And they’re off… Karner blue butterflies take flight

National News

Karner blue butterflies released at Albany Pine Bush Preserve Thursday, July 16, 2021. Photo courtesy of the New York DEC.

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- All eyes were on the Saratoga Race Course for its opening day Thursday. But, there was another race of sorts happening just outside the city of Albany as Karner blue butterflies raced to freedom.

The butterflies were released as part of a continued conservation effort at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve (APBP). Between 2008-2015 Karner blue butterflies have been released in 26 locations at the APBP. The Preserve’s Karner blue butterfly population was at least 46,100 in 2020, said Conservation Director, Neil Gifford.

Classified as endangered by the Federal Government in 1992, the Karner blue butterfly is known to be present in seven states including New York, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) who partners with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) as well as the APBP Commission to preserve and increase the butterfly’s numbers.

“By partnering with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, and other stakeholders, we are successfully advancing the restoration of the Karner blue butterfly at this globally rare and special place,” said DEC Commissioner, Basil Seggos.

Karner blue butterflies released at the Albany Pine Bush Thursday

“The USFWS is pleased that the (APBP) Commission has taken advantage of Recovery Land Acquisition grants to expand areas for Karner blue butterfly, including this release location. The Commission’s expertise in habitat restoration efforts for this species has led to exceeding Recovery Plan population targets for the Albany Pine Bush metapopulation over the past 9 years,” said USFWS New York Field Office Supervisor, David Stilwell.

APBP caught 24 wild adult female Karners at the end of May which were then transferred to Concord, New Hampshire where their eggs were raised until they turned to chrysalises, said Gifford.

  • Karner blue butterflies released at Albany Pine Bush Preserve Thursday, July 16, 2021. Photo courtesy of the New York DEC.
  • Karner blue butterflies released at Albany Pine Bush Preserve Thursday, July 16, 2021. Photo courtesy of the New York DEC.
  • Karner blue butterflies released at Albany Pine Bush Preserve Thursday, July 16, 2021. Photo courtesy of the New York DEC.

As is the case with other species, female Karners are not as vibrantly colored as their male counterparts. Females are grayish-brown, particularly on the outer area of their wings. They go to blue on the top side and have irregular bands of orange inside a narrow black border. The top side of a male’s wings is silver or dark blue with narrow black margins, according to USFWS.

“The Karner blue’s comeback continues to demonstrate the effectiveness of science-based habitat management that DEC and our federal, state, and local partners are implementing to help this endangered species thrive,” Seggos said.

The Karner blue butterfly’s numbers had been in decline from loss of habitat due to land development, said USFWS. They can now be found on 700 of the 3,350-acres at ABPB at 60 sites, Gifford said.

“The return of Karner blue butterflies to places where they were previously abundant is a delightful and important contribution in the fight against rapid biodiversity loss,” said The Nature Conservancy’s Chief Conservation and External Affairs Officer, Stuart F. Gruskin. “This successful effort is enabling a recovery of the endangered Karner blue and protecting many other plants and pollinators that rely on these rare habitats to survive and thrive.”

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