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Monday, July 18, 2011

Counting Karner Blues

Karner blue

Isn't this the most gorgeous little blue butterfly? It's the Karner blue, Lycaeides melissa samuelis, an endangered species, and it lives right here in little pockets of prairie or savannah. For the past several years, the Manistee National Forest has been conducting population surveys, and doing a lot of active habitat restoration. For the surveys they have been requesting volunteers to help. Since I was busy finishing my big hiking quest, I didn't get a chance to participate, and I've really wanted to.

male Karner blue

This year, I'll be helping twice. Today was the first day. First we had a safety session, and then the group was divided into pairs. Someone experienced was a counter, and the rest of us were data recorders.

Then we drove for an hour to reach the site. We all went in Forest Service vehicles. Finally, we were ready to count butterflies! There are over 150 plots which have been marked out for several years. In these plots there are lines (marked by flagging tape) called transects. We would walk the length of each transect. The picture below is the summer staff person I was paired with. If she saw Karner blues she would use the measuring stick, as she's posing with it here. There are colored bands in the sections which measure distance from the transect line. She would tell me where she saw the butterfly and I would record it on a datasheet. Each plot has to be counted once a week, so that's why they need help from volunteers.

From this data, it can be estimated how many of the Karner blues are in the entire plot. Some of the plots have had controlled burns so that prairie plants can grow back. Some have had additional lupine planted. The Karner blue requires lupine for reproduction. The adults like the nectar from horsemint and yarrow, so quite a lot of those have been planted too.

The top picture shows one with its wings closed. This could be either sex. The thing to look for is the rows of orange crescents along the edges and the scattered black spots with white edges. Each butterfly is only about an inch across.

But when they open their wings- the second picture, the males are a clear bright blue with black edges. They look a lot like the Spring Azure. But the Azure has no orange on the outside of its wings.

The female Karners have dark, blue-gray wings with a row of orange crescents on the lower wing. I couldn't quite get a picture of a female with the wings completely open, but you can see one set of wings.

Karner blue

So, how many did we see? Erin and I walked a total of 5 plots. In the first one, we saw none. Then we saw 3 in the next one, and 5 in the one after that. We did one more plot before lunch, and didn't see any Karner blues there. After lunch we did one more plot, and saw one more butterfly. Is this good? I have no idea. That's the one real frustration with volunteering for things like this- you have no clue where anything fits into the larger scheme of things.

It was cloudy, hot and humid. Not an ideal day for the butterflies to be out. So I'm thinking what we saw might be significant. At any rate, I got to help with and see for myself an Endangered Species.

It was miserably hot, but the overcast sky helped a little bit. Wednesday is supposed to be even worse. If it actually rains the count will be cancelled because the butterflies hunker down in the rain. I'm glad I got some halfway decent pictures today.

See Wild Lupine


Jean said...

Whoa! This Butterfly is special. What a great opportunity! They do look like Spring Azures.
I learned something new....Thanks!

Emma Springfield said...

These are delicate looking butterflies. The first picture is almost too perfect.

Duxbury Ramblers said...

Looks like we are all in the same boat, so many of our butterflies are becoming scarce - lots of groups are recording them over here, plus the bees and bugs all necessary to our environment.

Secondary Roads said...

My first though? I've never seen one of those. Your second sentence explains why.

vanilla said...

You contributed to science! Moreover, you got some excellent pictures. With Chuck, I've never seen one, either.

Don't unplug your hub said...

A beautiful butterfly. I am worried that I have not yet seen this year a butterfly which I normally see a lot, The Speckled Wood. I think they are all in danger these days.

Ann said...

That is a gorgeous butterfly. Too bad they didn't give you an idea of what kind of numbers they were hoping for

spinninglovelydays said...

Lovely creatures! Thanks for sharing these; we got to see the little details.

Lin said...

Very pretty!! I just commented last night on the lack of monarchs this year. Where are all the butterflies???

Ratty said...

Very nice looking butterflies. I hope your count is good. Butterflies are some of my favorite creatures, but I'm terrible at finding them.

Casey said...

Beautiful little wind flowers! Thanks for sharing this.

Sharkbytes said...

Jean- first time I've been sure that I saw one, cuz I didn't know the distinguishing features.

Emma- I think the 2nd pic is my fav, but the first one shows the lupine too.

Carol- Wisconsin has the most of these guys, but Mi is trying to hang on to our population

Chuck- unless you know how to tell them from all the other little blue butterflies how would you even know? And until yesterday I didn't know what to look for

vanilla- not sure if there is an Indiana population- do you have wild lupine?

John- I don't think I know that one- but there are lots more I don't know than ones I do

Ann- maybe I can ask more questions tomorrow.

Ivy- I was sure hoping that some of my too-quickly taken shots would turn out- got lucky!

Lin- they all need certain plants

Ratty- I think they are very hard to ID in a hurry unless they are one of the big spectacular ones- you really have to know exactly what to look for. Now, I think I do with this one.

Casey- glad you like 'em- maybe more tomorrow.

RNSANE said...

Well, thanks to you,I,also get to see an endangered species. Hopefully, planting more of the habitat will help these butterflies flourish!

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