Butterflies in the winter?

Feb. 27, 2013

Karner blue butterflyWhy talk about butterflies in the winter? Well, this is the time of year when the DNR does management work to help Karner blue butterflies. This pretty, nickel-sized butterfly is federally endangered, which means that it is in danger of becoming extinct.

The small, green caterpillars of this butterfly feed only on wild lupine. To keep Karner blues around, it is important to conserve and manage the oak savanna habitats and wild lupine they need.

Oak savannas are grasslands with less than 50 percent trees, which are often oaks. They require frequent fires or disturbances to keep them open without many trees. The DNR uses prescribed burning and mowing to keep these habitats open and to remove invasive species.

wild lupineA variety of state game areas in southern Michigan are lucky to have Karner blues.

At Allegan State Game Area, the staff often mows over deep snow at this time of year to make sure that they don't crush any of the hibernating caterpillars.

Karners have two hatches each year - one in April from eggs laid the previous year and one in July. If you are out walking around in oak savannas during these times of year, you just might see one!

Here's a cool fact about this butterfly: the caterpillars have a unique relationship with mound-building ants. The ants help protect the caterpillars from predators and parasites, and in exchange the caterpillars excrete a sugary substance that the ants eat - basically the caterpillars make candy for the ants. Seems like a good deal on both sides, doesn't it?

To hear more about the Karner blue butterfly, take a listen:
Karner Blue Butterfly, Sarah Leon with Cathy Carnes

Or check out the following links:
Karner Blue Butterfly DNR
Lycaeides melissa samuelis MNFI
Karner Blue Butterfly FWS

oak savanna habitatHow can you help Karner blue butterflies in Michigan?
There are several easy ways you can help this unique butterfly from going extinct:

With increased funding to the Nongame Wildlife Fund, we can increase our efforts to protect and manage habitats for Karner blue butterflies. Join us in protecting the natural, wild, and wonderful things that make MiNature.