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Efforts to save rare butterfly habitat are underway in West Michigan

Courtesy: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Some of the last remaining Karner Blue butterflies call west Michigan home and the

DNR is trying to save their habitat this spring

The Karner blue butterfly is about the size of a quarter, with males’ wings a deep violet blue, and females’ brownish blue with orange spots.

“The Karner needs a very special type of habitat and lives off a plant called lupine that only shows up in oak barrens and oak savannahs.”

James Miller is a wildlife habitat biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and has six years’ experience with Karner butterflies. They are found only in a few northeastern states and around the Great Lakes.

“The west side of Michigan is basically the host area for this species. We used to have some a little close by the Ohio borderline but unfortunately that has blanked out.”

Miller explains their habitats have become less available with suburban expansion, and the DNR is focusing on creating corridors in Muskegon, Allegan, and the Flat River area. That starts with winter mowing.

“That protects the eggs, and it gives them a cushion so we’re not crushing caterpillar eggs.”

In spring crews set controlled burns to clear trees and scrub brush, creating space for wild lupine to grow; it’s the butterflies only source of food. Unlike planting milkweed to help monarch butterflies, Miller says with Karners

“You can’t do much, it has to be in your area but for pollinators as a whole - so we don’t have the issues we have with the Karners right now - you can plant native species in your landscaping.”

Due to its endangered status, the Karner blue has even been proposed as the State Butterfly.

“Michigan is one of the last locations this butterfly can be found. I have not taken a stance on what butterfly should be the state butterfly, but I will say I have a special place in my heart for the Karner. Just because its small, doesn’t mean it’s not important.”

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