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Second Year of Successful Poweshiek skipperling releases!
Midwest Region, July 10, 2019
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Release of a female Poweshiek skipperling after collection of a small proportion of her eggs to use for the head-start program.
Release of a female Poweshiek skipperling after collection of a small proportion of her eggs to use for the head-start program. - Photo Credit: Vince Cavalieri (USFWS)
Poweshiek skipperling release box designed by the Minnesota Zoo. Pictured is Cale Nordmeyer (MN Zoo).
Poweshiek skipperling release box designed by the Minnesota Zoo. Pictured is Cale Nordmeyer (MN Zoo). - Photo Credit: Kelly Nail (USFWS)

The Minnesota Zoo has successfully released 14 captive-reared Poweshiek skipperling butterflies at a prairie fen site in Oakland County, Michigan in July 2019. This is a giant step towards preventing extinction of this highly imperiled prairie butterfly. The release is the second successful release based on a result of a multi-year, international conservation effort to save this highly endangered species. Around the same dates as the Michigan release, the Assiniboine Park Zoo successfully released 13 captive-reared Poweshiek skipperlings in southeastern Manitoba. It is estimated that less than 200 Poweshiek skipperlings remain worldwide, so the addition of these 27 butterflies is significant. Last year, similar releases in Manitoba and Michigan were the first ever release of captive-reared Poweshiek skipperlings in the world! (See the July 5, 2018 story about the first ever releases - "The first ever release of a highly endangered butterfly, Poweshiek skipperling!").

 

Raising this species in captivity was met with several challenges since the program began in 2016, however we have learned a great deal over the past three years and built our capacity at both zoos by developing specialized equipment to simulate wild conditions and increase survivorship. In future years, scientists hope that we will be able to augment the existing populations with more captive-reared adults. This is expected to boost the existing populations because butterflies that are reared in controlled settings (for example, without predators) are expected to have a higher rate of survival than their wild counterparts. Eventually, with more captive rearing success, FWS and partners will consider reintroductions of the species to historically occupied areas.

Other species have benefited from husbandry research, capacity building, and the collaborative partnerships that have resulted from this project. For example, the husbandry research we have conducted for Poweshiek skipperling has also benefited the federally threatened Dakota skipper, which was successfully reintroduced to a historical location by the MN Zoo and partners in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Simultaneous to the Poweshiek skipperling captive rearing effort, FWS and our partners are researching the cause of the species decline and conducting active habitat management at its sites. These efforts, too, can help other species inhabiting those locations.

Along with the Minnesota Zoo, Assiniboine Park Zoo, and USFWS, this international partnership includes the Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Springfield Township (Michigan), Michigan Nature Association, North Oakland County Land Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy of Canada, University of Winnipeg, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, New College of Florida, Central Michigan University, Minot State University, Milwaukee Public Museum, The Conservation Fund, Toledo Zoo, private landowners, and independent researchers.

This year, to continue the head-starting propagation and release program, the FWS and MN Zoo have collected approximately 150 eggs total from a small proportion of females observed in Michigan. The females were released back on site so they can continue laying eggs. Similarly, 120 eggs (across seven females, but 56 of the eggs were from one highly productive female!) were collected by the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Manitoba.


Contact Info: Tamara Smith, 612-725-3548 (x2219), tamara_smith@fws.gov
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