Friday, May 18, 2012

Karner Blue

Karner Blue (male)
I recently learned that the third Friday in May is Endangered Species Day... which would make that today! So let's learn a little about one animal on the United States Endangered Species List-- the Karner Blue. They are very small subspecies of the Melissa Blue Butterfly, sporting wingspans of around 1in. They have different appearances based on their sex-- males are a deep blue with silvery fringing, while females are more brown with orange spots. One fact I found particularly interesting is that the subspecies was actually discovered and named by Novelist and Lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov in 1944.

Karner Blues are Butterflies that  are now found only in a few States. They used to live in a large band that stretched across the northern United States, but their population is now fragmented between parts of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, New York, and New Hampshire.

This pretty little insects were federally listed in 1992, due to habitat destruction and over-collection. Karner Blues are having a rough time because as Caterpillars they are 100% dependent on Blue Lupine flowers. Those plants are where the females lay their eggs, and it is on those plants that the Caterpillars feed. Blue Lupines grow in sandy areas near river valleys, which are popular locations for human settlement and development. When the habitat is changed, the Blue Lupines cannot grow and the Butterflies cannot reproduce.

In order to save the Karner Blue, we have to protect the Blue Lupines. Areas are being protected, and Butterflies are being reintroduced to revitalized areas where they once lived. One local effort is in my home state-- the Karner Blue Habitat Conservation Plan in Wisconsin is the first developed plan of its type in the country, and works with private groups to protect the habitats of these insects.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : United States
Size : Wingspan 1in (3cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Lepidoptera
Family : Lycaenidae -- Genus : Lycaeides -- Species : L. melissa -- Subspecies : L. m. samuelis

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