CLOSE

Vladimir Nabokov's Karner Blue Butterfly Makes a Comeback

He may be famous for writing Lolita, Pale Fire, Invitation to a Beheading and many other seminal works of 20th century literature, but Vladimir Nabokov was also a well-known lepidopterist in his day. When Nabokov discovered and named the Karner blue butterfly in the 1940s, the species (Lycaeides melissa samueliswas already on the decline. Experts estimate that in the past 100 years, the Karner blue population has dropped by 99 percent. Its dwindling numbers earned the postage stamp–sized butterfly one of the first spots on the then-new U.S. Endangered Species List in 1973.

Now the nearly extinct Karner blue is making a comeback, thanks to two decades of concerted effort by conservationists.

Nabokov accurately noted that the Karner's decline was occurring in tandem with the loss of the pine barrens, its favored habitat. That's why for the past 20 years, conservationists have tried to rejuvenate the species by restoring the pine barrens through selective burning of the landscape, which destroys invasive plants and makes room for fire-dependent species like pitch pine and scrub oak to thrive.

These efforts haven't been uniformly successful across the butterfly's former range, which stretches from Minnesota to New England. For instance, the Karner blue is likely gone for good from Indiana, where 20 years ago biologists reported seeing 5,000 to 10,000 of the species but so far this year haven't found a single one. (They found two in 2014.)

But in central New York, where the butterfly was first discovered by Nabokov in the pine bush just outside Albany, the numbers are promising—the result of not only habitat restoration but a captive breeding program collaboration between New York and New Hampshire. Each year since 2001, New York has sent adult Karner blues to New Hampshire, and New Hampshire has returned some of the pupating larvae to Albany. These efforts have seen the Karner population bounce back from a mere 200 butterflies in 1991 to more than 14,000 today, according to Neil Gifford, conservation director for the 3,200-acre Albany Pine Bush Preserve.

"This project has been unbelievably rewarding," Gifford told WNYC. "Getting to see an animal that was on the brink of extinction locally, now have a robust and healthy population, is just incredible."

[h/t WNYC]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Tre' Packard
arrow
Art
Artists Transform the Polar Bear Capital of the World Into Massive Mural Gallery
Tre' Packard
Tre' Packard

The freezing village of Churchill, Manitoba has just gotten a whole lot brighter. Sixteen “artivists” recently descended on the self-titled Polar Bear Capital of the World, leaving behind beautiful murals with a meaningful message.

The Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans initiative is an international art project by the nonprofit PangeaSeed Foundation, which melds culture and environmental activism to increase public interest in saving our oceans. From 2014 to 2017, the program sponsored more than 300 murals in 12 countries by 200-plus artists from around the world.

Churchill’s Sea Walls were created in collaboration with the Polar Bear Fund (PBF), a nonprofit that supports innovative projects to raise awareness about the polar bears’ plight.

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Spending more than 80 percent of their time in the water, polar bears are technically sea creatures, PBF founder Kal Barteski said in a statement.

“Polar bears are directly affected by the unprecedented melting of sea ice and subsequent habitat destruction at an alarming rate, resulting in a big challenge for the species to survive.”

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Artist painting a polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Tre’ Packard is the founder and executive director of PangeaSeed. “Public art and activism can educate and inspire the global community to help save our seas,” he said.

“Regardless of your location – large metropolitan city or small seaside village like Churchill – the ocean supplies us with every second breath we take and life on Earth cannot exist without healthy oceans.”

All images courtesy of Tre’ Packard. Artists, top to bottom: Kal Barteski, Arlin, Dulk, Jason Botkin, and Charles Johnston.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
Harry Potter Has Created a Huge Black Market for Owls in Indonesia
iStock
iStock

There are many fantastical things in the Harry Potter world you can’t have. Teleportation. Invisibility. A weird tween’s ghost hanging out in your school bathroom. If you know where to look, though, you can buy yourself a pet owl like Hedwig. And that’s not a great thing for the owls.

In Indonesia, researchers believe that the popularity of the Harry Potter franchise is leading to a significant uptick in black-market owl trading, Nature reports.

A new study in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation examined the number of owl sales in 20 bird markets on the Indonesian islands of Bali and Java, where wild-caught birds are sold as pets. In the early 2000s, owls were rare in these markets, but now, more owls from a variety of species are available to buy, spelling bad news for bird conservation. (The first Indonesian translation of Harry Potter came out in 2000, and the first film was released in 2001.) In larger bird markets, there might be 30 to 60 owls representing as many as eight species available at once, according to the study. Owls made up less than 0.06 percent of the birds in Indonesian bird markets before 2002, but after 2008, they were 0.43 percent of the market.

While there could be other reasons for the increase in demand for owls as pets, such as greater internet access allowing people to trade info on where to get the birds, the world’s most famous boy wizard surely shares some of the blame. Look no further than the birds' popular name: "Harry Potter birds." They used to be known as "ghost birds," the researchers write.

Technically, selling wild-caught owls is illegal, but the law isn’t well enforced. Indonesia doesn’t monitor its native owl population, so it's hard to pin down exactly how this is affecting the numbers of wild owls in the region. But typically, nothing good comes of large numbers of wild birds being sold as pets, especially when they're kept in sub-par conditions. The paper's authors recommend that owls be placed on the country's protected species list, with better education for both bird traders and the public on the illegality of buying and selling owls caught in the wild. Maybe a "Save Hedwig" campaign is in order.

[h/t Nature]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios