Karner Blue Butterfly: Key Facts

Did you know that Karner blues depend on a single plant for their survival? Or that they are a subspecies of a very similar looking butterfly? Keep reading to learn more about these and other Karner blue butterfly key facts.

Quick Facts About Karner Blue Butterflies

Scientific Name:Lycaeides melissa samuelis
Type of Animal:Insect: butterfly
Number of Species:1 (subspecies of Melissa blue butterfly)
Physical Description:Small, bluish butterflies. Males are a shimmery blue-violet, while females are a duller blue-gray. Both males and females have black spots and orange bands on the underside of their lower wings; females often have an orange band on the topside of their lower wings as well. Their larvae are light mint-green in color, short, stubby, and somewhat flat. Their chrysalises are green and vaguely conical, and their eggs are tiny, pearlescent white, and pointed at the top.
Distribution:Found in isolated pockets of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, New York, and New Hampshire.
Habitat:Dry, sunny, sandy, open forested areas such as oak savannas, pine barrens.
Diet:– Larvae: Wild blue lupine
– Adult butterflies: various nectar plants
Size:As adults, they have a wingspan about 1 inch in diameter.
Life Stages:– Egg
– Larva (caterpillar)
– Pupa (chrysalis)
– Butterfly
Lifespan:About 1 to 2 months from hatching to death of the adult butterfly.

What are Karner Blue Butterflies?

Karner blues are small butterflies found in scattered regions of the Great Lakes and New England states. They used to have a much larger range, but their numbers have fallen drastically due to loss of habitat and climate change.

They have been federally listed as an endangered species since 1992. For this reason, efforts have been made to preserve their current habitats and restore their numbers.

Karner blues live in pine barrens and oak savannas, which are relatively rare ecosystems. Their survival depends on the wild blue lupine plant, which often dies off due to succession in these ecosystems.

The Karner blue life cycle begins in April to May each year, when larvae hatch from overwintering eggs. These larvae reach adulthood by early June.

These summer butterflies mate and lay eggs before dying within a few days to a few weeks. Their eggs hatch within a week, and this second batch of butterflies reach adulthood by mid-August.

These butterflies then mate and lay eggs that will remain dormant until the following spring, at which point, the cycle starts over.

Check out this video to learn more about Karner blue butterflies:

How Did the Karner Blue Butterfly Get Its Name?

The Karner blue gets its name from a hamlet in New York. These small butterflies were first discovered and described in the hamlet of Karner, which is close to Albany, in the 1800s.

This hamlet was located in the Albany Pine Bush region of New York. They were discovered and named by novelist Vladimir Nabokov, who initially included them as an unnamed species in one of his novels before naming the butterflies.

As mentioned above, the Karner blue is a subspecies of the Melissa blue butterfly, Plebejus melissa, which looks almost identical and is far more widely distributed throughout North America. This is how the Karner blue came to have melissa in its scientific name.  


The Karner blue butterfly is an endangered species found in only a few scattered pockets around the Great Lakes region. Its name comes from the hamlet in New York where it was first discovered in the 1800s. If you want to learn some more fun facts about them, check out this article.

Don’t forget to read about other forest insects and butterflies – these are our popular guides about monarchs, praying mantises and tiger swallowtails.

6022 S Drexel Ave
Chicago, IL 60637


If you would like to support in the form of donation or sponsorship, please contact us HERE.

You will find more information about our wildlife conservation campaigns HERE.


You should not rely on any information contained on this website, and you use the website at your own risk. We try to help our visitors better understand forest habitats; however, the content on this blog is not a substitute for expert guidance. For more information, please read our PRIVACY POLICY.