Karner Blue Returns To Oak Openings
A tiny, beautiful, blue butterfly missing from the landscape of Oak Openings Preserve for nearly two decades made a triumphant return July 10, 2007.
More than 100 of the federally endangered Karner blue butterflies were released at the Campbell Prairie area of Oak Openings Preserve Metropark. A total of 250 of the insects will be released this summer. The reintroduction is a testimony to Metroparks habitat improvement efforts at Oak Openings, which lies within one of Ohio’s most important natural regions.
The insects were gathered at a site in Michigan and have been reared at the Toledo Zoo in anticipation of the reintroduction by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife.
The Karner blue historically lived along a narrow geographic region from eastern Minnesota, across portions of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire, as well as Ontario. They are associated with oak savanna habitat, which is limited to the Oak Openings region in Ohio.
The butterfly is found were wild lupines, prairie grasses and nectar plants such as butterflyweed grow. This vegetation is characteristic of oak savannas, which are dry areas dominated by drought-resistant prairie plants and widely-spaced oak trees. The common grass is usually little bluestem.
The Karner blue disappeared from Ohio in the late 1980s and has declined substantially throughout its range. It is thought to be extirpated from Ontario, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Illinois. In 1992, it was added the federal endangered species list.
The reason for the butterfly’s decline is directly tied to dwindling habitat as a result of residential and commercial land development and the lack of natural disturbance, such as wildfires. Such disturbance helps to maintain the butterfly's habitat by controlling forest succession and encouraging lupine and other prairie species.
Metroparks land management crew has been working to restore natural oak savannas within Oak Openings Preserve. The Campbell Prairie area, south of Oak Openings Lodge on the all-purpose trail, is an example of an area restored by thinning trees and using controlled fires to replicate natural disturbance.
The Karner blue’s initial return to the region in 2003 at The Nature Conservancy’s Kitty Todd Nature Preserve, located in the Oak Openings region, was the first reintroduction of the butterfly to its native habitat in the United States.
Three division of the state DNR: Wildlife, Natural Areas and Preserves and Forestry, were involved in the reintroduction, along with TNC, Metroparks, the zoo, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ohio Lepidopterists Association.
Three Metroparks are located in the Oak Openings Region: Oak Openings Preserve, Secor and Wildwood Preserve.
Is It A Karner Blue?
Ohio is home to several commonly occurring blue butterflies, including the spring azure and the eastern tailed blue, that are frequently confused with the Karner blue.
The Karner blue (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) is a tiny butterfly – roughly the size of a postage stamp – with a wingspan of about one inch.
Males are blue with a black edge and white outer margin. Females are similar, but more brown or grayish in color, with a row of dark spots with orange crescents along the wing margins.
The underside of both males and females is similar – slate gray with several marginal rows of orange.