Rare butterfly thrives on American military bases thanks to the way vegetation is controlled
In the shadow of giant war machines, a tiny rare butterfly is flourishing. And hard though it may be to believe, experts say credit is due to the U.S. military.
The frosted elfin, which flutters along on a tiny 2.5 centimetres wingspan, has found a home at several defence installations because of the way the military manages open spaces, said Robyn Niver, an endangered species biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Military training requires vast open areas, so these bases are some of our last great wild places,” Niver said.
Sightings of the little brown butterfly have been confirmed at Westover Air Reserve Base and Camp Edwards in Massachusetts; Fort McCoy in Wisconsin; Fort Bragg in North Carolina; and the New Hampshire State Military Reservation. The common thread among the bases is the way they manage vegetation through controlled burning, which creates the perfect conditions for wild blue lupine and indigo to grow — both host plants to the frosted elfin caterpillar.
The dainty butterflies were first spotted at Westover in Chicopee, Mass., about 20 years ago, according to Jack Moriarty, the base’s chief of environmental engineering.
Proper vegetation control is critical for the safety of the massive military transport aircraft stationed at Westover. If the vegetation is cut too short, it attracts geese and gulls, increasing the risk of aircraft strikes. If it is allowed to grow too tall, turkeys, deer, and coyotes move in. Lupine and indigo are just the right height.
A frosted elfin butterfly, believed to be headed to the federal endangered species list, is seen at the Fort McCoy Army Installation in Wisconsin.