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Karner Blue Butterfly

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Karner Blue Butterfly


Karner Blue Butterfly is a federally endangered species that once was widely distributed throughout 12 states along the northern part of the United States and Ontario,Canada.


Karner Blue Butterfly

Karner Blue Butterfly

The upper surfaces of adult male Karner Blue wings are dark blue. On adult females the blue is much reduced by a black margin. The hindwing margins have partial orange bands that border several black spots. The undersides are whitish gray with black spots, and the hindwings have small silver spots capped with orange.


The fringe on the wings is black. Females forewings range in size from 1.4 cm to 1.6 cm., with the males slightly smaller, ranging from 1.2 - 1.4 cm. Melissa Blues are very similar in coloration but have a black terminal line along the vertical hindwing margins.


Karner Blue eggs have been described as very small and radially symmetrical. They are pale green in color and slightly flattened in appearance, with fine geometric patterns that are deeply reticulated. The larvae of L. melissa have dorsally flattened bodies and are pubescent. Their head capsules are brown-black to brown and their bodies are a pea green color. As the larvae age, they develop light green to white lateral stripes and dark green dorsal stripes.


Karner Blue Butterfly Female

Karner Blue Butterfly Female

Just before the larvae are ready to pupate, their color and lateral stripes begin to fade. The pupae are bright green and smooth, and just before emergence, change to a light tan color with hints of purple. Larvae have three glandular structures that secrete a liquid most likely containing carbohydrates and amino acids. This secretion is avidly harvested.


Habitat: Karner blue butterflies are found in barrens and savanna habitats that support wild lupine (Lupinus perennis). Lupine is found in open, sunny areas with sandy soils and is critical to Karner blue survival because it is the only food source for Karner blue caterpillars. Adult Karner blues drink the nectar of several flowering plants like butterfly weed, horsemint, and dewberry. Oak barrens and savannas provide ideal Karner blue habitat when lupine and nectar plants are present, but such areas are rare.


Agriculture, development, and succession of these open areas to forest have greatly reduced Karner blue habitat. The butterflies are now largely restricted to small pockets of barrens, managed openings, old fields, and utility rights-ofway. As a result, Karner blue populations are likely to further decrease if no steps are taken to restore habitat.


Karner blues are considered an “indicator species,” acting as a gauge for the health of a particular ecosystem. The rarity of the Karner blue indicates a loss of barrens and savanna ecosystems. These ecosystems historically were maintained by fires, which kept woody vegetation from turning them into forest.


Fire suppression coupled with the conversion of land to agriculture, pine plantations, residential areas, and other uses have severely reduced the range and availability of barrens and savanna in Michigan.


Karner Blue Butterfly larvae

Karner Blue Butterfly larvae

Life Cycle: Female Karner blue butterflies lay eggs twice a year on wild lupine plants. Caterpillars hatch in April from eggs laid the previous year, feed on lupine leaves until mid-May, pupate and emerge as the first generation of adults in late May and early June.


These adults mate, and females lay eggs once again on lupine plants. Those eggs hatch about a week later, caterpillars feed, pupate, and emerge as the second generation of adults in mid-July and early August. These adults mate, females lay eggs, and those eggs remain dormant over winter until the next spring.


Predation :Known predators of Karner Blue larvae are primarily insects such as stink bugs, ants, and some wasps. Common parasitoids include tachinid flies and braconid and ichneumonid wasps. Common predators of adults are spiders, robber flies, ambush bugs, assassin bugs, and dragonflies. Though not documented, the absence of any reports of vertebrate predators may indicate some sort of anti-predator defense such as noxious smells or tastes, or toxins that are not tolerated by predators such as birds or mice.


Karner Blue Butterflies

Karner Blue Butterflies

Most butterfly species serve as pollinators to a variety of plant species upon which they nectar. Larvae of the Karner Blues have a mutualistic relationship with ants. Studies have shown that larvae tended by these ants have a higher survival rate, most likely due to protection by the ants against larval predators.


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