Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Description: The Dakota skipper is a small butterfly (male forewing length 1.3-1.4 cm) that lacks good field marks to distinguish it from other skippers found during the same mid-June to mid-July flight period. Males are usually a smooth tawny orange above and clear yellowish underneath with a light spotband on the hindwings. Females (pictured) are pale grayish brown with the lighter spotband more evident. This species is characterized by its rapid flight.
Habitat and Habits: The Dakota skipper is found in gravelly, calcareous, alkaline, dry to moist prairies, often on glacial lakeshores. The adult butterfly favors asters (fleabanes and purple coneflowers), harebell and tooth-leaved primrose as nectar sources. Eggs are laid on broad-leaved plants such as vetches.
Larvae (caterpillars) feed on numerous types of grasses, particularly little bluestem. Larvae make long vertical silklined tubes at the ground surface, leaving the tubes to feed. The tubes elongate into the soil as they grow and are underground by fall. Adults seek high vantage points on the windward side of the prairie. In North Dakota, alkali grass is a reliable indicator of Dakota skipper habitat. Adults range only about 100 feet from the emergence site.
Distribution: The Dakota skipper is a northern prairie endemic species that historically ranged from southern Manitoba south through Minnesota into lowa and west to the Dakotas. Present populations exist only in Minnesota and the Dakotas. It has been collected in 11 counties in northeastern South Dakota.
Conservation Measures: The Dakota skipper is a candidate for listing as a federally threatened species. (Editor's Note: The Dakota skipper was delisted as a Federal Candidate in 1996) Remaining tracts of habitat are critical and are threatened by a variety of forces, including inappropriately timed fire, overgrazing, cessation of proper management, herbicides, pesticides, gravel mining and conversion of prairie habitat to cropland. Typical Dakota skipper habitat, usually unsuited for agricultural purposes, is used as hayland and pasture. After grazing, the vegetation community may change and become unsuitable habitat for the Dakota skipper. The current scattered distribution of this prairie butterfly is a result of agricultural development rather than natural distribution.