Albany Pine Bush News

Worker ants of the species commonly called the Odorous House Ant tend a Karner Larvae at the Albany Pine Bus Preserve.

Worker ants of the species commonly called the Odorous House Ant tend a Karner blue butterfly larvae at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve.

Did you know endangered Karner blue butterflies are protected not just by people, but by ants, too?

Ants affect us all in one way or another, but some species of plants and animals communicate with and depend on ants directly. The Karner blue is one of these. Although Karners are capable of completing their life cycles without help from ants, scientists have shown that ants are able to protect the caterpillars from attacks by predators (Savignano, 1994). Fewer attacks on larvae means more Karners reaching adulthood to lay eggs.

Now, if you’re imagining that ants protect Karner caterpillars out of the goodness of their little ant hearts, think again. The caterpillars pay the ants for their service with a tasty (at least to an ant) secretion produced by a gland on the caterpillars’ backs. Of course, this system does not always work perfectly, and the caterpillars are occasionally attacked by the very ants that are normally their protectors.

There is much still to be learned about the relationships between ants and Karner caterpillars, but data collection is tricky because Karner larvae are elusive. They are well camouflaged and tiny, making them difficult to spot. Another part of the challenge is that there are literally hundreds of variables that could come into play and affect the way ants and Karners interact. A major variable is the species of ant. With over 50 species of ants in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, researchers who wish to understand how different types of ants affect these caterpillars have their work cut out for them. For now, we will keep our eyes open and our notebooks close at hand, because, with the Albany Pine Bush Karner populations on the rise, opportunities to observe this fascinating interaction between two very cool creatures are increasingly common.

To see a video recorded at the Albany Pine Bush this week of Tapinoma sessile (the Odorous House Ant) tending a Karner blue butterfly larvae, follow this link.


Savignano, D.A. (1994) Benefits to Karner blue butterfly larvae from association with ants. Karner Blue Butterfly: a Symbol of a Vanishing Landscape (ed. by D. A. Andow, R. J. Baker and C. P. Lane), pp. 37–46. University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, St Paul, Minnesota.


Grace Barber @ 11:38 am

rhwo2a_MG_6175a Bruce DudekPlease join the Commission and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation tonight (June 24) from 6-9PM at the Discovery Center. The meeting will offer an opportunity to hear about the proposed State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) to conserve 366 Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in New York state and include two brief presentations about local wildlife conservation. NYSDEC Diversity Biologist, Paul Novak, will discuss regional efforts and our Conservation Director, Neil Gifford, will review the benefits of wildlife habitat management in the Preserve. We hope you will join us and help ensure a strong future for local wildlife.

The draft SWAP is available on the NYSDEC website at:


Wendy @ 11:36 am


The milkweed at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve is about ready to bloom. This plant, right next to the Discovery Center, began opening its blossoms on June 9th.

This common milkweed began opening its blossoms on June 9th in the Discovery Center planting beds.

All around the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, milkweeds are blooming. Milkweeds get their name from the eye-catching, milky sap that seeps out of any part of the plant that is injured – even the petals! They are also excellent sources of nectar for butterflies, bees, beetles, and other insects. For a visual treat, take a moment to look closely at the tiny blossoms of a milkweed plant and the colorful insects they attract.

Just as wild blue lupine is among the only plants Karner blue butterflies and frosted elfin butterflies can eat, common milkweed is essential food for certain other insects. Insects that specialize in eating milkweeds including the red milkweed beetle, milkweed leaf beetle, and the larvae (caterpillars) of the monarch butterfly. These insects depend on common milkweed not only for food, but for chemical defense!

Above, a red milkweed beetle sits on a milkweed leaf near a small bead of white sap.

Above, a red milkweed beetle sits on a milkweed leaf near a small bead of white sap.

The very sap that gives the milkweed its name is full of chemicals called cardiac glycosides, which are poisonous to most animals, including humans (fortunately for us, the sap is not dangerous unless we eat it). The insects that eat milkweed have special digestive systems, which extract and store the toxic chemicals from the sap in the insects’ bodies. If a bird or other predator attempts to eat one of these milkweed-specialist insects, the stored chemicals in the insect’s body will cause the insect to taste bad and the predator to vomit. From such an unpleasant experience, the predator will learn to avoid that type of insect in the future.

Above, the orange blooms of butterfly milkweed.

Above, the orange blooms of butterfly milkweed.

At the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, two different types of milkweed – common milkweed and butterfly milkweed – are relatively abundant and can be spotted from the hiking trails and in the planting beds around the Discovery Center. Common milkweed has pink or purplish flowers and broad leaves, whereas butterfly milkweed has orange flowers and narrow leaves. Butterfly milkweed also tends to be somewhat shorter and more branched than Common milkweed. Butterfly milkweed is unusual among the milkweeds because its sap is clear instead of milky. According to Albany Pine Bush Preserve Botanist, Jesse Hoffman, clasping milkweed and swamp milkweed can also be found at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. You can learn more about milkweeds at and take a look at some beautiful close-up images of milkweed plants here.

Grace Barber @ 11:30 am