Karner Blue Butterfly Conservation Program

Karner Blue Butterfly Conservation Program

The endangered Karner blue butterfly

Contact Information

Louis Perrotti
Director, Conservation Programs
1000 Elmwood Avenue
Providence, RI 02907-3659
(401) 785-3510 ext. 335


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.

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.

Conservation Program Overview

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 less 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.

Since the spring of 2002, Roger Williams Park Zoo has participated in this ongoing habitat restoration project for the Karner blue.  Each year our Horticultural Department continues to provide over 200 lupine plants, the butterfly larvae’s sole food source, and to provide plants for the on going habitat restoration effort in New Hampshire.  In 2005 we started rearing the larva of the endangered butterfly for release at the habitat restoration site.  So far we have hatched and reared to pupae over 750 Karner Blue eggs.

Since 2003, we have sent RWP Zoo volunteers and staff to assist in the annual Lupine planting. RWP Zoo Director of Conservation Programs Lou Perrotti engaged his counterparts at the Franklin Park Zoo and Stone Zoos in Massachusetts, the Boston Museum of Science, and Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo to participate in the restoration project.

Overall results to date:

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.