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North Dakota's

Federally Listed Endangered, Threatened, and Candidate Species – 1995

Dakota Skipper Butterfly (Hesperia dacotae)

JPG -- species photo gif--species map

Status: Former Candidate (Note: As of February 28, 1996, this species is no longer listed as a Candidate species. However, it remains a species of management concern.)

Historical Status:
The original range of the Dakota skipper appears to have been from southern Manitoba, across the Dakotas and Minnesota to Iowa and Illinois.

Present Status:
The Dakota skipper is now extirpated (no longer exists) in Illinois and Iowa. The last remaining stronghold of the Dakota skipper in the United States appears to be in western Minnesota, northeastern South Dakota and most of North Dakota. Within this area the Dakota skipper has been reduced to scattered, fragmented populations where undisturbed native prairie remains. Evidence suggests that North Dakota has the largest, and most stable population of Dakota skippers in the world.

The Dakota skipper can survive only in undisturbed tall grass and mid-grass prairie. In the western part of its range the Dakota skipper can be found in ungrazed native pastures with little bluestem, needle and thread, and purple coneflower. In the eastern pert of its range it is found in bluestem grass prairies, usually with the forb camas.

Life History:
The Dakota skipper changes from its larva (caterpillar) state to its butterfly state in mid-June. Both sexes emerge about the same time. Male butterflies perch on plants and wait for females to come by. After mating, females lay eggs on all types of plants from mid-June through early July. One generation is produced annually. The adults die by late July. The eggs hatch in 7 to 10 days. After hatching, the pale-brown larvae build tunnel-like silken nests near the ground from which they emerge at night to feed. Bluestem grass is a favorite foodplant of the larval stage. The larvae go through six larval stages, the fourth (possibly fifth) of which overwinters in a nest it builds with duff and silk. Dakota skipper butterflies rarely travel more than 1/2 mile in their lifetime. Adult butterflies feed on nectar from coneflowers and other native prairie wildflowers.

Aid to identification:
As with most skippers, the tip of the antenna of the Dakota skipper is recurved, and the body is thick and large in proportion to the wings. These features distinguish the "skippers" from the "true" butterflies like the monarch. The Dakota skipper is a medium sized skipper, having a wingspan of 1 to 1 1/4 inches. The Dakota skipper shows a wide variation in markings and coloring. Generally, males range from a golden color to brownish. Females are considerably darker than males, with some individuals being almost a chocolate brown color. The edges of the wings have a golden or buff colored fringed appearance. The Dakota skipper has an extremely fast, low, skipping flight.

Reasons for decline:
The main reason for the decline is the dramatic loss of native prairie. Grazing and spraying for insects and weeds continue to be problems.

The Dakota skipper may be able to tolerate haying conducted after August if the hay is cut at least 6 inches above the ground. However, it appears to be sensitive to even light grazing pressure. Pesticides should not be used in Dakota skipper habitat.

The fragmentation of Dakota skipper habitat is of concern for genetic reasons. There may no longer be the genetic transfer between populations that is necessary to keep the species healthy. At least one author considers the Dakota skipper our rarest skipper. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently collecting population data on the Dakota skipper.

Butterflies of North Dakota by Ronald Royer, 1988.

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