Rare but­ter­fly thrives on Amer­i­can mil­i­tary bases thanks to the way veg­e­ta­tion is con­trolled

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - MARK PRATT

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.

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