Karner Blue Butterfly
(Lyceaides melissa samuelis)
Karner Blue Butterflies:
First identified and named by novelist and lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov. The name originates from Karner, (located half-way between Albany and Schenectady, New York, in the Pine Bush), where it was first discovered.
Habitat currently ranges from New Hampshire to Minnesota, their populations are limited to specialized habitats where wild blue lupine plants (Lupinus perennis), are found.
Adult butterflies have a wing span of only one inch and typically live only a few days to a few weeks.
Male and female butterflies can be distinguished by the coloring on the top side of their wings.
The top side of the male’s wings is a violet blue with black margins and white fringed edges.
The violet blue color is only seen on the central part of the top side of the female wings, with the remainder a dark gray-brown.
In addition, marginal orange crescents are often present on the hind wings of the female.
The underside of the wings of both males and females is gray with black spots.
Near the edges of the undersides of both wings are orange crescents and metallic spots.
The orange crescents on the underside of the forewings may be very difficult to see on butterflies from the eastern part of the range, especially males.
Adult Karner blues feed on the nectar of many plants, some of their favorites are Butterfly weed (Asclepious tubersoa) Leafy spurge (Euphorbia podperae), Blazing star (Liatris cylindracea), Wild Virginia strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), and New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus).
As they feed on nectar, some pollen sticks to the adult butterfly and is unintentionally transferred from flower to flower. This transfer of pollen is likely to result in some pollination.
Reproduction and Host Plants:
Females only lay their eggs on or near lupine plants.
After hatching, the young caterpillars feed on the lupine. After a few weeks of feeding, the caterpillars form a chrysalis.
Karner blue caterpillars only feed on wild blue lupine leaves, leaving behind “windowpanes” or a leaf “skeleton”.
Wild blue lupines are found in the sandy soils of pine barrens, oak savannas and lake shore dune habitats.
(These habitats require fire or other disturbance to maintain the sunny open patches where wild blue lupine is found, and they often support other rare species and common species like Butterfly weed ans Coreopsis.)
Like many members of the Lycaenid butterfly family (the blues and coppers), this little blue butterfly caterpillars are “tended” by ants.
The caterpillars secrete small quantities of a liquid from a gland on the top rear of the caterpillar. In other species that have been studied these secretions contain sugars and in some cases amino acids, that provide food to the ants.
The caterpillar gets something in return from the ants: protection from some predators and parasites. Caterpillars with ants are more likely to survive than those that do not have ant attendants.
Adults emerge in about ten days. Two generations of Karner blues are produced every year.
The first hatch occurs from mid-May through early June. These butterflies lay eggs which hatch and become adults for a second hatch from mid-July through early August.
The resulting second brood adults, emerging in mid-July to early August, lay their eggs singly in dried lupine seed pods or near the ground on the stems.
Eggs of the second brood overwinter, to hatch the next May.
These little butterflies were federally listed as endangered in 1992, because of dramatic declines in populations due to habitat loss and modifications, such as fire suppression.
Overall, during the last few years the population range-wide appears stable. However, declines over the past several years have been noted in New York, where Karner blue butterfly sites and population levels are low compared to the rest of their range.
Wisconsin and Michigan support more and larger populations of the species than the remaining states in their range (NH, NY, IN, OH and MN).
Karner blue butterfly reintroductions are underway in New Hampshire, Ohio, and Indiana, with the goal of reestablishing viable populations in those states. Research on habitat management, dispersal, ant tending, and female egg-laying preferences are helping with the management of the butterfly.
Protection of the Karner blue butterfly, wild blue lupine, and the habitat where they live is likely to assist in the survival of many other plants and pollinators that also thrive in these rare habitats.
Karner Blue and other Butterflies Species
Butterfly Friendly Yard
Native Flowers Attract Butterflies
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