Life on the Brink: Endangered Butterfly Gets a Helping Hand

Michigan nature is so full of wonder that… Some of the rarest species can be found here.


Once common across much of the Midwest, now one of the rarest butterflies—the globally endangered Poweshiek skipperling—exists in only a handful of locations in Manitoba (Canada) and northern Oakland County, including at an MNA nature sanctuary. Over the course of just a few decades, the population of Poweshieks has crashed, for reasons mostly unknown (see Plight of the Poweshiek story map here). In the most recent surveys in 2021 and 2022, the number of wild Poweshiek skipperlings surveyed in the field has continued to decline.

Poweshiek skipperling. Photo by Cale Nordmeyer, Minnesota Zoo.


An international partnership that includes MNA, is working to better understand the reasons for the Poweshiek decline, and provide habitat and ex-situ (off-site) and captive rearing efforts to assist with recovery.


One such recovery effort involves partners at the Minnesota Zoo, John Ball Zoo, and the Haddad Lab at Michigan State University. The research partners have been collecting Poweshiek skipperling eggs for a captive-rearing program to help the species recover. And last month, 12 captive-reared Poweshiek butterflies were released at MNA’s nature sanctuary—representing a milestone for MNA and hope for future generations of Poweshiek in the wild. In all, a few dozen butterflies were released this year in the program, with hundreds more eggs laid. These eggs will overwinter in the rearing facility at John Ball Zoo, for breeding and release next year.

Dave Pavlik, a research assistant at the Haddad Lab, places a Poweshiek skipperling caterpillar into a special enclosure at John Ball Zoo. Photo by Lauren Ross.


In May, John Ball Zoo held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of a second hoop house for the Poweshiek skipperling, more than doubling the capacity of the rearing program. “This is more than just a ray of hope. This is a giant leap forward,” explained Nick Haddad, who leads the Haddad Lab at Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station.

Dave Pavlik, a research assistant at the Haddad Lab, releases a captive-reared Poweshiek skipperling butterfly on a Black-eyed susan. Photo by Lauren Ross.


MNA is proud to protect habitat critical for the Poweshiek skipperling’s survival, and to be part of the important partnership that is working to save this species from extinction. MNA looks forward to continuing participation in this partnership effort to increase the Poweshiek skipperling population in the wild in the coming years.

U.P. Land Protection, Dark Skies Preserves, and Forests: this week in environmental news

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The Upper Peninsula’s Pilgrim River passing through Houghton County. Photo: Joe Kaplan

1,300 acres of wild Michigan land protected from development (mlive): A new state conservation easement is putting nearly 1,300 acres of copper country land and 3.5 miles of the Pilgrim River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula under protection from development. In addition to protecting the recreational values of the land, this project also protects wildlife habitat and ensures sustainable timber management continues on the property. The forested land provides habitat for wildlife like black bears, white-tailed deer, bald eagles, fisher, pine marten, mink, and otter. It also functions as a stopover for migrating raptors and songbirds crossing Lake Superior in the spring and fall.

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Dark sky parks offer premium stargazing opportunities. Photo: Beth Anne Eckerle

Michigan expands dark skies preserves (Great Lakes Echo): A new law was created to protect northern Michigan state parks from artificial light pollution. The law specifies Rockport State Recreation Area, in Alpena and Presque Isle counties, Negwegon State Park in Alpena and Alcona counties, and Thompson’s Harbor State Park in Presque Isle County, among a few other State Parks. The designation promotes stargazing and night photography in the parks, while giving an edge to Michigan tourism. People travel all over the world, like birders, to see dark sky parks.

Invasive species threaten Michigan forests (Great Lakes Echo): The Department of Natural Resources forest report has some forestry experts worried about Michigan’s future ecological well-being. Pests such as the invasive hemlock wooly adelgid bug and the spruce budworm, combined with the warming climate, threaten several tree and animal species. Many efforts are in place to combat hemlock wooly adelgid, such as the state performing aerial surveys of 20 million forested acres and numerous ground surveys to detect disease and insect infestations.

Private companies operate at Sleeping Bear (Record Eagle): Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s landscapes and waterways call out to the inner explorer – and also to private commercial companies. From yoga classes to scattering ashes, 21 businesses use the park to offer experiences and services that the park cannot. Businesses promote the park – the more people interested in nature, the more support natural areas will get.

Michigan Historic Places, North Trail Hikes, and Wildlife Inventions: this week in environmental news

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Rice Bay on Lac Vieux Desert. Photo: National Register of Historic Places

National Register adds Michigan’s Rice Bay, historic Ishpeming building (Great Lakes Echo): The National Register is the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Two sites in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula have been added to the National Register of Historic Places – one culturally important to members of the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians and the other related to a strike important to labor and women’s history. The first site is Rice Bay in Gogebic County, which is a wild rice-growing area covering a square quarter-mile on northeastern Lac Vieux Desert. Wild rice is an aquatic grass that is culturally important to the tribe. The second site is the 128-year-old Brasstad-Gossard Building in downtown Ishpeming, which started as a factory and later renovated into an interior mall and offices.

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Snowshoeing the North Country National Scenic Trail near Petoskey, Michigan. Photo: Dove Day

North Trail hikers set 100-mile centennial goal (Great Lakes Echo): Veteran hiker, Joan Young of Scottville, Michigan, has prepared to commemorate the National Park Service centennial in a 100-mile hike challenge sponsored by the North Country Trail Association, headquartered in Lowell, Michigan. The longest of 11 nationally designated scenic trails, North Country wanders between North Dakota and New York, following the Great Lakes through 12 national forests. The challenge is 100 miles for the 100 years of national parks. It’s a way to celebrate an important anniversary and to prepare a new generation for the next 100 years of national parks.

Secret MSU location is site of world’s longest running scientific experiment (Great Lakes Echo): The world’s longest running scientific experiment has been in operation for the past 137 years, and it’s been happening on a secret spot on the MSU campus. 137 years ago, MSU botany professor William J. Beal filled 20 bottles with seeds from common plants covered by sandy soil. Then he buried them all in a secret spot on campus. That was the beginning of what would become the world’s longest running scientific experiment and W.J. Botanical Garden. They only dig up one of the bottles every 20 years.

5 student inventions that help wildlife (Mother Nature Network): Wildlife conservation is an equal-opportunity field. With a little ingenuity and technical know-how, a person of any age and educational level can make a valuable contribution. Thanks to these five impressive student creations, many endangered species will be getting a much needed leg up on survival. The creations include an electronic scent dispenser, mushroom water filter, drones to keep an eye in the sky on poachers, squid-jet, and a hoglodge: a hedgehog haven.

Ladybugs, Honeybees, and a National Marine Sanctuary: this week in environmental news

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Once a common presence in gardens, the 9-spotted ladybug has become a rare sight. Photo: Todd A. Ugine

Where have all the ladybugs gone? (Mother Nature Network): Native ladybugs have been in serious decline since the mid-1970s. John Losey has created the Lost Ladybug Project, a citizen science effort seeking to document where remaining populations are being seen, where they are not being seen, all to help determine the reasons for their decline. The next time you see a ladybug, do a farmer a favor. Whip out your smartphone, take pictures of it, and email the photos with the location to John Losey.

Bee crisis linked to virus spread by humans (Mother Nature Network): Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a strange plague that has been obliterating honeybee colonies for at least a decade. But there are at least two other scourges that share the blame: Varroa mites and deformed wing virus (DWV). According to a new study, humans helped it by recklessly shipping honeybee colonies and queens across oceans. The consequences can be devastating, both for domestic animals and for wildlife. The risk of introducing viruses or other pathogens is just one of many potential dangers. The key insight is that the global virus pandemic in honeybees is man-made, not natural. It’s therefore within our hands to mitigate this and future disease problems.

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Map of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore. Image: National Park Service

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore could be connected by National Marine Sanctuary (Great Lakes Echo): The 21 Lake Superior islands and 12 miles of mainland that are the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore could knit together under a new federal protection. A group launched an effort to establish a national marine sanctuary at the lake bottom that surrounds the islands just off the northernmost tip of Wisconsin. The islands draw thousands of tourists each year, and the added significance of the sanctuary designation could attract even more. The sanctuary designation would create important education opportunities and funding for research.

Researchers eye trout spawning sites from space (Great Lakes Echo): Satellite imagery offers a new tool for identifying nearshore lake trout spawning habitat across broad areas of the Great Lakes, according to a recent study in the Journal of Great Lakes Research. Understanding lake trout spawning habitat long-term could inform ways to improve or evaluate hatchery practices. The lake trout’s preference of cleaner, algae-free spawning sites is key to relying on the satellite imagery.