The upper surfaces of adult male Karner Blue wings are dark blue. On adult females the blue is much reduced by a black margin. The hindwing margins have partial orange bands that border several black spots. The undersides are whitish gray with black spots, and the hindwings have small silver spots capped with orange. The fringe on the wings is black. Females forewings range in size from 1.4 cm to 1.6 cm., with the males slightly smaller, ranging from 1.2 - 1.4 cm. Melissa Blues are very similar in coloration but have a black terminal line along the vertical hindwing margins. (Neilsen, 1999; Opler and Krizek, 1984; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2003)
Karner Blue eggs have been described as very small and radially symmetrical. They are pale green in color and slightly flattened in appearance, with fine geometric patterns that are deeply reticulated. ("Wisconsin Statewide Karner Blue Butterfly habitat Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement", 2000)
The larvae of L. melissa have dorsally flattened bodies and are pubescent. Their head capsules are brown-black to brown and their bodies are a pea green color. As the larvae age, they develop light green to white lateral stripes and dark green dorsal stripes. Just before the larvae are ready to pupate, their color and lateral stripes begin to fade. The pupae are bright green and smooth, and just before emergence, change to a light tan color with hints of purple. Larvae have three glandular structures that secrete a liquid most likely containing carbohydrates and amino acids. This secretion is avidly harvested by ants. ("Wisconsin Statewide Karner Blue Butterfly habitat Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement", 2000)
The range of Lycaeides melissa covers the northern and western United States, portions of central and western Canada, and extends southward to northern Baja California, Mexico. They occur in the Upper Sonoran to Canadian (sometimes Alpine) Life Zones in the Nearctic region. (Opler and Krizek, 1984; Scott, 1986)
Karner Blues, L. melissa samuelis, historically occurred in the northern tier from New Hampshire and New York westward to Iowa. They have been extirpated from Ohio, Ontario, Maine, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. There are remnant populations of Karner blues in Minnesota, Indiana, New York, and New Hampshire, and abundant populations in Michigan and Wisconsin. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2003; "Wisconsin Statewide Karner Blue Butterfly habitat Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement", 2000)
Melissa Blues, L. melissa melissa, have the largest range of all the subspecies, occuring from Kansas to Manitoba westward throughout to northern Baja California, northern Mexico and west Texas. They have been extirpated south of the San Francisco Bay area.
Annetta Blues, L. melissa annetta, occur high in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, the alpine Sierra Nevada, and the higher altitudes of central Colorado. (Scott, 1986)
Inyo Blues, L. melissa paradoxa (also known as L. m. inyoensis), are found in the Tehachapi Mountains in California.
Karner Blues inhabit sandy pine barrens, lakeshore dunes, and sandy pine prairies that contain abundant lupine, Lupinus perinnis, their only larval foodplant. An important component of Karner Blue habitat is a heterogeneous mixture of sun and shade, and management efforts focused on improving and maintaining this habitat use fire and tree removal to facilitate this blend. (Opler and Krizek, 1984; Neilsen, 1999; Grundel, et al., 1998; "Wisconsin Statewide Karner Blue Butterfly habitat Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement", 2000; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2003; Struttmann, ; Rabe, )
Melissa blues prefer dry ridges with tall-grass prairie biomes. (Opler and Krizek, 1984)
Eggs oviposited by first brood females hatch in 5-10 days in early June. Larvae go through four instars and pupate in late June - early July. After emerging in early to mid July, adults will mate and the females will oviposit eggs that will overwinter. During the following spring, these larvae will hatch in April and May and begin feeding. (Dirig, et al., 1994; Grundel, et al., 1998; "Wisconsin Statewide Karner Blue Butterfly habitat Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement", 2000)
During the daylight hours, male Karner Blues patrol near the lupines searching for females. Mating takes place primarily in open-canopied areas in the forests. (Opler and Krizek, 1984; "Wisconsin Statewide Karner Blue Butterfly habitat Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement", 2000)
Karner Blue butterflies are bivoltine, the first brood emerging from late May to June, followed by the second brood from late July to August. The females emerge a few days later than the males. After mating, females will lay their eggs on various parts of the host plants (lupines) or on nearby sticks or pebbles. There is a difference in egg placement by first and second brood females. The majority of eggs in the first brood are placed on lupines, second brood females place the majority of their eggs on blades of grass. (Grundel, et al., 1998; Opler and Krizek, 1984; "Wisconsin Statewide Karner Blue Butterfly habitat Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement", 2000)
Lepidopteran species do not provide any care for their offspring after the eggs are laid.
Adult Karner Blues are known to live from 4-5 days up to 2-3 weeks. Total lifespan from egg through adult varies depending on the brood: eggs laid late in the season survive through winter and hatch the following year so the individuals live for about almost 12 months. Eggs laid early in May or June hatch, mature, reproduce and die in about two months. ("Wisconsin Statewide Karner Blue Butterfly habitat Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement", 2000)
Karner Blues are diurnal, flying primarily from early morning to early evening. When temperatures become very hot, they decrease their activities and spend more of their time resting in shade. Heavy rains, strong winds, and temperatures below 75° F will also cause Karner Blues to spend time in protected areas. Grasses appear to be their preferred roosting sites. ("Wisconsin Statewide Karner Blue Butterfly habitat Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement", 2000)
Male Karner Blues fly more frequently than females, and tend to move more often and cover greater distances with their flights. Females spend more time nectaring than flying. Both sexes prefer to nectar in sunny openings in their forest habitat. (Grundel, et al., 1998)
Butterfly communication generally involves courtship flights and behaviors using visual cues. Some species are believed to emit pheremones to attract mates, but it is unknown if this true for Lycaeides melissa.
The larvae of Karner Blue (L. mellisa samuelis) butterflies feed exclusively on wild lupine Lupinus perennis. Swengel (1995) found that the larvae seem to prefer lupine with larger leaves and longer, thicker stems. First and second instars chew tiny, circular holes in the leaves, and the third and fourth instars eat all but the upper or lower epidermis, leaving a window pane effect. (Opler and Krizek, 1984; Swengel, 1995)
Adult Karner Blues have been observed nectaring on over 50 different species of flowers. They seem to select the nectar species with the greatest total number of flowers or flowering heads, usually yellow or white. Nectar species include Rock cress Arabis lyrata, lance-leaved coreopsis Coreopsis lanceolata, flowering spurge Euphorbia corollata, sweet clover Melilotus alba, horsemint Monarda punctata, common cinquefoil Potentilla simplex, raspberry Rubus spp., showy goldenrod Solidago speciosa, butterflyweed Asclepias tuberosa, and woodland sunflower Helianthus divaricatus. Males and females exhibit mud puddling behavior (sipping at moist earth) to obtain salts and minerals, and will sip human perspiration. Males have been observed feeding on animal droppings. (Grundel, et al., 1999; Swengel, 1995)
Known predators of Karner Blue larvae are primarily insects such as stink bugs, ants, and some wasps. Common parasitoids include tachinid flies and braconid and ichneumonid wasps. Common predators of adults are spiders, robber flies, ambush bugs, assassin bugs, and dragonflies. Though not documented, the absence of any reports of vertebrate predators may indicate some sort of anti-predator defense such as noxious smells or tastes, or toxins that are not tolerated by predators such as birds or mice.
Most butterfly species serve as pollinators to a variety of plant species upon which they nectar. Larvae of the Karner Blues have a mutualistic relationship with ants. Studies have shown that larvae tended by these ants have a higher survival rate, most likely due to protection by the ants against larval predators. ("Wisconsin Statewide Karner Blue Butterfly habitat Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement", 2000)
There are no known negative impacts to humans by Lycaeides melissa.
Due to the rarity of Karner Blue butterflies, there are potential human benefits in the form of ecotourism. Additionally, restoration and habitat management activities for this species enhance and protect unique ecosystems valuable for their beauty and ecological function.
Karner Blues were listed as federally endangered in 1992 due to losses in the eastern portions of their range. They are protected throughout their range, and many sites are actively managed. Karner blues are listed as threatened in the state of Michigan. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2003; "Wisconsin Statewide Karner Blue Butterfly habitat Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement", 2000)
There are many common names for the various sub-species of Lycaeides melissa. Karner Blues have been called Orange-bordered Blue, and Edward's Blue; Melissa Blue has been named Orange-banded Blue, Orange-margined Blue, Orange-bordered Blue, Karner Blue, and Edward's Blue. They have also been placed in the genus Plebejus. (Miller and Brown, 1981; Miller, 1992; Scott, 1986)
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