Flight of the Karner blue butterfly

Butterflies are blossoming in Michigan as spring makes way for summer. Among them is a small, native butterfly with a big, blue color.

The Karner blue butterfly is an attractive little creature with a wingspan of about one inch.  It is roughly the size of a postage stamp.

Photo courtesy of Mike Reese

Males have a vibrant blue color on their upper wings and a single row of metallic blue-green, orange and black spotted rims on the outer edges of their wings’ underside.

The upper surfaces of the female’s wings are blue close to its body and fade to a gray-brown at the edges. The Karner blue feeds on the nectar of a variety of flowers such as lupine, New Jersey tea, dogbane and butterfly weed. Larvae of the Karner blue feed only on wild lupine leaves and flowers.

Due to the larvae’s specific diet, the female Karner Blue only lays her eggs on or near lupine plants. After hatching, the young caterpillars feed on the lupine and form a chrysalis after a few weeks of feeding.  Adults emerge in about ten days. Two generations are produced each summer.

Michigan lupine can be found in various oak savannas, oak-pine barrens and other open areas containing sandy soil, according to the Michigan Natural Features Inventory. But many of the habitats conducive to lupine survival are in decline.

Once ranging from Maine to Minnesota, the Karner blue butterfly has been reduced to small populations in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York and Wisconsin, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report.

In Michigan, the historical distribution of Karner blue butterfly was widespread in the western and southern Lower Peninsula, but populations declined as the amount of habitat available for lupine was reduced. This reduction was the result of development, agriculture and fire suppression.

The inventory said before the arrival of European settlers, fire was essential in maintaining prairies, savannas and barrens. Periodic fire killed trees and shrubs, allowing other ground forbs like wild lupine, butterfly weed and coreopsis to grow. Today, these fires are very rare and other trees and shrubs have invaded the butterfly’s natural habitat, shading out many ground plants.

The Karner blue butterfly is listed as a federally endangered species and as threatened in the State of Michigan. Today, it persists in remnants of savanna and barrens, degraded openings, old fields, and utility and highway rights-of-way.

Reintroducing fire through prescribed burns will help maintain remaining savanna areas. Federal, state, and private landowners are partnering in various habitat management practices to maintain Karner blue habitat. The Toledo Zoo is also studying techniques to breed the Karner blue in captivity for later release into the wild.

−Originally published in MNA’s July 2007 newsletter−

Reconnect: MNA Members’ Meeting May 8

If you’re looking for a nature fix to kick start your summer, look no further than Michigan Nature Association’s annual Members’ Meeting May 8 in Lenawee County.

Family and friends are welcome to join members in food, fun a recount of MNA’s past activities and discussion of its future endeavors. This event is open to the public to encourage awareness and combined preservation efforts of Michigan’s natural habitats.

The meeting will also provide MNA members, staff and the Board of Trustees from around the state with a unique opportunity to connect and experience the MNA’s mission together.

Goose Creek Nature Sanctuary

This year’s event highlights include a presentation by guest speakers Dr. Forest Haines, professor of earth sciences at Adrian College and Misa Cady, lunch with friends and fellow members and a choice of two guided field trips to MNA’s Goose Creek Nature Sanctuary or Frances Broehl Memorial # 1 Nature Sanctuary.

Lodging and local dining are nearby in Brooklyn, Mich.

If you wish to attend:

When: May 8, 2010 at 12:00 P.M. EST

Where: Cambridge Township Offices, located in Lenawee County. 9990 M-50, Onsted, MI 49265 (please click here for a digital map)

Sanctuary field trips: Goose Creek Nature Sanctuary or Frances Broehl Memorial # 1 Nature Sanctuary

Attire: Goose Creek Nature Sanctuary is predominantly a wetland and the Frances Broehl Memorial #1 Nature Sanctuary has some wet terrain. Therefore, dress casual but it is highly recommended that you wear or carry a light jacket and a pair of mud boots for the sanctuary field trips.

Please RSVP:

Contact the MNA at (517) 655-5655 or email michigannature@michigannature.org to let us know you’re coming or if you have any questions.