The Karner Blue

karner blue butterfly

Nabokov once described the a group of Karner Blues appearing like "blue snowflakes".

The first flight of Karner Blue butterflies should be appearing in their habitats around the Capital Region right about now.

The beautiful endangered butterflies hang around sandy pine barren habitats. Two such spots in the Capital Region: the Albany Pine Bush Preserve and the Wilton Wildlife Preserve. Drew was at the Wilton preserve this past week and said the butterflies were easy to spot.

Karner Blues congregate in these habitats because they're also the habitat for blue lupine. The butterflies lay their eggs on the plants.

There's some great history Capital Region history involving the Karner Blue. The common name of the butterflies is linked to a spot here -- and Vladimir Nabokov classified the butterflies. Yep, the author.

Nabokov had identified and given a scientific name (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) to the Karner Blue in 1943. But it wasn't until seven years later that he actually saw one in the wild. [NYT]

In 1950, five years before the publication of Lolita, Nabokov was a professor at Cornell. During a trip from Boston to Ithaca, he stopped in Karner, New York -- a hamlet in the Albany Pine Bush. From Brian Boyd's Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years:

On his way back to Ithaca, Nabokov had to investigate a patch of pine-scrub waste by the railroad tracks near Karner, a once a whistle-stop on the New York Central Railroad between Albany and Schenectady. In that location Lycaeides samuelis, a butterfly he had been the first to classify correctly, had been recorded ninety years ago. He had still not caught the thing himself, despite holidaying in New Hampshire four years before for that very purpose. Now at Karner, near patches of lupine in bloom, he took his first live specimens of the species. A faithful pilgrim, he would make the same stop at the same season every year for several years to come as he traveled to or from Boston.

Nabokov apparently found the butterflies all over the "absolutely marvelous patches of lupines in bloom" -- one swipe of his net reportedly captured a dozen of them. [Nabokov letter] [NYT]

The Russian author was a serious, self-taught butterfly expert. He even developed a hypothesis about the evolution of a group of blue butterflies that has since been supported by genetic research. [NYT]

In one of those weird turns of history, Karner -- the hamlet -- was named after Theodore Karner, its founder. He had plans to grow the place until it consumed much of the Pine Bush -- which would have killed off the habitat for the Karner Blue. His plans never got very far. [Kurt Johnson via Penn State]

Other people made more headway developing the Pine Bush. The Thruway plowed through it. The Albany landfill is there. And, of course, there's a mall. (There was once a little display near one of the entrances noting the Karner Blue -- that always struck us as... ironic.)

The loss of habitat -- not just here, but in other states such as Wisconsin and Michigan -- has threatened the Karner Blue and it's on a list protected by the federal Endangered Species Act. [US FWS]

In 1984, the Karner Blue lost out to the ladybug in its bid to become the official state insect, despite a campaign by school kids in Guilderland. The butterfly was clearly robbed. [NYT]

The Wilton Wildlife Preserve reportedly now has the largest population of Karner Blues in the Northeast. Roy McDonald -- the state Senator, who was once Wilton town supervisor -- told NYT in 1999 of the creation of the preserve: "If there was no butterfly we'd be doing this anyway, but the butterfly gives us the mystique." [Post-Star] [NYT]

There's a Lupine Festival there this weekend that includes walks for sighting the butterflies.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Why the Albany Pine Bush is sandy
+ On state animals, vegetables and whatnot

photo: Hollingsworth, J & K/US FWS via Wikipedia

Comments

Very interesting. I did not know that about Nabokov.

The blue lupine in front of the Pine Bush Discovery Center this year has been just beautiful! It definitely puts my garden (which includes a few lupine plants) to shame!

Say Something!

We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.

The Scoop

Ever wish you had a smart, savvy friend with the inside line on what's happening around the Capital Region? You know, the kind of stuff that makes your life just a little bit better? Yeah, we do, too. That's why we created All Over Albany. Find out more.

Recently on All Over Albany

Solar continues to grow around New York

The Capital Region had the second-highest amount of installed solar energy generation capacity in the state as of 2014, according to numbers released by the... (more)

Pasties, Pencils, and Pints 3rd anniversary

Sassy drink 'n draw Pasties, Pencils, and Pints returns to The Hangar in Troy July 16 after taking a few local months off. It's the... (more)

Albany I Spy 2015, game on

The clue sheet and map for this year's Albany I Spy, the popular photo scavenger hunt from Albany Archives and the Albany County Convention &... (more)

Hopping islands in the Hudson River

Ahead of the Rail, River, Hudson II tour this coming weekend, we have a series of posts focusing on the Hudson River this week. I've... (more)

Morning Blend

Dannemora escape David Sweat was discharged from Albany Med early Sunday morning and moved to the Five Points Correctional Facility in Romulus (in Seneca County),... (more)

Recent Comments

And there it is. Architectural panel. This is what the people in this project think is good enough for you, Troy. I can't wait til this project limps to the finish line in time for the upcoming elections. Then we can just go about calling the building what it really is: The Atrium 2.0

A look at the latest plan for the 1 Monument Square project in Troy

...has 22 comments, most recently from Paul

Neighborhood highlights

...has 3 comments, most recently from SGK

Good mechanic / specialist for car exhaust system repair?

...has 13 comments, most recently from Martin

Restricted public access at Kaaterskill Falls this summer

...has 1 comment, most recently from Gary Bisogna

Stuff to do this weekend

...has 1 comment, most recently from KB @ Home-Baked Happiness