Beating the butterfly blues

From the Albany Pine Bush Preserve: After more than 50 years of decline, the Karner blue has returned to former haunts throughout the 3,200-acre preserve. This insect, first studied and named by zoologist and renowned author Vladimir Nabokov in 1944, can now be found at nearly 60 sites covering more than 200 acres of the preserve. Credit: USFWS

One of our partners, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission, is celebrating its 25th anniversary today! The commission protects and manages the Albany Pine Bush for ecological, recreational and educational benefits. Among other conservation efforts, the commission manages young forest habitat (called pitch pine-scrub oak barrens) for endangered Karner blue butterflies and other wildlife. Earlier this summer, we visited the preserve to help release some captive-reared butterflies! Summer intern Beth Decker shares some of her thoughts from the day.

Beth Decker captures footage of a recently released endangered Karner blue butterfly. Credit: USFWS

Beth Decker captures footage of a recently released endangered Karner blue butterfly. Credit: USFWS

As a college student at a summer internship, I don’t always know what my day will hold, but I dread the thought of sitting and sorting paper all day.

Such was my situation on a recent Tuesday morning. I walked into the office and was asked if I wanted to go see the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, which is located just a few miles out of Albany, N.Y., and release endangered Karner blue butterflies. I was not sure what to expect.

The next morning came, and I was on my way to see these blue-winged butterflies, distinguished by the multiple orange dots on the wings’ underside. I joined Robyn Niver and Bethany Holbrook from our New York field office, along with Meagan Racey from our regional office, Kathy O’Brien from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and our fantastic guide Neil Gifford, the Commission’s conservation director, to release some butterflies into the wild at a habitat project in the preserve.

We gathered a few white mesh cubes and set off. I thought with confusion, “Where are the butterflies?” It turns out that the butterflies were inside the cubes, and their tiny size of about a quarter makes them hard to see from a distance.

The butterflies are carried in these white mesh containers. Neil Gifford, Kathy O'Brien and Robyn Niver prepare to release butterflies in one of the preserve's habitat restoration areas. Credit: USFWS

The butterflies are carried in these white mesh containers. Neil Gifford, Kathy O’Brien and Robyn Niver prepare to release butterflies in one of the preserve’s habitat restoration areas. Credit: USFWS

As we all set off into the habitat where the Karners were to be released, I expected to meander through an open pasture of wildflowers and grasses. That’s what all butterflies like, right?

Wrong. I learned that the Karner likes a partly shaded environment with mostly young, thick vegetation and a few large trees. The young forest was surprisingly pretty, and it supports other animals like box turtles and Cooper’s hawks.

I learned from Neil that the Karner is completely dependent on the blue lupine plant, which is also rather small like the Karner itself! The lupine is the only thing the Karner caterpillars will eat and is the preferred plant on which adults lay their eggs.

"Picture a wide open landscape filled with dense shrubs, scattered pitch pines, openings of prairie grass and wildflowers all rooted in sweeping sand dunes." This is the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. Credit: USFWS

“Picture a wide open landscape filled with dense shrubs, scattered pitch pines, openings of prairie grass and wildflowers all rooted in sweeping sand dunes.” This is the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. Credit: USFWS

The Karner faces decreasing young forest and lupine habitat – and an influx of people competing for the same space. Thinking of the urban spaces of Albany just outside the preserve, I realized just how difficult it might be getting for the Karner.

Luckily, the population has grown quite healthy in the Albany Pine Brush Preserve! The combination of releasing butterflies and creating the ideal habitat with prescribed burns, cutting, and planting more lupine seeds is really helping out.

From the Albany Pine Bush Preserve: After more than 50 years of decline, the Karner blue has returned to former haunts throughout the 3,200-acre preserve. This insect, first studied and named by zoologist and renowned author Vladimir Nabokov in 1944, can now be found at nearly 60 sites covering more than 200 acres of the preserve. Credit: USFWS

From the Albany Pine Bush Preserve: After more than 50 years of decline, the Karner blue has returned to former haunts throughout the 3,200-acre preserve. This insect, first studied and named by zoologist and renowned author Vladimir Nabokov in 1944, can now be found at nearly 60 sites covering more than 200 acres of the preserve. Credit: USFWS

The releases really help establish the population in the newly restored areas. When we opened the mesh cubes to release the Karners, their wings opened and they fluttered in the excitement of the striking sunlight. I couldn’t help but feel excited and happy for them. When we opened up the mesh cages, they slowly few out of them and were close enough to touch…One even landed on me!

My experience with the Karner blues that day was incredible, and a good surprise job on my internship. I hope to see them again sometime – and want to give a huge thanks to Neil and the preserve for such an amazing opportunity!

 

One Comment on “Beating the butterfly blues

  1. Pingback: Happy 40th, Endangered Species Act! | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

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