Saratoga County

Karner Blue butterflies take wing in Wilton

Half a dozen of the delicate Karner Blue butterflies fluttered around the Wilton Wildlife Preserve a

Half a dozen of the delicate Karner Blue butterflies fluttered around the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park on Thursday, their attractive blue colors glistening in the sun alongside the wild blue lupine plant that hosts them.

Last year, catching sight of the endangered butterfly was not as easy.

“It seems things are great this year,” said Margo Olson, executive director of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park.

But the Karner butterfly has not been studied long enough to know why there are more of them this season than last, she explained.

About 150 acres of the Wilton Preserve is dedicated to the Karner Blue, which was listed as a federally endangered species in 1999.

The Karner Blue was first collected in 1861 in the Karner hamlet of Colonie. It still lives in the Pine Bush there, but the Wilton Preserve is one of the only remaining habitats in New York where the Karner Blue still lives.

“They were always here,” said Larry Gordon, a retired Saratoga County worker and member of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park board.

Gordon first noticed the Karner Blue in the 1970s because of the distinctive plant on which it feeds.

“They were noticeable mostly because the flower is more visually prominent than the butterflies,” he said.

Olson adds the Karner is much smaller than many people imagine — with a wingspan of only about an inch.

“I think people are surprised that they are so small,” she said. “But then if they start fluttering around and if you are still and keep looking you will notice the movement … it is kind of cool.”

The open fields of the Wilton Preserve are covered with the wild blue lupine plant, an essential component of the Karner Blue habitat because it is the only plant on which their caterpillars can feed.

“The adult butterflies will get nectar from a number of different flowers,” Olson said. “But the larva can only feed on the lupine plants.”

There are two generations of Karner Blues each year, one in May and another in July. Once the lupine plant comes up in late April or early May, the eggs can hatch. The larvae will then climb onto the lupine plant and start eating the leaves. By the end of May, the Karner Blue butterfly can be seen throughout the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park, according to Olson.

“They are not long-lived. I would say a week-ish,” Olson said. “Usually it is about a three-week span that you will see them.”

The second generation usually emerges in July. They then repeat the same cycle as the first generation did, but the eggs that they lay stay dormant through the winter. The cycle begins again in the spring, according to Olson.

The Wildlife Preserve offers many opportunities for people to view the butterflies, including several walking trails.

David and Joan Hicks from Ballston Spa came to one the trails Thursday to try to spot the Karner Blues. Before they even stepped out of their car, they could see the little butterflies.

“Smaller than I thought. Beautiful,” Joan said as the butterflies hovered around her feet in the parking lot. “We have been wanting to see them for years. What a treat.”

Olson believes that without the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park, the Karner Blue could be at a greater threat of extinction.

“Since the start of the project here and with the additional acres that were planted with lupine, the numbers have steadily climbed,” she said. “At this point you could still say that the numbers have dramatically increased over the course of the project.”

The preserve will host the Wilton Wildlife Festival at Camp Saratoga from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. The event is open to the public and will showcase the Karner Blue butterfly along with many other animals of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park.

The event will also include nature crafts, pond life exploring and a live animal program. Visitors are invited to help plant their own wild blue lupine plants.

Olson hopes this weekend the Wildlife Festival will give visitors a taste of all that the Saratoga sand plains has to offer, which of course include the Karners.

“The population up here is the largest in the whole state, exceeding Pine Bush and those places,” Gordon said. “It has really become a point of interest. There have been people who have come here just to look at the butterfly.”

Olson said she feels that helping the Karner is a part of the bigger ecological picture.

“Think globally. Act locally,” she said.

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