1

How Can We Help Local Organisms To Survive?

The Karner blue butterfly is one of many organisms that are endangered. Let’s learn about the Karner blue and how it can teach us to support our local endangered species!

Table of Contents

What is the Karner blue butterfly?

In 1861, the Karner blue butterfly was discovered in Karner, New York. At just one inch in wingspan, this little friend can fit inside a water bottle cap. The male Karner butterfly is brilliant blue in color, while the female is a subtle blue-gray.

Although the Karner blue was discovered in New York, its home has historically been throughout the Northeast United States. Over 150 years after its discovery, the Karner blue butterfly is an endangered species. Many groups, like nature conservancies and preserves, work hard to help the Karner blue survive. One example is the Albany Pine Bush, near Karner, New York. Scientists have great knowledge about how to support this unique species.

"Male Karner Blue Butterfly
“Male Karner Blue Butterfly”, Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Midwest Region
“Karner Blue butterfly encounter” by Chris Hoving
Karner Blue butterfly encounter, Credit: Chris Hoving

What does the Karner blue butterfly eat?

Like all butterflies, the Karner blue starts out as a larva, or caterpillar. As a caterpillar, the Karner blue eats one special plant: the wild lupine. This is a 1–2-foot-tall plant with small bulbs of bright petals lining its stem. While the larvae feast on lupine, it’s not a safe plant for humans to eat. It is a very special plant for a very special insect

"Wild lupins near Lindis Pass"
Wild lupins near Lindis Pass, Credit: Ruth and Dave

Once the Karner blue has gone through metamorphosis and becomes an adult butterfly, its diet includes nectar from many flowers. The wild lupine and other flowers that these butterflies rely on live in a specific ecosystem.

Where does the Karner blue live?

The Karner blue butterfly lives in a pine barren ecosystem. Pine barrens are disturbance-dependent ecosystems. In order for their plants and organisms to survive, pine barrens must occasionally be disturbed with fires.

Fires? Aren’t those bad for forests? Some forest fires can be incredibly dangerous. However, in pine barren ecosystems, fires help to clear the soil and allow for new growth of smaller plants such as—you guessed it—the wild lupine! With too many big trees looming over it, the wild lupine struggles to survive. If some trees are burned away, that small patch in the quilt of the forest can grow new plants to support creatures like the Karner blue butterfly.

Nature preserves like the Albany Pine Bush have controlled areas where ecosystem stewards are able to make prescribed fires. The same way that your doctor prescribes you medicine, the workers at the Pine Bush Preserve prescribe fires to areas in the pine barren. This helps the Karner blue to survive and thrive in its unique ecosystem.

Prescribed Fire for Improved Habitat
Prescribed Fire for Improved Habitat, Credit: USFWS Pacific

Why is it important to preserve the pine barren ecosystem?

Pine barrens support humans in many ways. First, they help to purify drinking water. They also provide clean air for us to breathe. But one of the most important characteristics of the pine barren ecosystem is its biodiversity.

Bio means life, and diversity means variety. Pine barren ecosystems support a variety of life, including plants and organisms like the Karner blue butterfly. In fact, the Karner blue is not the only endangered species that relies on the pine barrens. Over 100 endangered species live in pine barrens, including frogs, rattlesnakes, and wildflowers.

Saving the pine barrens means saving biodiversity, supporting human health, and preserving some of nature’s most beautiful land.

How can I help at home?

I grew up only a few miles away from the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, but I did not learn about the Karner blue butterfly until I was in college! The pine barren is an ecosystem that is special to my home, and I know your home has special ecosystems too.

You can learn about ecosystems and creatures that are endangered in your area by asking your local nature conservancy or preserves. Nature conservancies are always looking for volunteers, and they love having visitors! Take a field trip to a nature preserve near you to learn about local species and how you can help them to survive and thrive.

One way to support local wildlife is to grow specific plants in your own yard. This is called native gardening. If you grow wildflowers native to your area, they will survive easily, because the native climate will support them. Not only will they survive, but they will provide a home for local insects and animals who depend on those flowers.

Native Garden" by ibm4381
Native Garden, Credit: ibm4381

Activity

1- Pick a plant home! Find a patch of land near your house, or even a bucket or pot. Be creative!

2- Find wildflower seeds. Use the internet to find wildflowers that are native to your area. Search “Native wildflowers in _______” (fill in the blank with your town). Once you’ve found some, go to a garden center to buy a packet of seeds.

3- Plant your wildflower seeds. Following the directions on the seed packet, plant your seeds in fresh soil in your plant home of choice. Follow the watering and sunshine instructions and watch the wildflowers bloom!

4- Enjoy the results. Sometimes we love flowers so much that we just want to pick them and put them in a vase. Leaving the flowers in their container will allow local species to come and enjoy the flowers with you!

⦁ More tips.

– Don’t throw away dead leaves. Leaves can decay and provide fresh nutrients for the soil.

– Provide some water for your new friends, in a bird bath or a shallow dish with stones for resting on. Insects and birds need to stay hydrated just like you! Keep the water fresh and check to make sure it does not become a home for mosquito larvae.

– By planting native wildflowers, you can help your local environment to thrive. This is one small way that you can help save the world, starting at home.

Glossary

Endangered species: any species that is at risk of extinction because of small population or danger to its ecosystem

Nature conservancies and nature preserves: places that work hard to help your local environment

Larva: the immature form of a butterfly – also known as a caterpillar.

Wild lupine: the plant that Karner blue butterfly larvae eat

Metamorphosis: when larvae turn into a butterfly

Ecosystem: an area that is home to unique species of animals and plants

Pine barren ecosystem: the home of the Karner blue butterfly, wild lupine, and over 100 endangered species

Prescribed fires: controlled fires used to preserve species in the pine barren ecosystem

Biodiversity: a variety of species of plants and animals

Native Gardening: planting species of flowers that are native to your area to support local wildlife.

Flesch Kincaid Readability Score: 68.9
Flesch Kincaid Grade Level: 8-9

References

https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/karner_blue_butterfly.shtml

https://www.wiltonpreserve.org/conservation/karner-blue-butterfly

https://nhpbs.org/wild/karner.asp

https://albanypinebush.org/index.php?section=learn-nature-plants-and-animals&cas_cscid=8&casid=32

https://pb.state.ny.us/assets/1/6/CPMFMP_FINAL_210312.pdf

https://www.greenschoolsalliance.org/blogs/16/551