A lepidopeteran (butterfly) that is situated in North America, the Karner Blue took it's common name from the hamlet of Karner in the Albany Pine Bush of New York state. It has a 26 mm wingspan. The males are a more vibrant blue, while the females are a more subdued shade of blue.

The Karner Blue was classified by Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov, who also wrote critically acclaimed novels such as Lolita, Pale Fire, and Pnin. Karner Blue butterflies were one of the first animals to be on the endangered species list and was the poster child for the endangered animals list for several years.

The Karner Blue is very reactive to changes in environment and effectively their populations have been decimated by over use of pesticides and other chemicals.The Karner Blue's fight with extinction is directly related to the natural cycles of fire in forests of North America. Naturally, the Karner Blue local populations are lowered by a fire, however there were larger populations spread throughout much of the United States which would be able to cover that drop in population.

Today, however, if fire burns a reduced patch of habitat, there is not likely to be another group of Karners close enough to repopulate the area. Tiny, isolated swaths of territory aren't enough to support populations of Karner Blues. It has been estimated that the Karner's numbers have plummeted by 90 percent over the past decade.

Vladimir Nabokov's work with the Karner Blue is evident in his fiction writing as well. In a rather famous quote from Pnin, "A score of small butterflies, all of one kind, were settled on a damp patch of sand, their wings erect and closed, showing their pale undersides with dark dots and tiny orange-rimmed peacock spots along the hindwing margins' one of Pnin's shed rubbers disturbed some of them and revealing the celestial hue of their upper surface, they fluttered around like blue snowflakes before settling again."

The Karner Blue was first described and classified by the author Vladimir Nabokov in 1949 on the strength of nine male specimens which had been collected in the vicinity of Telluride, Colorado, fifty years previously and stored in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard. Although he initially classified it as Lycaeides melissa sublivens Nabokov, he later (sometime in the early to mid 1970’s) concluded that it was a distinct species, and changed its classification to Lycaeides samuelis Nabokov.

In 1951 he visited Telluride with his wife (also a passionate lepidopterist) expressly for the purpose of catching the first known female specimens, and on the thirteenth day of their search he finally succeeded. His notes concerning this period can be found at http://www.lib.ru/NABOKOW/batterfly.txt and are well worth reading, since they neatly combine Nabokov’s love of precision with his seemingly effortlessly exquisite prose. An example:

"When reached at last, Telluride turned out to be a damp, unfrequented, but very spectacular cul-de-sac (which a prodigious rainbow straddled every evening)... Every morning the sky would be of an impeccable blue at 6 a.m. when I set out. The first innocent cloudlet would scud across at 7:30 a.m. Bigger fellows with darker bellies would start tampering with the sun around 9 a.m., just as we emerged from the shadow of the cliffs and trees... " (1)


    Sources:
  • (1) Vladimir Nabokov, The Female of Lycaedes Sublivens Nab, originally published in The Lepidopterists' News, New Haven, Conn., Vol. 6, August 8, 1952; quoted on http://www.lib.ru/NABOKOW/batterfly.txt
  • Vladimir Nabokov, On a Book Entitled Lolita, November 12, 1956; a postscript which appeared in later editions of his novel Lolita.
    Further reading:
  • Nabokov's Blues, The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius by Kurt Johnson and Steven Coates, published by Zoland Books.

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