It’s been about two decades since the government project began to preserve New Hampshire’s state butterfly, the Karner blue. Since then, the Karners have rebounded in their specially-conserved pine barrens near the Concord Municipal Airport.
Now, scientists are turning their attention to another butterfly in the same area. The research is shedding light on the wider effects that this kind of habitat preservation can have.
The frosted elfin butterfly doesn’t look nearly as fancy as its name suggests. It’s small, no bigger than a quarter, with mousy brown wings and little black spots.
New Hampshire Fish and Game biologist Heidi Holman unzips one of several small mesh cubes inside the makeshift greenhouse at the state’s butterfly breeding lab.
“There are 500 chrysalises in all of these tents,” she says.
Holman reaches into a tent with some butterflies that have recently emerged, and delicately lifts out a frosted elfin.