Steve Fuller: (603) 271-2462
Liza Poinier: (603) 271-3211
August 30, 2004
Karner Blues Gaining Foothold in Concord Pine Barrens
CONCORD, N.H. -- New Hampshire's official state butterfly -- the Karner blue -- is making a comeback. This summer, wildlife biologists from N.H. Fish and Game released more than a thousand captive-reared Karner blue butterflies into pine barrens in the Heights in Concord, where they are now reproducing successfully in the wild, and where many people have been hard at work to restore the federally endangered butterfly to its rare and special habitat.
Once extirpated from New Hampshire, the tiny Karner blue butterfly owes its improved fortunes to a fruitful partnership among N.H. Fish and Game, the N.H. Army National Guard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the city of Concord and others, through which the butterflies are raised in captivity and released into restored pine barrens habitat at the Karner Blue Butterfly Conservation Easement near the Concord Municipal Airport. Core funding for captive rearing comes from the moose Conservation License Plate and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
For biologists, the most exciting part of the season was finding Karner blues in the wild in various life stages -- egg, larva (caterpillar) and adult. "Seeing all of the life stages means that they are reproducing in their natural habitat; it is a sign that we're successfully establishing a wild Karner population in Concord," said wildlife biologist Steve Fuller, coordinator of the Karner blue restoration effort for Fish and Game's Nongame and Endangered wildlife program. "On the easement, we saw wild and captive-reared Karner blue butterflies mating, which holds a lot of promise for a growing wild population next spring."
Fuller also expects to enter the 2005 spring season with more butterflies in captivity than ever before. He said the captive breeding program produced several thousand eggs in July that now contain maturing larvae; these will enter a state of "diapause," or winter dormancy, before hatching next April. Larvae will undergo metamorphosis and emerge as the first brood (generation) of adult butterflies before the end of May. After repeating their life cycle, a second brood emerges in July. Fuller reports an interesting scientific discovery: about 30 Karner blue butterflies emerged recently in a small third brood for the year. It was previously thought that the Karner life cycle included only two generations annually. "We don't know exactly what this extra, late-season brood means for the butterflies, but in the wild, it could certainly add stability to the population in the long term," Fuller said.
A number of adult Karners and eggs were shared with a Karner restoration program in upstate New York, which gave the New Hampshire project its start with a contribution of butterfly eggs four years ago. New York continues to send some of its stock to the New Hampshire project; this trade arrangement helps keep the butterflies' gene pool diverse.
"The recent success of the Karner restoration program is very promising," said John Kanter, coordinator of the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife program. "We hope this year's efforts will be the start of a long-term recovery for the species in Concord." Kanter said it's not just the Karners that will benefit from pine barrens restoration activities, which have included controlled burns and wildflower plantings. "Karner blue butterflies are only one species out of hundreds of plants and animals that depend on this exceptional habitat."
The Karner blue butterfly has extremely particular habitat requirements; pine barrens are the only place where wild lupine grows, and wild lupines are essential to the Karner blue butterfly. In fact, the butterfly and the plant evolved together over time, and Karner blue caterpillars feed only on the leaves of the wild lupine. Very little pine barrens habitat remains in New Hampshire, most of it having been cleared or paved for other uses. The original pine barrens were maintained by natural disturbances, including fire, insect and weather damage; today, heavy machinery and controlled burns are used to replicate these occurrences.
Though activity directly related to the Karner blues is minimal between now and the spring brood, Fuller and his team, plus many partners, are continuing habitat work to restore the pine barrens for the butterflies and other native wildlife. This includes harvesting native plant seed from local sources and planting plants in the wild. Local schoolchildren have pitched in by planting wild lupine seed and raising the seedlings in the classroom, then transplanting them in the easement. In addition, workers are thinning overgrown pine barrens stands in preparation for controlled burning at the easement in the fall.
The public is welcome to visit the easement at the end of Chenell Drive in East Concord, where a new trailhead kiosk describes the Karner restoration project. Visitors are asked to try to not step on any wild lupine plants -- there may be Karner blue eggs or larvae on them. There are no adult butterflies at this time of year.
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is the guardian of the state's marine, fish and wildlife resources and their habitats.
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