Attention to Plight of Butterfly May be too Late

A butterfly that was once common in Iowa has been identified as a candidate to be put on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species list — but one expert says it may already be extinct. The Poweshiek Skipperling was first identified in 1870 in Poweshiek County and thus its name.

Dennis Schlicht, who has studied butterflies for more than forty years and co-wrote the book The Butterflies of Iowa, says the skipperling was once easy to find. He says they were quite common, and he says it was difficult to take a picture of a single butterfly because as you focused in on one, another would chase it off. Schlicht says they were around in the hundreds until around 2000 when they started to decline, and the last one was seen in the state in 2008.

Like most butterflies, the markings on this one are what make it so interesting. He says it’s a small butterfly about one inch long that is dark on top and he says the bottom of the hind wing is overscaled with white scales that follow the veins, and is “pretty striking” up close. Schlicht has some ideas about what happened to the butterfly.

Sclicht says they are almost all on state or federal preserve, which he says are managed with fires. He says the fires can destroy eggs and put the butterflies under stress. The small creatures also live in farming areas.

Schlict says that subjects them to pesticides in the air and other agricultural activity. He says there have also been some shifts in the timing of when the butterflies emerge, and he says that could be due to climate change. The Fish and Wildlife Service says the Poweshiek skipperling has also disappeared in its range in Minnesota and South Dakota.

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