Imagine walking through an oak savannah and seeing a tiny speck flutter past you. Was it a falling leaf? Could it be the illusive, endangered Karner blue butterfly? The Karner blue butterfly, Lycaeides melisa samuelis, measures in with a tiny one inch wingspan. The top side of the male's wings are silvery to dark blue with a black margin while the female is grayish-brown to blue with irregular orange crescents banded around the black boarder. Both have a gray, continuous band of orange crescents along the edges of both wings with black spots surrounded by white circles which are scattered about the bottom of both the male and female's wings. These small yet beautiful creatures have been on the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants since 1992. Small populations of these butterflies can only be found today in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, and Ohio after once covering 12 states with their strong, hearty populations.
What is leading to the loss of the hearty populations? Habitat loss due to both human development and fewer natural disturbances, from both natural wildfires and animal grazing, are to blame. These small butterflies prefer to feed on a small wildflower called lupin. Lupin grows in areas that have been disturbed by wildfires and animal grazing because they cannot compete with stronger and taller plants that are often controlled by these natural events. Development and the overtaking of natural habitats where both the lupin and the Karner blue thrive are also to blame for the decrease in populations. Another cause of decreased numbers can be attributed to the desire for butterfly collectors to have this particular butterfly in their collections due to their rarity and vivid color. However, the collection of these flying beauties has been outlawed and is illegal without a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Not to worry, there are folks out there who care about the Karner blue butterfly and are working to recover lost habitat and reestablish hearty populations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have devised a recovery plan that includes reintroducing populations into Concord, New Hampshire and West Gary, Indiana after the populations went extinct in these particular locations. Another population is being reintroduced into Ohio. Their ultimate, long term goal is to remove this species from the Federal list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. This goal will be reached and the Karner blue butterfly will be delisted after there are a minimum of 29 metapopulations have been established and 13 recovery units are being managed. Another group of concerned citizens at the state level in Wisconsin have established Wisconsin's Statewide Conservation Plan which promotes timber harvests and prescribed burns which may harm current populations, but will eventually have much larger ecological benefits for future populations. Further research is being performed on the Karner blue butterfly as well in order to determine what the best methods for conservation of this species. A final push for saving this beautiful butterfly is an attempt at habitat protection of pine and oak savannah where the Karner blue butterfly and the lupin plant they feed on thrive. While the Karner blue butterfly is a tiny part of extremely large ecosystems, their beauty and ecological importance must be conserved for future generations.