Fender’s blue butterfly is endangered.
The species, once considered extinct, is no longer considered endangered, according to a Jan. 11 news release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The group reclassified the species from “endangered” to “threatened” and finalized a rule to make it easier for landowners to manage the species.
“This is a tremendous success story — a journey from extinction to recovery,” Craig Rowland, acting state director for the service’s Oregon office, said in a news release. “We’ve gotten to the point where we’re able to downgrade because of successful partnerships with landowners, conservation agencies, businesses, others, and the work our National Wildlife Refuge is doing to protect Fender butterflies.
“This is another species that has made incredible progress in Oregon,” he added.
According to the press release, the reclassification will take effect on February 13.
Fender’s blue butterfly is found only in Oregon’s Willamette Valley — a 150-mile stretch of the state that stretches from Portland to Eugene — service said. The species was thought to be extinct in 1937 but was rediscovered in 1989. Due to local conservation efforts, the butterfly population increased from about 3,391 in 2000 to 13,700 in 2018, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s species assessment.
For Sujud Ottman, a biology and urban agriculture teacher at Evanston Township High School in Illinois and amateur butterfly conservationist, the species’ recovery is a “sign of hope” for other endangered species.
Ottman told CNN that Fender’s blue butterfly is unique because it prefers to lay its eggs on lupine, a host plant known as Kincaid. This makes the survival of butterflies and plants deeply intertwined. Kincaid lupines are also classified as “threatened” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Altman added that the life cycle of these insects is also interesting. Fender’s caterpillars enter a delayed development called diapause over winter before growing into fully formed butterflies. Adults only live about 10 days, during which time they must find a mate and reproduce.
Habitat loss and human prevention of natural wildfires are the main threats facing the Fanta blue butterfly, Altman said. Wildfires are necessary to prevent the conversion of grassland habitats that butterflies rely on to forests.
Conservation efforts include the planting of thousands of kincai lupines for butterflies to lay their eggs, as well as prescribed fires to maintain the vital grassland environment.
The reclassification of the species is “good news,” Altman added. “It’s so inspiring to learn that a butterfly once thought to be extinct is now off the endangered species list.
“It’s really amazing and it gives me a lot of hope.”
As pollinators, butterflies are an important part of our ecosystem, she explained. That’s part of why protecting endangered butterflies is so important. “I find this story, well, really inspiring, and I hope it ignites an inner fire to continue the conservation work that they’re doing,” she said.
For Altman, the resurgence of the Fanta blue butterfly may herald hope for other endangered butterfly species, such as the iconic monarch butterfly. In July 2022, the monarch butterfly was listed as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
“My dream is for Monarch to basically follow in the footsteps of Fender’s blue butterfly and, you know, thrive too,” she says. “I believe we can do it, we can reverse the damage we’ve done.”