Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
Local and Federal Governments Agree to Conserve Native Butterfly
Southwest Region, October 13, 2004
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The Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly is an orange and black butterfly that exists only in the high elevation meadows in Otero County (NM). Within its two week adult phase, the butterfly must find a mate (or several) and lay between 10 to 100 eggs in late summer. Even under favorable conditions, only about two percent of the eggs survive through to their own brief adulthood.

Four groups have come together to draft a conservation plan to proactively address the butterfly's habitat, which is found equally on federal and private lands within a 33-square-mile area. An informal meeting to discuss the draft plan has been set for Wednesday, October 13 from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Village Council Chambers, Room at 201, Burro Street, Cloudcroft.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service-Lincoln National Forest, Otero County and the Village of Cloudcroft collaborated on the draft conservation plan. They welcome input on the goals and any other aspect of the plan. Copies of the plan will be available at the meeting or on the internet at http://www.fws.gov or by calling the Fish and Wildlife Service at (505) 248-6920. Comments will be accepted through November 8.

The plan has four objectives: eliminate the destruction, modification and/or curtailment of the habitat while identifying and implementing measures to control future threats; ensure the species is not over-utilized for commercial, recreational, scientific or educational purposes; ensure adequate protection by way of agreements and regulatory measures; and, support research, outreach and education efforts. Suggested strategies and specific conservation actions are stepped down from the goal.

The butterfly's preference for sunny fields between 8,000 and 9,000 feet in elevation makes it vulnerable to habitat modification and loss since meadows are easy to get into and inviting for recreational pursuits. Butterflies undergo a complete metamorphosis with four distinct life stages.

Life begins as an egg -- laid in July or August. The female places the egg on New Mexico penstemon which will supply the food source for its second stage of life. The second stage is spent as a wooly black caterpillar with bright orange hairs (looking like an unconventional teenager and eating as much as a teenager). The fall, winter and spring is spent in a resting stage called diapause, which is similar to hibernation for many mammals. The larva breaks diapause in late spring, feeds grows and forms a chrysalis in May or June. The chrysalis has symmetrical black, orange, and red marks upon a whitish background. The striking orange, black and cream color combination persists into adulthood when the butterfly emerges in the summer.

Surviving from one phase to the next is highly dependent upon the right type of plants being available. Understanding the needs of each stage helps in conserving and repopulating the butterfly. ?Habitat protection is very important to the survival of the checkerspot butterfly,? said Dale Hall, Director of the Service's Southwest Region. ?It is obvious from our partners? work that they care about the future of this insect and are voluntarily taking steps to ensure its habitat.?

The Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly is not an endangered species but it has been proposed to be added to the list of threatened and endangered species. On September 6, 2001, the Service proposed to list the (Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti) as endangered with critical habitat in response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity. An economic analysis and environmental assessment have been drafted and will be released shortly. These two documents and the conservation agreement will be used to make a final assessment. The Service has until December 15, 2004 in which to make a final determination on whether or not to list the species.

Contact Info: Martin Valdez, 505-248-6599, martin_valdez@fws.gov
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