The atala butterfly eggs laid on the potted coontie near our front door in the early evening on 7/3/2016 were gone when I looked for them mid-day on 7/4/2016. Eggs take 4 to 5 days to hatch, so the tiny, tiny reddish larvae that I saw must be from other eggs laid earlier.
Some species of ants — native and exotic — consume atala eggs. Pharaoh ants (Monomorium pharaonis) likely are the culprits in this case. We have a terrible problem with these exotic ants inside our home, which, according to the University of Florida Department of Entomology and Nematology Department, have “the dubious distinction of being the most difficult household ant to control”.
The larvae progress through 5 instars (stages) of development. First instar larvae are flesh-colored and about .5 to 1 millimeter. As the larvae feed, they sequester a phytotoxin, cycasin, from the coontie and develop their aposematic (warning) coloration: Bright red with 2 rows of yellow spots.
Hopefully, more eggs will be laid, and the larvae will continue to feed on the soft, new foliage of our potted coontie plants.