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The Butterfly Conservation Initiative (BFCI) was established in 2001 as the result of a partnership developed between the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This partnership was developed to support the recovery of endangered and threatened butterflies in the United States, and to develop a public awareness of and involvement in butterfly conservation efforts. Binder Park Zoo was one of the original 12 founding members of BFCI and today there are over 50 members and partners. All of these institutions provide financial support or in-kind contributions directly to BFCI.

Through BCFI, zoos are able to have direct impact on habitat restoration and creation, native plant propagation, captive rearing, education and outreach and population monitoring. Binder Park Zoo offers yearly financial support and also directly participates in population monitoring of the endangered Mitchell’s satyr butterfly and the Karner Blue butterfly in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Staff contributed 68 hours of monitoring last year and plans to increase their hours in 2008. We will also be developing teacher workshops specifically for Mitchell’s satyr with the help of the Toledo Zoo. Through these workshops we hope to get local teachers excited about butterflies and habitat conservation in their own backyard and develop curriculum for area students.

 Karner blue butterfly

The Karner blue is a very attractive butterfly. The male has vibrant blue wings with black and white on the fringes. The female is duller with more gray or brown hues and orange crescent shaped markings along the wing margin.

Karner blue butterfly
Karner blue butterfly

Measuring only about an inch, they are often confused with more common species like the spring azure. The Karner blue is dependant upon oak savanna with wild lupine and abundant prairie grasses and flowers to survive. Much of the Karner blue habitat has been destroyed or fragmented due to human development, thus leading to its inclusion on the USFWS Endangered Species list. Historically the Karner blues range extended from Maine to Minnesota, but now is confined to isolated populations in Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, New York, New Hampshire and Minnesota. Efforts are underway through the USFWS and BFCI to work with private landowners in Michigan and Wisconsin to preserve or recreate habitat for the Karner blue. Binder Park Zoo has developed resources for classroom use in area schools on the conservation of the Karner blue. There are several reintroduction programs that are on-going in Indiana and New Hampshire. The US Forest Service in Michigan has an intensive monitoring program in the Manistee and Huron National Forests. Binder Park Zoo began participating in this monitoring program in 2007 when staff, working directly with the US Forest Service, spent over 60 hours in the field surveying and identifying Karner blue butterflies and their habitat in the Manistee National Forest near White Cloud, MI. The butterfly has a relatively short life, so timing is critical when doing the surveys. The first butterflies of the season hatch as caterpillars in April. They feed exclusively on wild lupine. In mid May, they develop into chrysalids from which they emerge as adult butterflies in late May or early June. These adults then lay eggs in July, which become adults in late summer. This second emergence of adults will breed and lay the eggs that will over winter and hatch the following spring. Binder Park Zoo has made the Karner blue butterfly a conservation priority and we will continue to expand our involvement in their conservation and habitat preservation.

 Mitchell’s satyr butterfly

The Mitchell’s satyr is a critically endangered butterfly. Historically found throughout Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and New Jersey, it survives in only two sites in Indiana and 17 sites in Michigan, possibly in our own backyard. Though a lot still needs to be learned about the satyr, it thrives in a critically endangered habitat, the wetland fen. These fens are characterized by low-nutrient levels and high alkaline levels and are ominated by sedges and coniferous trees such as tamarack and red cedar.

Mitchell's satyr
Mitchell's satyr

Habitat destruction is the butterfly’s greatest threat. Wetlands are continuosly filled in to make room for human development or agricultural land. Remaining wetlands are threatened by agricultural run-off and invasive plants such as purple loosestrife. It is also widely believed that entire populations of Mitchell’s satyr have been wiped out by butterfly collectors alone. The remaining populations are so small that the removal of even a few specimens may cause the decline of the entire population. Only one generation of Mitchell’s satyr is produced each year, so population growth is slow to begin with. The Mitchell’s satyr was placed permanently on the endangered species list in 1992, but it wasn’t until 1998 that a recovery plan was developed. The plan calls for monitoring of existing populations and surveying for additional, unknown populations, establishing a research program to determine the ecological requirements of the butterfly, develop protection strategies for existing habitat, develop outreach public awareness programs, and developing and implementation of a strategy to reestablish populations throughout its historic range.

Binder Park Zoo will be working with the Toledo Zoo to develop an educational outreach program and teacher workshop to address the plight of the Mitchell’s satyr. Staff have been training to locate the butterfly and it’s habitat and will continue to participate in habitat monitoring and surveying for unknown populations. We are also investigating the possibility of our participation in a captive rearing and release program.

Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural AffairsBattle Creek Community Foundation