ata·​la ə-ˈtä-lə How to pronounce atala (audio)
plural atalas
: a brightly colored hairstreak butterfly (Eumaeus atala) native to southeastern Florida and the West Indies that is black with three rows of iridescent blue spots on the hind wings and a red spot on the abdomen
Once feared extinct in Florida, the atala butterfly has been rescued by a native plant—the coontie.National Geographic, July 1996
Looking closely, we also found patches of atala eggs as well as the brilliantly colored red and yellow caterpillars.Georgia Tasker, Miami Herald, 1 Oct. 2006

Word History


borrowed from New Latin, specific epithet of Eumaeus atala, probably after Atala, heroine of the short novel Atala, ou Les Amours de deux sauvages dans le désert (1801) by the French writer François-René de Chateaubriand †1848

Note: Named by the Cuban zoologist Felipe Poey y Aloy (1799-1891) in Centurie de Lépidoptères de l'Ile de Cuba, I-IIe. Décade (Paris: Mercklein, 1832), pp. [31-33]. Though Poey gives the sources of the specific names he proposes for a number of other species in the study, he does not trace this one—perhaps because Chateaubriand's novel was so well known at the time that an allusion was unnecessary.

First Known Use

1875, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of atala was in 1875

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Cite this Entry

“Atala.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Apr. 2024.

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