Pollinator Partnerships – How the Frosted Elfin Contributes to the Important World of Pollination

Animals that pollinate plants are responsible for bringing us one out of every three bites of food.

The process of pollination occurs when a pollen grain moves from the anther (male part) of a flower to the stigma (female part).


This is the first step in a process that produces seeds, fruits, and the next generation of plants.

This can happen through self-pollination, wind and water pollination, or through the work of vectors that move pollen within the flower and from bloom to bloom.

Birds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, small mammals, and bees are examples of pollinators. They visit flowers to drink nectar or feed on pollen and transport pollen grains as they move from spot to spot.

Somewhere between 75% and 95% of all flowering plants on the earth need help with pollination. Pollinators provide pollination services to over 180,000 different plant species and more than 1,200 different crops.

If we talk dollars and cents, pollinators add 217 billion dollars to the global economy and honey bees alone are responsible for between 1.2 and 5.4 billion dollars in agricultural productivity in the United States.

In addition to the food that we eat, pollinators support healthy ecosystems that clean the air, stabilize soils, protect from severe weather, and support other wildlife.

One pollinator species the Service is giving extra attention is the frosted elfin butterfly.


Photo credit: Bill Bouton

This small non-migratory butterfly depends on wild blue lupine and wild indigo to complete its annual life cycle. They occur in oak pine barrens, oak savannas, prairie and dry oak woodlands, as well as powerline cuts, railways, old sand/gravel pits, and airports with sandy soils. In New York, frosted elfin are limited to a few areas like the Rome Sandplains, Albany Pine Bush, and Long Island barrens.

The current range of the frosted elfin includes 25 states. This butterfly is now likely extirpated in Ontario, Canada, and the District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, and Vermont after habitats were lost for a variety of reasons including incompatible vegetation management, catastrophic wildfire, and residential development.

A portion of the frosted elfin’s range overlaps with the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly. Where the species co-occur, both use wild blue lupine as host plants and face similar threats or potential benefits from management.

How can you help the frosted elfin as well as many other pollinator species?

Here are some ways you can get involved and support pollinators in your own backyard:

  • Provide a habitat: Plant a mix of flowering trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants so that something is always blooming. Native plants are a great choice.  If you occur in the range of the frosted elfin, planting wild lupine or wild indigo and early flowering plants is important.
  • Don’t mow or rake all parts of your yard: Many pollinators need a safe place to build their nests and overwinter. During spring and summer, leave some areas of your yard unmowed. In fall, leave some areas of your yard unraked and leave plant stems standing in your flower beds.
  • Be Pesticide Free: Pesticides, especially insecticides, can harm pollinators. Herbicides reduce food sources by removing flowers from the landscape.

By getting involved in conservation and taking small steps every day, we can all support a more biodiverse landscape and protect our pollinators one butterfly at a time.

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