The Karner blue butterfly, Lycaeides melissa samuelis, is an endangered species residing in savanna and barrens habitats in the Midwest and Northeast United States. To improve our understanding of nectar plant selection patterns by the Karner blue, we examined nectar plant choices made by 146 butterflies. Within observation areas of 2-m radius butterflies usually chose the nectar species with the greatest total number of flowers or flowering heads. This suggests that the Karner blue is opportunistic in selecting nectar plants. However, certain nectar species, including Arabis lyrata, Coreopsis lanceolata, Melilotus alba, and Rubus flagellaris, were selected in a significant majority of cases when other nectar species were available nearby. At least in the case of R. flagellaris, this preference was not directly related to the species' local flower abundance. In a significant majority of cases (77.5%) adult Karner blues selected nectar plant species with yellow or white flowers over species with other-colored flowers. Comparison of nectar plant selections at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to selections from Michigan and Wisconsin suggests that the Karner blue most frequently chooses a suite of nectar plant species that includes A. lyrata, C. lanceolata, Euphorbia corollata, M. alba, Monarda punctata, Potentilla simplex, Rubus spp., Solidago speciosa and, perhaps, Asclepias tuberosa and Helianthus divaricatus. This suite includes plant species that readily flower in the sun and others that readily flower in the shade, an important consideration since Karner blues often move across the sun-shade interface.
Additional publication details
Nectar plant selection by the Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore