This week’s endangered species is the small Karner blue butterfly, found in the northern range of the wild lupine including the Albany Pine Bush (NY) and the Concord Pine Barrens (NH) (photo:karnerblueforstatebutterfly.org). Like many butterflies, these little guys like to nectar in open areas or fields – in their habitat, these open areas were created by natural wildfires. Karner blues are currently threatened by fragmentation of their habitat, due to suppression of wildfires and development of the forests on which they depend. Karner blues are called a “specialist” species; they depend on a very few types of plants and on a very specific type of habitat. Without the environment on which it depends, the Karner blue can’t survive.
So why should we care about the Karner blue butterfly? As stated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it’s really not just the Karner blue butterfly that we should worry about – we should be wondering about the straw that will eventually break the camel’s (that would be our ecosystem’s) back:
“Since the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620, more than 500 species, subspecies and varieties of our nation’s plants and animals are known to have become extinct. In contrast, during the Pleistocene ice age, all of North America lost only about three species every 100 years. This recent, catastrophic loss of biological diversity is continuing at an unprecedented rate. Each and every species has a valuable ecological role in the balance of nature and each loss destabilizes that fragile balance. Once a species is extinct, it is lost forever. Experience has proven that many plants and animals have properties that will prove beneficial to humans as sources of food and medicine. With the loss of each species, we lose a potential resource for improving the quality of life for all humanity.
In addition, some species of plants and animals may indicate to us whether or not their environment is healthy. The Karner blue butterfly’s disappearance from fragile pine barren habitat tells us that something is wrong. Protecting pine barrens will affect not only the fate of the Karner blue butterfly, but also that of many other specialized plants and animals.”
Check out the recent Pollinators Week post for ways you can help the Karner blue and other pollinators in your area.