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New Hampshire's State Butterfly

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The beautiful and endangered Karner blue butterfly

The beautiful and endangered Karner blue butterfly

The Karner Blue: Information for Teachers and Students

New Hampshire's state butterfly is the Karner blue. It was designated the official state butterfly of New Hampshire in 1992, even though it is named for a town in New York where it was first found. This article tells you what you want to know about this wonderful butterfly.

The Karner Blue's Scientific Name

New Hampshire's state butterfly belongs to a group of butterflies called "the blues." They are usually fragile and small, and can be easily overlooked. However they are among the most common butterflies around, especially in spring. The family, that includes the blues includes many other kinds of butterflies. Northern species are generally fairly drab, but southern species are among the world's most breathtakingly beautiful insects. The scientific name for this group is the family Lycaenidae. It includes not just blues (subfamily Polyommatinae) but also the hairstreaks and coppers. There are many kinds of butterflies in the group, and they all share some special characteristics.

The scientific name of the Karner blue is Plebejus melissa samuelis. That means the genus name is Plebejus, the species name is melissa, and the subspecies name is samuelis. Scientific names are always in italics.

The Karner Blue

The Karner Blue

Karner Blue Facts: Did You Know?

Learn more about this these fascinating insects! Here are some highlights that you will read about in this lesson:

  1. The Karner blue is one of the rarest butterflies in North America, and is protected throughout its range
  2. This butterfly only occurs in a few localized areas, and is vulnerable to industrial and residential development
  3. The Karner blue is a subspecies of a very common species, the melissa blue.
  4. Karner blues only feed on one kind of wildflower
  5. Blues are related to hairstreaks
  6. The Karner blue's caterpillar is more like a slug, and moves in a gliding motion

Make sure you take the Quiz at the end of this article before you leave!

New Hampshire's State Butterfly, showing typical underside pattern

New Hampshire's State Butterfly, showing typical underside pattern

The Melissa Blue and the Karner Blue

The Karner blue is a subspecies of a very widespread species, Plebejus melissa. This species is found across the western part of North America, and is generally very common. The Karner blue is essentially the eastern version of the Melissa blue, and has been geographically separated long enough to be considered a subspecies (samuelis). The two butterflies are very similar in appearance, and perhaps the best way to tell them apart is by the location in which they are found -- if it's a ways east of the Mississippi, it's likely to be the Karner blue.

As a middle school teacher myself, I wrote this guide to be useful for both students and teachers. It's a great place to start for research ideas and science fair projects!

A typical "blue," on grasses

A typical "blue," on grasses

Will the Karner Blue Become Extinct?

The Karner blue is only found in very specific, limited habitats, which is the primary reason that it is considered to be at risk. If human development or climate change were to eliminate the only environment in which it can thrive, then it will be extirpated from its range.

Within its range, this species is restricted to dry sandy areas with open woods, near good stands of wild blue lupine. This is the plant on which the caterpillar feeds, and without it the Karner blue cannot survive. There are other specifics that the butterfly needs in its environment, but without wild blue lupine, it will die out.

Life Cycle

Like nearly all adult butterflies, Karner blues feed on flower nectar; they may also augment their diet with sap and other fluids. The main purpose of adult butterflies (and all adult insects) is to find a mate and reproduce. New Hampshire's state insect lives in colonies that permit easier location of a mate. Once the adult butterflies mate, the female lays her eggs on the leaves of wild blue lupine. The slug-like larvae eat the leaves.

Typical caterpillar in the subfamily Polyommatinae, the blues.

Typical caterpillar in the subfamily Polyommatinae, the blues.

Complete Metamorphosis

"Complete metamorphosis" is the term used to describe the life cycle of insects that go through a four-stage sequence of forms. For butterflies, this means egg-larva-cocoon/chrysalis-adult. It helps to take the butterfly as the example, although dragonflies, bees, wasps, flies, beetles, and many other insects also go through complete metamorphosis. Like butterflies, they all have larvae and all of the other developmental stages.

The Karner blue butterfly is typical of the insects that undergo complete metamorphosis. The egg is laid on the food plant, and the caterpillar that hatches out eats the leaves of the plant. As it grows, it sheds its skin, also known as molting. The stages between molts are called instars, and after the last instar, the caterpillar sheds its skin one more time.


The last time the caterpillar sheds its skin, it enters the cocoon/chrysalis phase, known by scientists as "diapause." It's also called a "pupa." Inside the pupa, the insect's cells are rearranging. They actually break down into a kind of goop, and then reassemble to form the body and wings of the adult butterfly or moth.

The final "instar" occurs when the insect hatches out of the pupal skin. It is now ready to mate and continue the cycle. The adult feeds just enough to promote the goal of mating and laying eggs; other than that, it has no purpose on this planet.

Take Part in Our Poll!

The Endangered Karner Blue

This beautiful butterfly is hanging on by a thread -- please do what you can to keep natural habitats from being destroyed by development!

We need to protect the land that butterflies need to live on!

We need to protect the land that butterflies need to live on!

Students – Can you Pass This Quiz?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What famous author was the first to describe the Karner blue?
    • Charles Dickens
    • Cormac McCarthy
    • Stephen King
    • Vladimir Nabokov
  2. The Karner blue is a subspecies of which common blue?
    • Eastern tailed blue
    • Melissa blue
    • Green-bordered blue
    • None of these
  3. True or False: The Karner blue larva feeds on lupines.
    • True
    • False
  4. What are the stages of complete metamorphosis?
    • egg, larva, pupa, adult
    • egg, pupa, adult
    • egg, larva, adult
    • larva, pupa, adult
  5. In which part of the USA can you find the Karner blue?
    • Southwest
    • West Coast
    • Northeast
    • None of these

Answer Key

  1. Vladimir Nabokov
  2. Melissa blue
  3. True
  4. egg, larva, pupa, adult
  5. Northeast

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The following sources were used for this guide:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.