U S Fish and Wildlife Service


Past Featured Pollinators:
  Allen's Hummingbird
  Buff-bellied Hummingbird
  Calliope Hummingbird
  Costa's Hummingbird
  Crested Honeycreepers
  Dakota Skipper
  El Segundo blue butterfly
  Karner blue butterfly
  Lesser long-nosed bat

Mexican long-nosed bat

  Mitchell’s Satyr
  Monarch Butterfly
  Rufous Hummingbird
  Rusty patched bumble bee
  Taylor's checkerspot butterfly
More Pollinators:
  Fringed Orchids and Hawkmoths

Fun Fact:

To survive winters in the prairies of the Great Plans, Dakota skipper caterpillars produce an “anti-freeze” in their bodies!



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Featured Pollinator

image of a White prairie-clover wildflower
  Flower used by Dakota skipper adults for nectar, White prairie-clover (photos: USDA-NRCS)

The Dakota skipper (Hesperia dacotae) is a small butterfly that lives in high-quality mixed and tallgrass prairie. Dakota skippers typically occupy remnant bluestem prairies characterized by a variety of composites (Asteraceae) and alkaline soils.  They are now found in just a few prairie remnants in Minnesota, the Dakotas and southern Canada. Previously they were also found in Illinois and Iowa.  Since 2002, the number of sites where Dakota skippers are found has been on a downward trend with a more dramatic decrease after 2010. The Dakota skipper is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and critical habitat has been designated. Threats to Dakota skipper include loss of grassland habitat to other uses, habitat fragmentation and habitat encroachment by invasive species.  Additional threats include pest control (insecticides), grazing, haying, or controlled burning that is carried out too intensively.

image of a Male and Female Dakota Skipper
Male and female Dakota skipper sipping nectar (photo: Andrew Horton/USFWS)

The Dakota skipper may be on its way towards recovery after many years of planning by a consortium of experts, and work at the Minnesota Zoo to establish the first ever breeding program for the butterfly. Dakota skippers raised at the Minnesota Zoo were released by the Zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and partners in 2017, to a Minnesota prairie, previously occupied by the species.   The goal is to reestablish this population.  Later that summer, mating was observed at the site and a viable egg was found, documenting a successful first year!

Dakota skippers have a single generation each year.  Adult Dakota skippers emerge from a pupae (or chrysalis) from mid-June to early July, depending on the weather, with flights starting earlier farther west in the range.  Males emerge about five days before females. Females typically mate soon after emergence and lay eggs directly on the grass species that the caterpillars eat.  They sometimes lay eggs on broadleaf plants.  The flight period in a locality lasts two to four weeks with mating occurring throughout this period. One study in Minnesota estimated that adult Dakota skippers live an average of 3 to 10 days, and up to 3 weeks.  

Eggs hatch after 7 to 20 days. Caterpillars then crawl to the bases of grass plants where they form shelters at or below the ground surface using silk and plant tissue. Each caterpillar constructs two to three successively larger shelters as it grows. At night they emerge from their shelters to feed. Dakota skippers have six or seven larval instars or caterpillar stages (time between larval molts). They diapause (enter a dormant phase) over winter in their shelters during either the fourth or fifth larval instar. The following spring, caterpillars resume feeding and undergo two additional molts (larval stages) before they pupate. During these last two instars, caterpillars shift from buried shelters to shelters at the soil surface.

image of a Harebell wildflower

Flower used by Dakota skipper adults for nectar, Harebell (photos: USDA-NRCS)

Adult Dakota skippers feed on floral nectar.  The flowers they prefer vary regionally and include purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia), harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), white prairie-clover (Dalea candida), long-headed coneflower (Ratibida columnifera), fleabanes (Erigeron spp.), blanketflowers, black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.), and evening primrose (Oenothera serrulata). Larvae feed on several grass species, with little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) believed to be a favorite.

Find more information about the Dakota skipper, including management guidelines and survey methods (link to: https://www.fws.gov/Midwest/endangered/insects/dask/index.html).

Last Updated: June 17, 2019
June 17, 2019