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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Isle Royale Discoveries

OUT-RangerSteveMuellerTime in nature niches has rewards. It allows our minds to free from daily pressures, provides healthy exercise, time with family and friends, and a chance to interact with nature.

When I leave work and home for wild places, it takes three days to stop thinking about work needs and tasks. Getting away from home allows freedom from projects waiting there.

Mogens Nielsen found a Northern Blue Butterfly at Isle Royale National Park but little was known about it besides it was the first known presence in Michigan. Another flew over the Wisconsin/Michigan border in Dickinson County. Later I discovered a healthy colony in Alger County while conducting rare plants studies in the Upper Peninsula with Dr. Tony Reznicek, from the University of Michigan Herbarium and Don Henson.

Tony suddenly called out, “Look what I found.” He discovered a plant species not documented for Michigan. It was dwarf bilberry in the blueberry family. I immediately called, “Look what I found.” I was focused on butterflies instead of plants and caught a Northern Blue Butterfly. I found a colony with many and this was the first known colony for Michigan.

The Michigan DNR immediately listed both plant and butterfly as Threatened Species and provided me a life history research grant to study the butterfly species. I later collected its larvae on the plant species Tony discovered. The newly known butterfly larvae use that plant as a food plant. We discovered two species with ecological nature niche connections on the same day.

My research took me to various locations where Don Henson found additional colonies of the plant. I was looking for more Northern Blue colonies. The research also took me to Isle Royale NP to where Mo had found the first Northern Blue in Michigan. I wrote an extensive report of my research for the DNR but the rest of this article is unrelated with other discoveries at Isle Royale.

The park provided me with a collecting permit to document new species in the park during my research on the Northern Blue. I discovered two butterflies species not documented for the park. They were the Common Wood Nymph and the Bog Copper.

Unfortunately, those specimens were set aside and forgotten until this year. I was reviewing my research journals and saw a note to myself stating “species to be listed later.” I quickly looked in my collection database and saw they were not listed there either. I went to my specimen collection and found them waiting to be processed. I called the national park to inform them of the long overdue discovery report. It has been 25 years but the species were still unknown for the park. Arrangements have been made to place them in the Michigan State University collection as scientific proof of presence at Isle Royale NP.

The park resource manager requested specific collection locations. I provided details. The park service cannot protect or understand the ecological nature niches without knowing the species that live there. The plants, mammal, bird, insect, and other species lists continue to grow. Geology, climate and air quality studies monitor the environment for comparison with our modified human communities. The data helps us understand things that degrade our health and living conditions so we can protect society’s health for present and future generations.

Most of us go to national parks to refresh our spirits, physical health and souls. Parks provide society with much more to help sustain our culture’s social, environmental, economic health.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  616-696-1753.

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