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Lycaeides melissa samuelis, Karner Blue Butterfly

photo of the Karner Blue Butterfly

The Karner Blue Butterfly, a small butterfly with orange-spotted gray wings and blue underwings, was listed on the Endangered Species Act in 1992. Over the past century, the numbers of this butterfly have declined by 99%. It is found in scattered populations from Minnesota to New Hampshire. It has gone extinct in many states. The largest concentration occurs in Wisconsin.

The Karner Blue Butterfly can be found in the Pine Bush and Oak Savannah habitats, which are open woody areas occurring in dry sandy soils wherewild lupine grows. Its caterpillars solely eat lupine leaves. The adults rely on nectar from flowers that are able to grow in the patchy scrub forests. The butterfly’s habitat is in an early stage of plant succession and is maintained by natural fires.

Logging, fire suppression, grazing, agriculture, and urbanization have led to the severe decrease in Pine Bush and Oak Savannahs habitat. For example the pine bush of the Albany area has decreased from 40,000 acres to 2,000 acres. The remaining habitat patches are too small to provide significant snow cover for the over wintering eggs and to promote dispersal of the adults. Small populations are more vulnerable to extinction from drought and other environmental changes. Also, the significant development in this area has resulted in human suppression of naturally occurring forest fires and has limited the use of controlled burnings. Because there are little fires to maintain the habitat, hardwood trees and shrubs have moved in, choking out the lupine and wild flowers that the Karner Blue needs to survive.

Wisconsin, the state with the largest concentrations of the Karner Blue, has developed the Partners in Protection Plan to help conserve the butterfly’s habitat. Corporations and landowners, whose property is affected by the preservation and protection of the butterfly, work with Wisconsin Department of Natural resources to manage land with the consideration of the butterfly and to manage land in order to encourage the butterfly. The state is attempting to bolster the support for conservation by having commitment rather than certainty, which often involves strict rules and little leeway for the landowner. This is a significant step in conservation because there is cooperation between corporations, government agencies and private citizens. This plan could be modeled for other endangered species.

Save the Pine Bush, a volunteer organization, is using the Karner Blue as an umbrella species to protect the endangered habitat in Albany, NY. They are buying land between preserves, in order to increase the amount of protected habitat. They also do controlled burnings in order to help preserve the plant diversity of the habitat. This habitat protection is helping not only the Karner Blue and the lupines, but also the many other species that live in that area.


Grundel, Ralph et al. 2000. Nectar plant selection by the Karner Blue butterfly at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. American Midland Naturalist 144(1): 1-10

Kwilosz, John and Randy Knutson. 1999. Prescribed fire management of the Karner Blue Butterfly in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Natural Areas Journal 19(2): 98-108.

Written by: Jayne Glasshoff 2002

Updated 2008

Image credit: Terry Spivey, USDA Forest Service