Karner Blue (Photo by Jim Peterson)
The Karner blue butterfly has come up in conversations and email a couple of times today. I have spent most of the week at meetings concerning this butterfly, so I decided that the karmic forces of the universe must be hinting that I should post a blog entry about it. It’s a lovely, but tiny, blue butterfly with prominent orange spots on the hindwings. It measures less than an inch across, even with its wings fully opened. It generates as much interest as it does because it has been declared an endangered species at the federal level.
An aside about the term endangered species here: it has similar but distinct meanings in its everyday and its legal usage. Both meanings reflect the idea that the species is at risk of becoming extinct. In its legal sense, however, it means that the species has been formally recognized by the government as being sufficiently at risk to confer special legal status on it. In part this status protects the species against "taking" (killing or otherwise removing it from its habitat). In many cases, including the Karner, this also means very specific goals for recovery.
On Monday I attended a meeting in Lake County to discuss the possibility of returning Karner blues to Illinois. It will be a number of years before that might happen, but it’s still exciting to think that it might, and to have the opportunity to be part of the team that is making it happen.
Simulated butterfly monitoring in the rain
On Wednesday and Thursday, I was at a course at the Indiana Dunes learning a new statistical and monitoring technique called distance sampling. It was all interesting stuff and well taught. We got to do a butterfly monitoring simulation in the rain. I was calmed during the trickier mathematical sections by the wise and benevolent gaze of Glurk, who oversaw the proceedings. Statistical geeks will be interested in the instructor’s prediction of the impending demise of R^2, the correlation coefficient. I don’t think that I can deal with the loss of Pluto, Marshall Fields and R^2 all in the same month. At least we got good weather and were able to see some interesting places and creatures during the morning on Thursday.
Statistics and the legal arcana of the Endangered Species act aside, the Karner blue is a really cool butterfly. It inhabits the black oak savanna, a type of ecosystem that is itself endangered. It’s found from southern New Hampshire to Minnesota, and is now absent from a lot of its former range (which once included the island of Manhattan). It would be a tragedy to lose it forever. Fortunately, a lot of people are now working very hard to prevent this from happening.
Black oak savanna in Indiana
Locust borer beetle - one of the interesting creatures we saw in Indiana