviar threatens rare species

Lynne Sladky / AP

Jim Duquesnel holds an iguana he caught in a trap at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys on Aug. 31, 2011.

The Associated Press reports from BAHIA HONDA KEY, Fla. — For more than a year, Bahia Honda State Park biologist Jim Duquesnel traversed the nature sanctuary with two hopes. He wanted to see a Miami blue butterfly and rid the Florida Keys outpost of as many iguanas as he could.

The reason: The Central American invader may be driving the Miami blue into extinction by eating the leaves where it lays its eggs — a bit of butterfly caviar in every bite.

Paula Cannon / AP

In this undated photo, a Miami blue butterfly is shown at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last August issued an emergency listing of the Miami blue as an endangered species.

No confirmed Miami blues have been seen on Bahia Honda since July 2010, and with each passing day it becomes less likely any exist there.

Still, Duquesnel has tried to keep hope alive — and eradicate the iguana from his 600-acre park in the Middle Keys.

Perhaps, he says, a half dozen Miami blues survive on some corner of the island, waiting for the right weather to emerge. Read more about his quest to protect them.

Lynne Sladky / AP

Jim Duquesnel sets out pieces of fruit to attract iguanas on Aug. 9, 2011. The large, vegetarian lizards, probably the descendants of pets released by their owners when they grew too big or burdensome, have developed a taste for the nickerbean leaves where Miami blues laid their eggs.

Lynne Sladky / AP

Jim Duquesnel and volunteer Larry Benvenuti measure an iguana that was caught in a trap. When Duquesnel was hired in November 2010, he saw 40 or 50 adult iguanas a day in the park. Now he sees just a couple big ones a day, and they're harder to catch because they've adapted to his hunting and trapping.