What are we going to do about these butterflies?
What the US Fish and Wildlife Service thinks should be done
has been specifically outlined in the “Karner Blue Butterfly
Recovery Plan” (October 2001). This 239-page plan comprehensively
describes the Karner Blue, its plight and the plan of action
to perpetuate its populations in the 13 recovery units (RU’s)
identified. The Pine Bush is one of the 13 RU's examined.
Lycaeides melissa samuelis, the Karner Blue Butterfly, is one
of 388 animals on the Unites State Endangered Species List (USFWS,
2002). Based on the Endangered Species Act, the Secretaries
of Commerce and the Interior are responsible for developing
and implementing recovery plans to restore the populations of
these endangered species. The Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery
Plan was prepared for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in October
of 2001. The Recovery Team that developed the document is a
hodge-podge of experts, made up government agencies, education
institutions, corporations and non-profit organizations.
The first section of the Plan is a comprehensive summary of
the dwindling butterfly species. Its exact taxonomy is actually
still in question (some people think the Karner Blue Butterfly
is a species and some classify it as a subspecies), though the
Plan lists the Karner Blue as its own taxon with “affinities
to both Lycaenidae melissa and Lycaenidae idas groups”.
This uncertainty is relevant when determining the capability
for reintroduction and translocation.
Vladymer Nabokov (who gave the Karner Blue its Latin name) noted
that the Karner Blue Butterfly should be its own distinct species.
He observed that the "male genitalia of L.m. melissa [the
species to which the Karner Blue belongs] were very variable
geographically, but the male genitalia of Lycaenidae melissa
samuelis [Karner Blue Butterfly] were remarkable constant over
the entire range of the subspecies." He also found that
"L.m.samuelis uses only one host plant throughout its geographic
range, while L.m. melissa uses many species of host plant."
The currently accepted status is deemed "subspecific."
The Karner Blue goes through two generations each year. The
first brood hatches in the spring from eggs deposited on lupine
the year before. The larvae develop in 4 stages (instars) over
3 to 4 weeks. They feed on lupine, producing a windowpane effect
on the leaves. The butterflies pupate in late May to early June.
The adult Karner Blue Butterflies live anywhere from 4 to 21
days, during which the females lay their eggs.
The second brood hatches in 5 to 10 days and feed on both the
lupine leaves and flowers. The adults fly from 8 am to 7 p.m.
(weather permitting) until mid-August. The second brood produces
3-4 times the adults than the first brood, probably because
of warmer, drier conditions that prevent mildew in their food
source. Karner Blue flies short distances, but often. Males
travel almost 5 meters at a time, while females fly only about
1.5 meters. They tend to travel canopy openings and “bask”
in the sun for thermoregulation.
The Karner Blue Butterfly once inhabited a wide range of the
northern US, from Minnesota to Maine. (It no longer exists in
Iowa, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts or Maine.) The insect
dwells in areas that have sustained glacial activity offering
partially shaded regions, nectar and lupine plants. Lupine (Lupinus
perennis) is a member of the pea family that thrives in open
to partially canopied areas. Lupine plants provide the only
source of food for Karner Blue larvae. The plants reproduce
by producing stems through rhizomes and through seeds, and survive
better when an overlying plant protects them from grazers such
as deer. Nectar provides adult Karner Blue Butterflies with
added energy that yields greater longevity and fecundity.
Ants were found to exhibit a mutualistic relationship with Karner
Blue Butterfly larvae, especially those in the 3rd and 4th instar.
The larvae secrete a fluid containing carbohydrates and amino
acids that the ants consume. In return, the ants build nests
of dead vegetation around the pupae, providing protection. There
is an ant species, however, that eats Karner Blue eggs, which
may have happened at the Crossgates site.
More threatening menaces to the Karner Blue, however, are human
related: habitat loss and degradation, and discordant management
practices. To overcome such stresses on the butterfly, the Plan
outlines a blueprint for recovery in Part II.
The goal of the Plan is to be able to reclassify the Karner
Blue from its endangered status to a fully recovered species,
which, according to the Plan, should take about 20 years. The
criteria for the reclassification is highly explicit and includes
increasing the butterfly’s populations in the 13 recovery
units, maintaining management and monitoring, improving connectivity,
and eventually decreasing the need for management. The 13 recovery
units include one in New Hampshire, four in Michigan, one in
Indiana, six in Wisconsin and, of course, our Glacial Lake Albany
here in New York. Glacial Lake Albany includes the Pine Bush
as well as sites in the Saratoga Sandplains.
The management plan is specific to each recovery unit, but the
primary recovery tasks are comparable. Monitoring the butterflies
and their habitat, improving habitats, and “integrating
management operations” are fundamental steps outlined
in the Plan. The tasks specific to the Pine Bush include restoring
and maintaining the habitat, improving connectivity, and coordinating
management between the Preserve and private landowners.
The USFWS realizes that there are private landowners with varied
opinions about their role in preservation of Pine Bush habitat.
The Service respects the rights of the landowners and wants
them to make their own decisions about land usage. To better
prepare them for such decisions, the Service wants to extend
an outreach program with standardized information.
The third section of the Plan sums up Parts II and I with an
Implementation chart. Each recovery unit is explored, with priorities,
tasks, responsible parties and estimated costs clearly outlined.
The Plan is quite detailed and an electronic version in PDF
is available for review by emailing a request to email@example.com.
Printed in the January/February 2003 Newsletter