The Decline of the Karner Blue Butterfly

Once again I turn to the Albany, NY Times Union for another interesting article, this time about a Butterfly, the endangered Karner Blue.  This small blue butterfly, finds its home in isolated pine barrens, ranging from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Eastern New York and parts of New Hampshire and very local with in those areas.

According to the article, the Karner Blue butterfly has been extirpated from Schenectady County and in serious decline in Warren County.  It did mention that the Butterfly seems to be holding on, even making a bit of comeback in Saratoga County, but its last real strong hold in Eastern New York, the Albany Pine Bush, the Butterfly has declined drastically.  And experts are puzzled as to why.  Some are targeting the use of herbicides to deal with invasive species near the Pine Bush in the decline of wild Lupine, the Karner Blue’s main food source.  And while herbicides are not allowed inside the preserve proper, there are no rules governing their use on the large amount of private property that surrounds the preserve and in some cases in the preserve.

Others have pointed out a lack of snow cover, which leaves more eggs exposed to be eaten by hungry birds or just exposed to extreme cold.  Others have looked at a string of cold, wet springs which may impact the Karner Blue’s caterpillars.   The article quotes a DEC official by who said that sometimes Butterfly populations crash from unknown reasons.

So what can be done to save this species?  New York and other states are raising caterpillars at a facility in New Hampshire to be released  Currently it is estimated between 1,000 and 5,000 butterfly’s currently live in the Pine Bush in Albany.  It is estimated that 3,000 is needed to have a sustainable population, so there are either barely enough or not nearly enough.  Other conservation efforts such as controlled burns, to encourage Wild Lupine growth have been done and will continue to be done.  But a major difficulty is this is a small animal in a large area, making it very difficult at best to study and get an accurate population count.

The Full Article Can be found here:

http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=848099

New York State DEC Web Page on the Karner Blue:

http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7118.html

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