Karner Blue Butterfly

Lycaeides melissa samuelis

Overview

The Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) differs from many other federally listed butterflies in that it is geographically widespread and in some areas it continues to be locally abundant. Much of its original savanna or barrens habitat has been destroyed by development or degraded by succession. Fragmentation of the landscape from larger suitable habitats to smaller, sometimes isolated, habitats is also implicated in its decline. The loss of suitable habitat resulted in a rapid decline in population numbers and extirpation of large populations across its range, and prompted its listing as a federally endangered species.

Description

Karner blue butterfly is a member of the genus Lycaeides (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae: Polyommatinae). It has a wingspan of about 2.5 cm, or one inch. The upper surface of the male is blue, with a black edge and white outer fringe. The female is similar but more brown or grayish in color, with a row of dark spots with orange crescents along the wing margins. The underside of both is similar: a slate gray background with several marginal rows of orange and black spots. In Ohio, several commonly occurring blue butterflies, including the spring azure and the eastern tailed blue, are frequently confused with the Karner blue.

Life History

The Karner blue is closely associated with wild lupines, prairie grasses, and nectar plants such as butterflyweed. This vegetation is characteristic of oak savannas. Oak savannas are dry habitats dominated by drought-resistant prairie plants and widely spaced oak trees.

Each year, this butterfly typically has two broods and, subsequently, two adult flight periods. The Karner blue hatches in April after overwintering as an egg. The caterpillar feeds exclusively on wild lupine (Lupinus perennis). In mid-May, the caterpillars develop into chrysalids from which they emerge as adult butterflies in early June. The adult butterflies feed on nectar from prairie plants through June and lay their eggs on wild lupine plants in July. These eggs mature into adult butterflies before the end of the summer and lay eggs that hatch the following April.

Distribution

Historically the Karner blue butterfly occurred throughout a geographic band between 41° and 46° N latitude, extending from Minnesota to Maine. As of fall, 1996, populations of Karner blue existed in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York and Wisconsin.

Conservation Status

The USFWS recently changed the population status from increasing to stable. Even though reintroduction and management efforts are contributing to population increases, there have been recent population losses in New Hampshire (Concord) and Indiana (Ivanhoe Dunes). Recovery achievements include the significant reduction of threats to the butterfly in Wisconsin because of the implementation of the Wisconsin Statewide Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for the Karner blue butterfly.

contact BFCIThe Butterfly Conservation Initiative (BFCI) sponsored a two-day recovery implementation planning workshop at the Toledo Zoo in June 2002 to address Karner blue recovery needs. Sixty-seven participants from 14 states and two Canadian provinces gathered for the meeting. Workshop goals included: (1) imparting essential information on the KBB recovery implementation planning process to new and key players in the recovery effort; (2) sharing current progress on KBB recovery on a state-by-state basis; (3) introducing state and federal agency biologists to non-traditional partners, such as AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, the National Wildlife Federation and the Xerces Society; and (4) reaching consensus on a time line for the completion of state recovery implementation strategies. For more information about this workshop, read a summary (788KB pdf).

Conservation Needs

Working with landowners

The USFWS has been working on Karner blue conservation issues with private landowners in several states. Efforts include extensive habitat restoration work on private land in Wisconsin and Michigan. Contact recovery coordinator Cathy Carnes for more information about current partnerships.

Education

BFCI partners National Wildlife Federation and the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) have developed a Butterfly Activity Guide for classroom use, focusing on Karner blue butterflies as a case study for conservation inquiry. AZA member zoos in Ohio, Michigan, New York, and Rhode Island are working on several Karner blue education initiatives. Teen volunteers at the Toledo Zoo participate in habitat restoration and other Karner conservation efforts. Schoolchildren in the Providence, RI area work with staff at the Roger Williams Park Zoo (RWPZ) to grow and translocate Karner blue host plants in suitable habitat in New Hampshire. This project is a partnership between USFWS, the National Wildlife Federation, and RWPZ. The Seneca Park Zoo has created a Karner Kids program in Rochester, NY that gets local children involved in host plant propagation as well. In addition to these efforts, staff at several Michigan zoos (including John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, and Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak) are developing Karner blue education resources for classroom use.

Research

Population surveys were conducted at various sites in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, New York, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Michigan through 2002. The Toledo Zoo has conducted a tremendous variety of population monitoring and husbandry research related to Karner blue butterflies and their habitat in conjunction with their ongoing captive rearing and reintroduction efforts.

Captive Rearing

There are three on-going reintroduction programs: (1) The Toledo Zoo has been rearing Karner blues in captivity since 1999, (2) the Nature Conservancy, USFWS, and NH Department of Fish and Game are in their second year of captive rearing based out of Concord, NH and (3) the Nature Conservancy is in its first year of captive rearing and reintroducing the Karner blue to the Ivanhoe Nature Preserve in Indiana.

Recovery Plan

Recovery Plan for the Karner blue butterfly (2.3MB pdf)

The objective of the 2001 Draft Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Plan is to restore viable metapopulations of Karner blues across its current range so that it can be reclassified from endangered to threatened. The long-range goal is to remove it from the federal list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.

The reclassification criteria will be met when a minimum of 28 metapopulations [21 viable metapopulations (supporting 3,000 butterflies each), and 7 large viable metapopulations (supporting 6,000 butterflies each)] are established within 13 recovery units across the butterfly’s range and are being managed consistent with the recovery objectives outlined in this plan.

Delisting will be considered when a minimum of 29 metapopulations (13 viable and 16 large viable metapopulations) have been established within the 13 recovery units and are being managed consistent with the plan.

Recovery Priorities

The actions needed to meet the recovery goals are summarized below:

  • Protect and manage the Karner blue and its habitat to perpetuate viable metapopulations of Karner blue butterflies. This includes monitoring and searching for new populations in unsurveyed areas, developing and implementing protection and management plans for metapopulations, protecting existing Karner blue butterfly populations and developing recovery implementation strategies to promote recovery.
  • Evaluate and implement translocation where appropriate.
  • Develop rangewide and regional management guidelines.
  • Develop and implement information and education programs. This will include developing outreach material on Karner blue life history and conservation, informing local and county governments of Karner blue recovery units (RUs), and encouraging private landowners to conserve the Karner blue butterfly.
  • Collect important ecological data on the Karner blue and associated habitats. This research is prioritized as follows. Priority 1 includes research into habitat management and restoration, captive propagation and lupine translocation methods. Priority 2 includes research into Karner blue dispersal, monitoring methods and forest management research. Priority 3 includes research into the ecology of local populations and the effects of human activity on populations of this butterfly.
  • Review and track recovery progress. This task will include developing a clearinghouse for Karner blue data, progress reports, metapopulation plans, Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs), guidance documents, and other relevant information, and holding periodic meetings to promote information sharing.

More Info

  • USFWS Contact: Cathy Carnes, Endangered Species Coordinator and Karner Blue Recovery Coordinator, Endangered Species Field Office, 2661 Scott Tower Drive, New Franken, Wisconsin 54229, Phone (920) 866-1732, Cathy_Carnes@fws.gov
  • Butterfly Conservation Initiative: Shelly Grow, Program Coordinator, 8403 Colesville Road, Suite 710, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910, Phone (301) 562-0777 ext. 263, SGrow@aza.org.
  • The Ohio Lepidopterists: David K. Parshall, Phone (614) 262-0058, dpohlep@columbus.rr.com.
  • The Toledo Zoo: Peter Tolson, Director of Conservation and Research, P.O. Box 140130, Toledo, Ohio 43614-0801, Phone (419) 385-5721. peter.tolson@toledozoo.org.
  • The Nature Conservancy: IN: Paul Labus, Program Director-Southern Lake Michigan Rim, 2400 New York Avenue, Whiting, IN 46394, Phone (219) 473-4312, plabus@tnc.org.
  • MI: Doug Pearsall, Director of Conservation Science, 2840 E. Grand River Avenue, East Lansing, MI 48823, Phone (517) 332-1156 ext. 17, dpearsall@tnc.org.
  • NY: Stephanie Gifford, Director of Ecological Management, 200 Broadway, Third Floor, Troy, NY 12180, Phone (518) 272-0195 ext. 31, sgifford@tnc.org.
  • Ontario Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Team: Peter Carson, Co-chair, 316 Regional Road 60, RR 1, Walsingham, Ontario N0E 1X0, Phone (519) 586-3985, gartcar@kwic.com.

References

  • Andow, D.A., R.J. Baker and C.P. Lane. (eds) 1994. Karner Blue Butterfly: A Symbol of a Vanishing Landscape. University of Minnesota Agricultural. Experiment Station, St. Paul. Misc. Publ. 84-1994. 220 pp.
  • Baker, R.J. 1994. The Karner blue butterfly: 1993 and beyond. Pp. 163-169 In Andow, D.A., R.J. Baker and C.P. Lane. (eds) 1994. Karner Blue Butterfly: A Symbol of a Vanishing Landscape. University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, St. Paul. Misc. Publ. 84-1994. 220 pp.
  • Bidwell, A.D. 1994. Mark-release-recapture of Karner blue butterflies (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) at Fort McCoy Military Reservation. Unpublished Report to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, St. Paul.
  • Bidwell, A. 1996. A Habitat Evaluation Plan for the Karner Blue Butterfly. Unpublished Report to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison. 26 pp.
  • Bleser, C.A. 1993. Status Survey, Management and Monitoring Activities for the Karner Blue Butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) in Wisconsin, 1990-1992. Final Report to U.S.F.W.S. per Cooperative Agreement E-113, Study 320. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison. 88 pp. + appendices.
  • Borth, R.J. 1997. Karner blue management implications for some associated Lepidoptera of Wisconsin barrens. Unpublished Report to HCP partners. Wisconsin Gas, Milwaukee.
  • Brown, J.A. and M.S. Boyce. 1996. Monitoring of Karner blue butterflies (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) for the proposed Habitat Conservation Plan, Wisconsin. Unpubl. Rept. to National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Washington, DC. 78 pp.
  • Cryan, J.F. and R. Dirig. 1978. A report on the status of the Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa sammuelis Nabokov) in New York State. (Report to) New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 18 pp.
  • Cushman, J.H. and D.D. Murphy. 1993. Conservation of North American lycaenids- an overview. Pp. 37-44 In New, T.R. (ed). 1993. Conservation Biology of Lycaenidae (Butterflies). Occasional Paper IUCN Species Survival Comm. (8):1-173.
  • Cuthrell, D.L. 1990. Status of the Karner blue butterfly,Lycaeides melissa samuelis Nabokov, in Minnesota, 1990. Report Minnesota Non-game Wildlife Program.
  • Grundel, R., N.B. Pavlovic and C.L. Sulzman. 1998. Habitat use by the endangered Karner blue butterfly in oak woodlands: The influence of canopy cover. Biological Conservation 85:47-53.
  • Haack, R.A. 1993. The endangered Karner blue butterfly (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae): Biology, management considerations, and data gaps. Pp 83-110 In Gillespie, A.R., G.R. Parker, P.E. Pope and G. Rink (eds). Proceedings 9th Central Hardwood Forest Conference. General Technical Report NC-161. USDA-Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station, St. Paul.
  • Herms, C.P. 1996. The Endangered Karner Blue Butterfly (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) in Michigan: Habitat Suitability, Potential Impacts of Gypsy Moth (Lepidoptera: Lymantriidae) Suppression, and Laboratory Rearing. M.S. Thesis. Michigan State University, East Lansing. 175 pp.
  • Herms, C.P., D.G. McCullough, L.S. Bauer, R.A. Haack, D.L. Miller and N.R. Dubois. 1997. Susceptibility of the endangered Karner blue butterfly (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) to Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki used for Gypsy moth suppression in Michigan. Great Lakes Entomol. 30(4):125-141.
  • Kirk, K. 1996. The Karner blue community: Understanding and protecting associated rare species of the barrens. Final Rept. to USFWS (Amendment #38 to Cooperative Agreement #14-16-0003-89-933). Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison.
  • Lane. C.P. 1994. Habitat preferences of the Karner blue butterfly in Minnesota. Pp. 63- 72 In Andow, D.A., R.J. Baker and C.P. Lane. (eds) 1994. Karner Blue Butterfly: A Symbol of a Vanishing Landscape. University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, St. Paul. Misc. Publ. 84-1994. 220 pp.
  • Lane C. 1999. Benefits of heterogeneous habitat: Oviposition preference and immature performance ofLycaeides melissa samuelis Nabokov (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae). Ph.D. thesis. The thesis can be obtained from the Dissertation Service in Ann Arbor, Michigan (1-800-521-0600).
  • Lawrence, W.S. 1994. Karner blue butterfly populations in the Allegan State game Area, Michigan. Pp. 53-62 In Andow, D.A., R.J. Baker and C.P. Lane. (eds) 1994. Karner Blue Butterfly: A Symbol of a Vanishing Landscape. University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, St. Paul. Miscellaneous Publications. 84-1994. 220 pp.
  • Lawrence, W.S. and A.C. Cook. 1989. The status and management of Karner blue (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) populations in the Allegan State Game Area, Michigan. Unpublished Report to The Nature Conservancy, East Lansing. 57 pp.
  • Leach, M.K. 1993. Status and distribution of the Karner blue butterfly at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. Final Report to Natural Resources Management Division, Fort McCoy Military Reservation and Wisconsin Chapter, The Nature Conservancy, Madison.
  • Maxwell, J. and T. Givnish. 1993. Research on the Karner blue butterfly at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin: Progress report for the 1993 field season. Unpublished Report to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of the Army.
  • Maxwell, J. and T. Givnish. 1994. Research on the Karner blue butterfly at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin: Progress report for the 1994 field season. Unpublished Report to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of the Army.
  • Opler, P.A. 1995. Scientific evaluation of literature cited in “A review of the information on federally endangered Karner blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Nabokov (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) by Premo et al. (1994). 24 pp. In National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Review and Assessment of Information on the Federally Endangered Karner Blue Butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis). Washington, DC.
  • Packer, L. 1987. Status Report on the Karner Blue Butterfly, Lycaeides melissa samuelis Nabokov, in Canada. Unpublished Report to World Wildlife Fund and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. 66 pp.
  • Packer, L. 1994. The extirpation of the Karner blue butterfly in Ontario. Pp. 143-151 In Andow, D.A., R.J. Baker and C.P. Lane. (eds) 1994. Karner Blue Butterfly: A Symbol of a Vanishing Landscape. University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, St. Paul. Miscellaneous Publications. 84-1994. 220 pp.
  • Premo, D.B., E.I. Rogers, S.I. Apfelbaum and K.F. Premo. 1994. A Review of Information on the Federally Endangered Karner Blue Butterfly, Lycaeides melissa samuelis Nabokov (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae). White Water Associates, Inc. 80 pp.
  • Savignano, D.A. 1990. Field Investigations of a Facultative Mutualism Between Lycaeides melissa samuelis Nabokov (Lycaenidae), the Karner Blue Butterfly, and Attendant Ants. Ph.D. Thesis. University of Texas.
  • Savignano, D.A. 1994a. The distribution of the Karner blue butterfly in Saratoga County, New York. Pp. 73-80 In Andow, D.A., R.J. Baker and C.P. Lane. (eds) 1994. Karner Blue Butterfly: A Symbol of a Vanishing Landscape. University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, St. Paul. Miscellaneous Publications. 84-1994. 220 pp.
  • Savignano, D.A. 1994b. Benefits to Karner blue butterfly larvae from association with ants. Pp. 37-46 In Andow, D.A., R.J. Baker and C.P. Lane. (eds) 1994. Karner Blue Butterfly: A Symbol of a Vanishing Landscape. University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, St. Paul. Miscellaneous Publications. 84-1994. 220 pp.
  • Schweitzer, D. 1989. Fact sheet for the Karner blue butterfly with special reference to New York. The Nature Conservancy, New York. 14 pp.
  • Swengel, A.B. and S.R. Swengel. 1996. Factors affecting abundance of adult Karner blues (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) in Wisconsin surveys 1987-95. Great Lakes Entomol. 29(3):93-105.
  • Swengel, A.B. and S.R. Swengel. 1997. Co-occurrence of prairie and barrens butterflies: Applications to ecosystem conservation. Journal of Insect Conservation. 1:131-144.
  • U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service. 1992a. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Determination of Endangered Status for the Karner Blue Butterfly (50 CFR Part 17) Federal Register 57(240):59236-59244.
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1997. Karner Blue Butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) Working Draft Recovery Plan. Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Team and USFWS, Green Bay, WI.
  • Weaver Boos Consultants, Inc. 1996. The Strategic Management Plan for Linear Corridors in Areas Inhabited by the Karner Blue Butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis Nabakov). Unpublished Report for The Linear Corridor Partners Wisconsin HCP Team.
  • Welch, R. 1993. Dispersal and conservation behavior in the Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) in central Wisconsin. Unpublished Report to USFWS, Green Bay.
  • Wilder, T. 1995. Fort McCoy Karner Blue Butterfly Conservation Plan, Final Draft. Natural Resource Management Division, Fort McCoy. 21 pp + appendices.
  • Zaremba, R.E. and M. Pickering. 1994. Lupine ecology and management in New York state. Pp. 87-93 In Andow, D.A., R.J. Baker and C.P. Lane. (eds) 1994. Karner Blue Butterfly: A Symbol of a Vanishing Landscape. University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, St. Paul. Miscellaneous Publications. 84-1994. 220 pp.
  • Butterfly Conservation Initiative Karner blue site
  • Karner blue science facts
  • Save the Pine Bush
  • Save the Dunes Council
  • USFWS Karner blue butterfly page
  • Ohio Department of Natural Resources Karner blue resources

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