In 2010, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) recognized this project with a Significant Achievement Award for North American conservation. This project represents RWP Zoo’s hands-on contribution to the AZA’s National Butterfly Conservation Initiative for the endangered karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis).
Karner blues historically were found in 12 northern states and in Ontario, Canada. They now can be found only in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, New York, and Wisconsin. Like most endangered butterflies, Karner blues are victims of industrial and agricultural development. The Karner blue butterfly must lay its eggs on wild lupine plants (Lupinus perennis) because that is the only plant the hatched larvae can eat. The lupine can only thrive in pine barrens with dry sandy and acidic soil, but those habitats have largely been destroyed. Now the lupine itself is endangered and without it, the Karner blue larvae cannot survive.
Twenty years ago there were an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Karner blue butterflies living in pine barrens in Concord, New Hampshire. By 1995, that number had plummeted to fewer than 50 because of the coinciding decline of wild lupine plants in the area due to development that destroyed its native habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and New Hampshire Fish and Game (NHFG) hatched a plan to restore the pine barren habitat and expand wild lupine populations in order to support a healthy Karner Blue butterfly population.
Because Rhode Island is not one of the current range states for Karner Blue butterflies, the Roger Williams Park Zoo is participating in recovery efforts for the New Hampshire population. Specifically, the Zoo is assisting the USFWS and the NH Game & Fish in a Karner Blue Butterfly Habitat Restoration Project in Concord, N.H.
The Zoo has played a vital role in the project, by assisting with annual planting of lupine in the restoration area, assistance with collection of lupine seed and in lupine propagation and in rearing of Karner blue larva for reintroduction into the restoration area.
9,811 lupine plants and 454,920 lupine seeds have been planted in the restoration area to create habitat for Karner blue larvae. In addition, 867 seedlings and over 50,900 seeds of native flowers for adult nectaring have been planted.
Since 2001 over 7,034 Karner blue butterflies have emerged from the captive breeding program, and 4,291 of those adults were released into the restored pine barrens habitat.
From 2006 – 2016 the Roger Williams Park Zoo has contributed to the recovery effort:
- 2226 Lupine plants the host plant of the Karner Blue
- 289 Nectar plants some of which are NH state endangered
- 680 hours of volunteer time for habitat-restoration activities
- 650 hours of staff and volunteer time to captive rear Karner blues in the lab
- 365 hours of environmental education initiatives with our “Kids Camp” participants
The efforts of this partnership successfully saved, restored and continue to maintain Karner Blue habitat and the now thriving population of Karner blues in the Concord Pine barrens. The Karner Blue butterfly has served as a “flagship” species for the BFCI program, but the ultimate goal is to formulate a “matrix of needs” for all 22 of the list identified butterfly species so that the BFCI can target its efforts and maximize the impact of its butterfly recovery work.