The rare Karner Blue Butterfly has been in the news lately, with a featured article in The Wall Street Journal, no less (thanks to Joey for alerting me, via twitter!). Although this diminutive beauty has become extirpated from Massachusetts, it has been successfully reintroduced to New Hampshire!
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department says “good weather, coupled with help extending the butterfly’s unique habitat in Concord, have made a difference. A company called Praxair Surface Technology/TAFA created a 10-to-15 acre habitat to attract the brilliant blue butterflies, planting over 600 blue lupine and nectar plants in a matter of hours, the insect’s main source of food. The butterfly has been on the federal Endangered Species list since 1992. That year it also was named New Hampshire’s state butterfly, which has been working to restore their unique, savannah-like habitat, as legislators realized the numbers were dwindling.” (WSJ)
The following is an excerpt from an article that I wrote nearly ten years ago, about New England native lupines, and briefly describing the plight of the Karner Blue. At the end of the excerpt you can read the entire article after Read More
Blued with Butterflies and Lupines ~ The Rare Karner Blue and Sundial Lupines
By Kim Smith
Lupinus perennis is the only larval food of the nearly extinct Karner Blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis). The upper surface of the wings of the male of the diminutive Karner Blue, with a wingspan of just an inch, is a brilliant lapis lazuli blue with a thin margin of black, bordered by an outline of white. The female is a nearly similar celestial blue, but with a slightly more brownish, or grayish hue, with dark dots rimmed by orange crescent-shaped spots along the margins of the hindwings. The Karner Blue was identified little more than a hundred years ago in Karner, New York. It is just one of many butterflies that Vladimir Nabokov studied and it is also referred to as Nabokov Blue. Throughout much of its former range, including Massachusetts, the Karner Blue is now extirpated. The near-extinction of the Karner Blue has been widely studied and there are currently several programs underway to encourage its survival in its existing colonies (New York) and reestablish new colonies in its former range (Ohio, for example). To my knowledge, no such program, as of yet, exists in Massachusetts. The reasons for the near extinction of the Karner Blue are many-fold, chiefly: fragmentation and loss of habitat of Lupinus perennis through fire suppression and over-development (the very sites that are ideal growing conditions for L. perennis are also choice locations desirable for housing and industrial developments); the use of pesticides (namely BTK), which kills all instars of the Karner Blue; and the ability of L. perennis to freely cross-pollinate with the west coast Lupinus polyphyllus and its Russell cultivar, which makes the next generation unsuitable host plants for the Karner Blue. Lupinus polyphyllus and its offspring, now seen growing freely along the coast of Maine, is an unfortunate example of how an ill-conceived introduction of another species, and its cultivars, whether it is from another region of our own country or beyond our borders, has widespread and negative repercussions.
Perhaps in our community we can once again be blued with lupines and Karner Blues. The symbiotic relationship of both blue beauties inspired me to order seeds in bulk to share with friends. I am hoping, with the ability of the Karner blue to travel as far as1600 miles, maybe we can connect to the remnant populations in New York or New Hampshire. Possibly you, too, have a sunny location in your garden, or even more grandly, an entire meadow that could be devoted to Lupinus perennis and compatible native New England wildflowers. If, in time, I cannot report back to you that there have been any sightings of the Karner Blues visiting our garden, Lupinus perennis is also a nectar source for a wide variety of beneficial insects and is a larval host plant for the dwindling Frosted Elfin (Callophyrs irus). The eggs of the Frosted Elfin are laid singly on the lupine buds. Larva bore into developing seedpods and the chrysalids hibernate in the leaf litter beneath the plant. For these reasons, thoughtful maintenance is required when cultivating Lupinus perennis.
All images courtesy Google image search.
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