What comes to mind when you think of an endangered species?  Do you think of Chimpanzees living in the jungles of Africa?  Maybe giant pandas in the bamboo forests of China?  Perhaps even the Komodo Dragons of Indonesia?  John Ball Zoo makes a difference in conservation efforts worldwide, but we also play a role in conservation right at home.

Did you know that there is an endangered species that lives right here in western Michigan including Kent County?  The population is stable enough that individuals from h

Male Karner

ere were used to reintroduce the species into Female KarnerIllinois, Ohio, and eastern Michigan.

I’m talking about the Karner Blue Butterfly, Lycaeides melissa samuelis.  Karner Blues are small butterflies, about the size of a nickel.  Males have wings that are blue on the top and silvery blue with orange spots on the undersides.  The wings of females look like the males on the underside, but the tops of the wings have an additional row of orange spots along the edges.

You can see Karner Blue Butterflies twice a year in Michigan.  The first time is around the end of May or beginning of June.  These butterflies mate and lay their eggs on wild lupine.  The eggs hatch and the caterpillars eat the lupine.  As the larvae grow they are often protected by ants in exchange for sugars secreted by the caterpillars as they feed.  In July these caterpillars will form cocoons and emerge as adults.  The eggs laid by the July butterflies will overwinter and hatch the next spring, eating lupine and becoming butterflies in May.

The reason Karner Blue butterflies are endangered is because they live in a habitat that has become very rare, oak savannas and pine barrens.  The caterpillars sole food plant, wild lupine is only found there.  As pine barrens became rare due to development and fire suppression, the lupine disappeared along with the Karner Blue.  That’s what makes Karner Blue Butterfly conservation so important as an indicator species.  As steps are taken to protect Karner Blues, the entire oak savanna habitat is protected along with the other plants and animals that live there.

Because the Karner Blue Butterfly is a federally listed endangered species, the State of Michigan put together a plan to help the butterflies by maintaining and restoring their habitat.  This Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) was developed by a task force that included Michigan DNR, Federal Foresters, conservation groups like the Wildlife Conservancy, and even Detroit Zoo, Binder Park Zoo, and John Ball Zoo.

If you are hiking in an Oak Savannah or Pine Barren during May, June, or July and see a small blue butterfly take a close look.  You may be looking at the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly!

Check out these other sites to learn more.

Michigan DNR Karner Blue Butterfly site:  http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10370_12145_12204-33007--,00.html

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Karner Blue Butterfly site:  http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/kbb/

A podcast talking about the Karner Blue Butterfly:  http://www.fws.gov/endangered/about/ep-19.html


About Dan Hemmann

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Keeper Dan has always shown an interest in the small things.  This fascination led to a career in Entomology, the study of insects.  He also likes small people, and thinks zoos are one of the best ways to get kids excited about our natural world.  

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