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Season Starts Strong for Karner Blue Butterflies

CONCORD, N.H. - Though it's still more commonly seen in children's drawings than in the wild, the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly is making a comeback in Concord. At this time of year, the butterflies are in their larval stage; biologists are now keeping watch over about 700 Karner larvae (caterpillars) in a captive rearing facility. A majority of the larvae are expected to reach the next stage of growth (pupation) within the next week and emerge as butterflies in early June.

The Karner blue, a sapphire-colored butterfly with a wingspan barely an inch across, was extirpated from New Hampshire less than a decade ago. Many people and organizations have been working to bring back the Karner blue -- New Hampshire's official state butterfly -- and to restore pine barrens habitat, the only place where the butterfly can survive. A variety of partners are involved in the restoration efforts, including N.H. Fish and Game, the N.H. Army National Guard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the city of Concord and others.

This is the fifth year that Karners are being raised in captivity and released into restored pine barrens habitat at the Karner Blue Butterfly Conservation Easement near the Concord Municipal Airport. The captive rearing program has resulted in a small but growing wild butterfly population; last year, eggs, larvae and adults were all observed in the release area in the Heights section of Concord. Core funding for captive rearing and habitat restoration comes from the N.H. Army National Guard, the moose Conservation License Plate and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wildlife biologists from N.H. Fish and Game expect to release hundreds of captive-reared Karner blue butterflies into the restored habitat in June. The second of two annual broods will emerge in July.

The Karner blue butterfly has extremely particular habitat requirements; wild lupine is the immature Karner's sole food source, and pine barrens are the only place where wild lupine grows. Very little pine barrens habitat remains in New Hampshire, most of it having been cleared or paved for other uses. The original pine barrens were maintained by natural disturbances, including fire, insect and weather damage; today, heavy machinery and controlled burns -- one of which is planned for next week -- are used to replicate these occurrences.

Concord schoolchildren and teachers are also helping out with habitat restoration efforts. N.H. Fish and Game and the National Wildlife Federation, supported by a Disney Foundation grant, have been working with teachers and their students to plant wild lupine seed and raise the seedlings in the classroom, then transplant them in the easement. Last year, wild-born Karners were seen on the lupine that the students raised and transplanted.

The public is welcome to visit the easement at the end of Chenell Drive in East Concord, where a trailhead kiosk describes the Karner restoration project. Visitors are asked to try to not step on any wild lupine plants -- there may be Karner blue butterfly larvae on them.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is the guardian of the state's marine, fish and wildlife resources and their habitats.

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