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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 26, 2008

Will Karner blues thrive again?
FMS students bring rare butterflies to life

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — “One female laid eggs,” said Alan Fiero on Tuesday with the sound of victory in his voice.

A decade ago, science teacher Fiero told The Enterprise that his plans for a butterfly garden at Farnsworth Middle School would culminate with the breeding of the rare Karner blue butterfly. The Karner blue, which once thrived on the native lupine in the Albany Pine Bush, is now an endangered species.

The diminutive periwinkle butterflies used to swarm in the Albany area but have, in recent years, become a rare site as development ate up the scrub-pine barrens where lupine grows.

As Fiero and the students at Farnsworth worked on their project, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission built up the acreage for the butterfly’s habitat. A decade ago, there were just 15 acres of suitable habitat; now there are nearly 200 acres.

The middle-school students worked with commission staff under state and federal permits to raise Karner blue caterpillars, feeding them lupine leaves daily for the past three weeks. Farnsworth Middle School, Fiero said, was the first school in the country to get a license from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to breed the butterflies.

For years, Farnsworth students had raised other butterfly species and hosted tours of the garden in their school’s courtyard, stocked with native plants.

Last year, Fiero traveled to Indiana to “model their procedure,” as he put it. The project was close to success then. “We were given five females,” Fiero said a year ago, “but it was late in the season. We didn’t get any eggs…If they don’t lay eggs in three days, you need to get another female.”

“We’ll try again next year with more Karner blues,” Fiero promised a year ago.

And they did.

This year, 50 eggs were hatched from five Karner females at the school. Thirty caterpillars have built their chrysalis, which will be released in enclosures in restored preserve sites, with the goal of establishing new populations.

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