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Karner Blue Butterfly

(Lycaeides melissa samuelis)

Wild Lupine

(Lupinus perennis)
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

General Information

The Karner Blue Butterfly is an endangered species native to the Great Lakes region of the United States. It can be found in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in northwestern Indiana, and also occurs in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire and New York. It’s life history is dependent on the wild lupine plant (Lupinus perennis ) (Figs. 7, 8, & 9), a wildflower whose preferred habitat is the dry soils of open pine and oak savanna that can be found in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (Figs. 1, 2, & 3).

 

The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is an outdoor laboratory for the study of plant succession. Made famous in the early 1900’s by the studies of Henry Chandler Cowles, this area is unique for its unlikely mixture of plants. Prickly pear cactus can be found growing with arctic bearberry. Jack pines from the north grow in proximity to southern dogwoods.

 

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Figure 1 - Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Oak Savanna Habitat
Figure 2 - Oak Savanna Habitat

When plants grow on a site, they change it, making way for the next assemblage of species. The entire progression of ecological succession from bare sand to mature forest can be observed at the Indiana Dunes as one moves inland from Lake Michigan.

 

Jack pines and black oaks grow on the sandy dunes. Interdune areas consist of ponds, marshes, and sphagnum bogs with sugar maple and red oak in the moist ravines.

Field research continues at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to learn more about this important ecological area and to develop conservation and management plans for the species that occur here.

 

Field Research Station
Figure 3 - Field Research Station

Karner Blue Butterfly
Figure 4 - Karner Blue Butterfly

Reproductive Behavior: The life cycle of the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly is dependent on the wild lupine plant (Figs. 7, 8, & 9). Two generations of this butterfly occur each year. The first hatch occurs in late April from eggs laid the previous year, and the second hatch from eggs laid early in the summer season.

 

This small butterfly with a wingspan of about 1 inch is sexually dimorphic. Viewed from above, males differ from females, but on the underside, both sexes show a continuous band of orange crescents along the edges of both wings and scattered black spots circled with white.

 

Karner Blue Butterfly
Figure 5 - Karner Blue Butterfly

Karner Blue Butterfly
Figure 6 - Karner Blue Butterfly

 

Adult Karner Blues feed on the nectar of flowering plants, but the caterpillars of the Karner Blue feed only on the leaves of the wild lupine.

The wild lupine prefers dry soils in open woods and clearings such as pine and oak savannas and barrens. Because the Karner Blue depends on wild lupine, Federal recovery plans for the Karner Blue Butterfly include protection and management of wild lupine habitat.

 

Wild Lupine Habitat
Figure 7 - Wild Lupine Habitat

Wild Lupine Inflorescence
Figure 8 - Wild Lupine Inflorescence

 

The wild lupine has blue pea-like flowers. Habitat loss due to land development and the lack of fire and grazing that prevents forest encroachment in its preferred open savanna habitat continues to threaten the wild lupine.

Wild lupine leaves (lower left) are palmate and radiate into 7 to 9 segments. Note the pea-like seed pods.

Wild lupine Seed Pods
Figure 9 - Wild lupine Seed Pods

Conservation Status

Habitat loss and butterfly collectors continue to threaten populations of the Karner Blue Butterfly. Collection is illegal without a permit from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

If you would like to learn more about endangered species and what you can do to protect them, please contact the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (see links page of this web site) or your State Department of Natural Resources.

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