For Immediate Release, October 23, 2013

Contact:  Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Two Prairie Butterflies Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection

 39,035 Acres of Protected Habitat Also Proposed in Minnesota, Dakotas, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin

MINNEAPOLIS— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed Endangered Species Act protection today for two prairie butterflies once found in eight states in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions. The proposal includes 39,035 acres of protected prairie habitat for the Dakota skipper and Poweshiek skipperling, both inch-long, brown-and-orange butterflies. The proposal to protect the skipper results from a landmark 2011 settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity to speed protection decisions for 757 imperiled plants and animals across the country. The Service added the skipperling to the proposal because it is highly endangered and shares habitat with the skipper.

Dakota skipper
Dakota skipper photo by Robert Dana, USFWS. Photos are available for media use.

“These remarkable little butterflies have a long flight to recovery, but Endangered Species Act protection will help save them and their beautiful prairie homes,” said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center.

Both butterflies are threatened by loss of native prairie vegetation to agriculture, development, altered fire patterns and groundwater depletion. They are also threatened by pesticides, drought and climate change.

The proposal includes 27,782 acres of habitat for the Dakota skipper in 10 counties in Minnesota, six counties in North Dakota and six counties in South Dakota. For the Poweshiek skipperling, the proposal includes 26,184 acres of habitat in 14 counties in Minnesota, seven counties in Iowa, seven counties in South Dakota, six counties in Michigan, three counties in North Dakota and two counties in Wisconsin.

“Protecting the last high-quality prairie habitats for the skipper will keep these special places safe, along with the plants and animals that need them to survive,” said Curry.

The Dakota skipper is a small butterfly with hooked antennae and a thick, muscular body that enables a faster, more powerful flight than other butterflies. Males are tawny-orange to brown on the back of their wings and dusty yellow-orange on the underside; females are darker with diffused orange and white spots. It once occurred in tall grass and mixed grass prairies of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. It has been lost from Illinois and Iowa and in the United States is currently found only in western Minnesota, northeastern South Dakota and the eastern half of North Dakota. The butterfly was last seen in Illinois in 1888 and in Iowa in 1992. It persists at 35 percent of its historically known sites.

Poweshiek skipperlings are small and slender-bodied. Their wings are dark brown with an orange band on top and whitish underneath. Skipperlings were once common and abundant throughout native prairies in eight states and Manitoba, but they are now known to survive at only 5 percent of historically known sites. The skipperling has been lost from Illinois and Indiana. It was last seen in North Dakota in 2001, in Minnesota in 2007 and in Iowa and South Dakota in 2008. Small numbers survive in Michigan, Wisconsin and Manitoba.

The Dakota skipper was first identified as being in need of protection in 1978. The Service placed the Poweshiek skipperling on the candidate list in 2011. 

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is making great progress in protecting our natural heritage by addressing the backlog of plants and animals facing extinction,” said Curry. “Now Congress needs to designate sufficient funding for recovery to make sure these endangered species get what they need to thrive.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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