Save the Karner Blue Butterfly

A female Karner Blue Butterfly
A female Karner Blue Butterfly

The Karner Blue Butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) is a beautiful little blue butterfly with a problem.

The only host plant for Karner Blue caterpillars, the wild blue lupine (Lupinus perennis), is declining in numbers, and the population of Karner Blues is declining with them. Karner Blues have been on the federal endangered species list since 1992.

The Lifecycle of the Karner Blue

Karner Blue Butterflies were discovered and named by lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov, a Russian émigré better known for his literary achievements, including his notorious masterpiece, Lolita.

They have an unusual life cycle, with two breeding cycles per year. Karner Blue eggs overwinter on lupine plants, hatching into tiny larvae who feed on the plants before forming chrysalises and emerging as butterflies in late May. The adults are short-lived - only about 7-10 days - but they lay more eggs on the lupines,which hatch and produce another batch of butterflies in late July or August. The second batch lays more eggs, which wait through the winter before starting the cycle all over again.

Range of the Karner Blues

Map courtesy of the North American Butterfly Association (
Map courtesy of the North American Butterfly Association (

Karner Blues once lived in a narrow band from Minnesota to Maine.The largest remaining population exists in Wisconsin, where they can be locally quite common in some areas. Smaller populations survive in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and New York, and the butterflies have been reintroduced with some success to Ohio and New Hampshire. They are believed extinct in Iowa, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maine, and Ontario.

Karner Blues follow the lupines... and the prime habitat of lupines is in sandy oak savannahs, pine barrens, dry prairies, and cleared forest areas. Unfortunately, thanks to fire suppression policies, agriculture, and development, prime lupine habitats are vanishing.

Conservation groups and the government are currently working with private landowners and other groups in an attempt to restore prime lupine habitat. Gardeners can also take part in the effort.

Wild lupine, by randman59
Wild lupine, by randman59

Creating a Karner Blue Garden

The best way to attract Karner Blue Butterflies is to plant lots of lupine. Fortunately, lupine is an exceptionally beautiful wildflower. It also happens to be a beneficial nitrogen-fixing legume that will improve your soil as well as filling your yard with blooms.

Lupines require dry, sandy soils and full to partial sun, without too much competition from shrubs or tall grasses. They spread quickly under favorable conditions. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources offers a useful factsheet (PDF) on growing wild lupine.

Gardeners can imitate or restore pine barrens, oak savannahs, and dry prairies on a small scale by planting a variety of trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses. Karner Blues like "edge" habitat, with a mix of shade and sun and a diverse mix of plantings. Native pines, oaks, and berry or nut producing shrubs are good choices, as are native grasses and wildflowers.

A rich variety of wildflowers is especially important because adult Karner Blues, unlike larva, are not picky at all about their choice of food. The more variety, the better when choosing nectar plants. Although Karner Blues are known to enjoy both native and non-native flowers, most seem to prefer native wildflowers.

Prairie Nursery offers a wildflower mix especially for Karner Blues that includes Butterflyweed, Leadplant, Aster, Blazingstar, Harebell, Cream False Indigo, and Purple Prairie Clover, as well as lupine.

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Comments 19 comments

pjdscott profile image

pjdscott 8 years ago from Durham, UK

How alarming that we're in danger of loosing such a beautiful creature. I read your well-written hub with interest, and can only hope that people follow your example by planting suitable gardens.

What about alerting local authorities to this - could they plant parks and open spaces with more lupine and wildflowers?

belfast maine 8 years ago

Great Hub you have here :) Please check out my Belfast Maine website would love to network!

Marisa 7 years ago

What a pity...

carla soho 7 years ago

Great hub!

Carla Soho profile image

Carla Soho 7 years ago

Great hub!

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

Very informative hub. so glad people are willing to come to the aid of our natural creatures. May be you would like to see my hubs on England's wildlife . Keep up the good work

a........ 7 years ago

What are ways thet we can help save the karner blue butterfly?? It would be a very interesting topic to learn aboutt :)

Teacher 7 years ago

The Karen Blue butterfly is a very interesting animal I say we do every thing to protect it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hunter 6 years ago

i like chips

DustinsMom profile image

DustinsMom 6 years ago from USA

Beautiful little butterfly! I hope we can save these little beauties.

Anonymous Child 6 years ago

This info is so useful!! I'm using it in my report ya know?? Hope we could save these inspiring creatures...

simone 6 years ago

I really wish we can save this beautiful animals

Becky 6 years ago

i have to do a report on this butterfly. I hope we can help protect these beautiful butterflies.

carolinemoon profile image

carolinemoon 5 years ago

Wow. Such a lovely butterfly. It seems like a flower on another flower.

Sayantani chowdhury 5 years ago

wow.nice pic. i've never imagined that the life of such a beautiful creature is at stake. lets do whatever we can to save it.

Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 5 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

Interesting, I've heard of the Karner Blue before, thanks for filling in the details.


hope 5 years ago

why should we save the butterfly??

Beatriz Moisset 4 years ago

You say that Karner blues can only use Lupinus perennis. However, others say that they can use other species of lupines, native and non-native. Can you give me a little more information, please?

Alyssa Burrell 3 years ago

The Karner Blue Butterflies are located in Southern Ohio too. I've seen them all over the place where I live at.

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