Celastrina humulus: the Hops Blue Butterfly
This is a tetraptych of the tiny (quarter-sized) and rare hops blue butterfly (Celastrina humulus) I photographed last week along Monument Creek at the Air Force Academy as part of a research project for my work at the Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP). They are all females, with the one on top right inserting her ovipositor into the small male wild hops flower to insert her eggs.
For a really cool story about the power of a novel idea being actualized into important research on this rare butterfly, please read on.
While conducting a recent biological inventory at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Rob Schorr and Jeremy Siemers of CNHP stumbled upon a population of hops azure butterfly. Celastrina humulus is an imperiled endemic that only occurs along the Colorado Front range which takes its name from its host plant, wild hops (Humulus lupulus). Schorr and Siemers’ discovery kicked off discussions about monitoring and assessing the prevalence of the butterfly on its plant host and led to what seemed like a feasible research plan, which (surprise!) faced funding challenges. When Schorr and Siemers sought their own solace in hops (i.e. beer), they grasped that the key to funding was already right in their hands.
"It's difficult to find a species or a habitat that appeals to a broader audience outside the conservation management community," zoologist Robert Schorr said. "A butterfly that is rare and likes hops doesn't present itself every day."
A visit to the Odell Brewing Company back in Fort Collins quickly catalyzed the concept of a beer to commemorate the tiny Colorado invertebrate. On May 18 of last year, Odell released Celastrina Saison, a limited-release Belgian farmhouse ale whose 750-ml bottle displays a male hops azure. Most importantly for the butterfly, $1 from the purchase of each bottle went into an endowment of over $10,000 CNHP has established to assist with research on Celastrina humulus.
The Celastrina Project's overall goal is to develop funds that can be used as small stipends for honors students’ research on rare species. These funds will help honors students in the in the fish, wildlife, and conservation biology department of the Warner College of Nature Resources here at CSU to take their education about wildlife ecology into the outdoors and apply it to understand the unique species and habitats of Colorado. The model for this began in 2014, when CNHP sponsored the first Celastrina Project honors student to study the population ecology of the hops blue butterfly and continues on this summer with two new students.
To learn more about CNHP or to contact us, please look here: http://www.cnhp.colostate.edu/