Northern blue butterfly (Plebejus idas)

loading
Northern blue butterfly
loading
Loading more images and videos...

Northern blue butterfly fact file

Northern blue butterfly description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumArthropoda
ClassInsecta
OrderLepidoptera
FamilyLycaenidae
GenusPlebejus (1)

The northern blue butterfly (Plebejus idas) is a small North American butterfly with bright silvery-blue to purplish-blue wings, outlined with a narrow dark border and a white fringe (2) (3) (4) (5). The female northern blue butterfly is more variable in colour than the male, generally being grey-brown above, with the blue colouration confined to the bases and rear edges of the wings (2) (4) (5). The hind wing of the female has a row of dark, sometimes orange spots along its outer edges (2) (5).

In both the male and female northern blue butterfly, the undersides of the wings are dull greyish to white, with several rows of small, black spots. There is also a row of orange crescents and metallic blue and black spots near the wing margins, particularly on the hind wings (2) (4) (5). A thin black line around the wing margins expands into triangles or small dots at the ends of the wing veins (2) (3).

The northern blue butterfly is somewhat variable in appearance across its range (3), and a number of subspecies are recognised (1) (4).

The caterpillar of the northern blue butterfly is shaped like a slug, and is green with a dark line on the upper surface and light yellow stripes along the sides. Its head is small and black (4).

The primary distinguishing feature of the northern blue butterfly, which separates it from most other related species, is the combination of orange spots on the underside of the wings and the lack of a ‘tail’ on the hind wings (2). The northern blue butterfly is very similar in appearance to the Melissa blue (Plebejus melissa), but usually has less orange on the underside of the wings. The female Melissa blue also has an orange band on the upper surfaces of the wings. The males of the two species are more difficult to tell apart (4) (5).

Also known as
Idas blue, Nabokov’s blue, northern blue.
Synonyms
Lycaeides argyrognomon nabokovi, Lycaeides idas.
Size
Wingspan: 2.2 - 3.8 cm (2) (3)
Top

Northern blue butterfly biology

The northern blue butterfly produces a single brood of young each year. Adult northern blue butterflies emerge in early June to July, with the males typically emerging before the females and flying within a metre of the ground as they patrol for a mate (2) (3) (4) (5). Mating usually occurs close to patches of dwarf bilberry (Vaccinium caespitosum), a small shrub which serves as a host plant for the northern blue butterfly’s larvae (2) (4) (5).

After mating, the female northern blue butterfly lays eggs singly on the stems of the host plant or on nearby vegetation. The eggs of this species remain dormant over the winter, not hatching until the following spring, when the caterpillar begins feeding on the host plant (2) (3) (4) (5). In some areas, the northern blue butterfly has also been observed using other species as host plants for its caterpillars, including black crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum) and sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) (2).

The caterpillars and pupae of the northern blue butterfly are tended by Formica ants, which probably help to protect the caterpillars from predators and parasitoids (4) (5). The caterpillar has specialised organs that produce a secretion that the ants feed upon, and probably also mimics ant pheromones to further manipulate the ants’ behaviour (5). The northern blue butterfly caterpillar usually pupates by mid-June to early July, forming a green pupa that gradually turns yellow and then black before the adult emerges about ten days later (4) (5).

The adult northern blue butterfly feeds on the nectar of a variety of native and non-native flowers (2) (3) (4) (5), but is nearly always found near to patches of the caterpillar’s host plant (5). Although the adult may live for up to three weeks after emerging, the average adult survival is usually no more than a week (5).

Top

Northern blue butterfly range

The northern blue butterfly ranges from Nova Scotia in Canada, south to the Great Lakes region of the United States, including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan (2) (3) (4) (5). Its range also extends west across Canada to Alaska, and south into the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, as far as California, Idaho and Colorado (3) (4) (5).

Top

Northern blue butterfly habitat

Open sandy, rocky or savanna-like landscapes with a ground cover of dwarf bilberry (Vaccinium caespitosum) are the dominant habitats of the northern blue butterfly. This species commonly occurs in openings in pine forests, and is often associated with railroads, roadsides and rock outcrops (2) (4) (5).

Top

Northern blue butterfly status

The northern blue butterfly has yet to be classified by the IUCN.

Top

Northern blue butterfly threats

Major threats to the northern blue butterfly include the encroachment of woody vegetation into open areas populated with dwarf bilberry shrubs, as well as forestry practices that eliminate its host plant or affect forest openings (4) (5). The importance of fire for the northern blue butterfly is uncertain, as fire preserves open dry habitat, but is directly related to dwarf bilberry and butterfly mortality (2) (4) (5). Vehicle traffic and mortality due to parasitoids also negatively affect the northern blue butterfly’s survival (4).

At least one subspecies of the northern blue butterfly, the lotis blue butterfly (Plebejus idas lotis), is highly threatened. This subspecies is probably naturally rare, but is now known from only one small region in California (3) (4), having lost its host plant due to vegetation changes caused by human disturbance (3). Some fear that the lotis blue butterfly may already be extinct (4).

Top

Northern blue butterfly conservation

Conservation efforts for the northern blue butterfly should target the management of this species’ host plants, specifically the dwarf bilberry, and deter the growth of woody vegetation (2) (4) (6). It will be important to adequately protect the northern blue butterfly’s habitat, and also to enhance it by maintaining existing open areas and creating new ones (2) (4).

Additional monitoring and field surveys have also been suggested to aid conservation efforts for this species, as it would be beneficial to learn more about the northern blue butterfly’s biology and ecology (2) (3) (4) (6). Prescribed burns coupled with butterfly monitoring have been suggested for long-term conservation efforts, although burns needs to be used with caution as the northern blue butterfly itself is vulnerable to fire (2) (4) (5).

Top

Find out more

Find out more about the northern blue butterfly and its conservation:

More information on butterfly conservation in North America:

Top

Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

This species information was authored as part of the ARKive and Universities Scheme.
Top

Glossary

Larvae
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Parasitoid
An organism (usually an insect) whose larvae live as parasites on a single host organism (typically another insect), which they eventually kill, often consuming most or all of its tissues in the process.
Pheromone
A chemical produced by an animal, which stimulates a behavioural or physiological response by another member of the same species.
Pupa
In some insects, a stage in the life cycle during which the larval form is reorganised into the adult form. The pupa is usually inactive, and may be encased in a chrysalis, cocoon or other protective coating.
Pupate
The process of becoming a pupa, the stage in the life cycle of some insects during which the larval form is reorganised into the adult form. The pupa is usually inactive, and may be encased in a chrysalis, cocoon or other protective coating.
Subspecies
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Top

References

  1. Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (September, 2011)
    http://www.itis.gov/
  2. Cuthrell, D.L. (2001) Special Animal Abstract for Lycaeides idas nabokovi (Northern Blue Butterfly). Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Lansing, Michigan. Available at:
    http://web4.msue.msu.edu/mnfi/abstracts/zoology/Lycaeides_idas_nabokovi.pdf
  3. Opler, P.A., Lotts, K. and Naberhaus, T. (2011) Northern blue, Plebejus idas. In: Butterflies and Moths of North America. Big Sky Institute, Bozeman, Massachusetts. Available at:
    http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/
  4. Wolf, A.T and Brzeskiewicz, M. (2002) Conservation Assessment for Northern Blue Butterfly - Plebejus (Lycaeides) idas nabokovi (Masters) and Dwarf Bilberry - Vaccinium caespitosum (Michx). USDA Forest Service, Eastern Region, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Available at:
    http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/wildlife/tes/ca-overview/docs/no_blue_bilberry_1102.pdf
  5. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources: Species Profile - Lycaeides idas nabokovi, Nabokov’s blue (July, 2011)
    http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/rsg/profile.html?action=elementDetail&selectedElement=IILEPG501B
  6. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (2011) Protocol for Incidental Take Authorization: Northern Blue Butterfly (Lycaeides idas nabokovi). Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, Wisconsin. Available at:
    http://dnr.wi.gov/org/land/er/take/pdfs/gsp_2011/northernbluebutterfly2011.pdf
X
Close

Image credit

Northern blue butterfly  
Northern blue butterfly

© Patti Murray / Animals Animals

Animals Animals / Earth Scenes
17 Railroad Avenue
Chatham
NY
12037
United States of America
Tel: +01 (518) 3925500
Fax: +01 (518) 3925550
info@animalsanimals.com
http://www.animalsanimals.com

X
Close

Link to this photo

ARKive species - Northern blue butterfly (Plebejus idas) Embed this ARKive thumbnail link ("portlet") by copying and pasting the code below.

Terms of Use - The displayed portlet may be used as a link from your website to ARKive's online content for private, scientific, conservation or educational purposes only. It may NOT be used within Apps.

Read more about

X
Close

MyARKive

MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.

Play the Team WILD game:

Team WILD, an elite squadron of science superheroes, needs your help! Your mission: protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction.

Conservation in Action

Which species are on the road to recovery? Find out now »

This species is featured in:

This species is found in Wisconsin's Northwoods and has been profiled with the support of a Wisconsin-based family who care deeply about the area. To learn more visit our eco-region pages.

Help us share the wonders of the natural world. Donate today!

Blog RSS