Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Massachusetts
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Massachusetts Project

Local and landscape effects on frosted elfins in sandplain communities

September 2003 - August 2008


Participating Agencies

  • National Audubon Society

The frosted elfin is a state-listed butterfly species associated with early successional stages of pine barrens ecosystems, a rare seral stage in Massachusetts. We examined local and landscape predictors of abundance of this rare butterfly, with the aim of improving management for the species and its associated ecological community. We found that larvae of frosted elfins feed on Baptisia tinctoria (wild indigo), that are shaded by single trees in a savannah-like fashion, and that larvae are almost always attended by ants that likely protect them from predation. We are the first to document shade selection and ant-tending in this species, ecological traits with important management implications. The Massachusett Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is currently using our results to direct management for frosted elfins in Massachusetts.