Terrorist Ants Kidnap Butterflies?
We'll Find Out Says Scientist
|by Daniel W. Van Riper, June/July
It's a tale that could end up on a milk carton.
Tender youngsters are snatched from their cradles and carried
off to underground lairs, never to be seen again.
"The one thing we know is that the Karner Blue Butterfly eggs
are disappearing," said Dr. Peter Spoor, speaking at the SPB
lasagna dinner on May 24, 1990. "I think they are being taken
by ants, but at this point that's just conjecture. It's not
He also reports discovering half-eggs that are not shells discarded
by newborn caterpillars. "They appear to have been eaten, perhaps
Dr. Spoor, along with his students, hopes to collect 20 pairs
of mating butterflies and encourage them to lay eggs on specific
blue lupine plants. If he finds enough volunteers, he will set
up a 24 hour watch to see what happens to the eggs. Of course,
the eggs may simply be detaching from the leaves and rolling
into the sand. In that case he will have black cloth on the
ground around the plants with sticky traps to catch the eggs
if they fall. In preliminary studies he found that rabbits would
often nibble the blue lupine that he was watching, so it will
be necessary to surround the plants with netting.
At the Crossgates Mall site where he is working, Dr. Spoor reports
that the number of eggs and larva that he could find were few.
"This may be hard to believe," he said, "but if they are there,
I can find them. I don't think they are hiding." He saw very
little evidence of feeding by the caterpillars, which leave
characteristic little round holes in the leaves which don't
seem to affect the overall health of the plant. Most alarming,
however, was that in the three days prior to his talk, he could
only find three larva on the site.
If Dr. Spoor's conjecture proves correct by this study, then
ants may be the butterfly's #1 predator (after developers and
politicians, that is). The other problem is the decline in numbers
of blue lupine plants due to overgrowth of the underbrush in
the Pine Bush, which in turn is due to lack of fires. In answer
to a question about planting blue lupine to encourage butterflies
to reproduce, Dr. Spoor pointed out that he had recently planted
some 100 wild seeds, and only 5 or 6 plants grew to maturity.
Apparently this has much to do with the unique composition of
the soil in the Pine Bush, to which the native blue lupine is
adapted. The plants which grew, however, were successfully transplanted
to the wild. He made it clear that despite the well-meaning
efforts of some homeowners, the lupine that is available commercially
is a hybrid that the butterflies ignore.
Dr. Spoor's presentation included a slide presentation on the
life cycle of the Karner Blue. The butterflies themselves live
only for a week, only to mate and lay eggs. The eggs laid in
June will hatch in one week, and the larva will take until late
July to become butterflies. This August brood will lay eggs
that will remain on the lupine leaves until next April, when
they will hatch.
|This page last modified
January 20, 2019
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