Pacu Fish, Endangered Butterflies, and the Common Loon: this week in environmental news

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Pacu Fish. Image: Thinking Humanity.

‘Human-toothed’ Pacu in Michigan waters, endangered species running out of time (Great Lakes Echo): The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently reported finding fish with “human-like teeth” in southeastern Michigan lakes. Anglers spotted red-bellied pacu in Lake St. Clair and near Port Huron. These unusual fish sport teeth eerily reminiscent of humans’ so they can eat seeds and nuts. While they’re not native to Michigan, DNR said they’re not invasive.

 

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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Photo: Joshua Stevens, NASA Earth Observatory

Celebrating 100th anniversary of parks system with a great Great Lakes view (Great Lakes Echo): The U.S. National Park Service celebrates its centennial in 2016, commemorating 100 years of stewardship of America’s natural and historic treasures. Many of those monuments, scenic rivers, parks, and historic sites are visible from space – where the views are just as compelling.

 

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Mitchell’s Satyr. Photo: Bill Bouton

Endangered butterflies released by Kalamazoo Nature Center (WMUK 102.1): The Kalamazoo Nature Center released 18 rare butterfly caterpillars. The Mitchell’s Satyr butterfly is a nationally endangered species. There are only 11 groups of the butterfly left in the entire United States. The Mitchell’s Satyr has been called a “canary in a coal mine” for America’s wetlands. Almost all of the butterflies live in the southernmost counties of Michigan because they live in a rare habitat – fens.

 

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Common loon. Image: US FWS.

Loony for a diving bird (Great Lakes Echo): Great Lakes common loons are a barometer for water and habitat quality since they’re sensitive to pollution and very particular about where to nest. Listen to the podcast to learn more about the common loon.

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Butterflies to look for in Michigan

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

It’s almost hard to believe that a tiny, graceful creature could fly out of a cocoon. Yet every year, the butterfly continues its phenomenon, metamorphosing from a mere bumbling, crawling caterpillar into a sleek, graceful winged insect.

A butterfly’s life

A monarch butterfly emerges from its cocoon. Photo courtesy of kids.britannica.com.

A monarch butterfly emerges from its cocoon. Photo courtesy of kids.britannica.com.

The butterfly begins its life in a small ovoid-shaped egg, developing into a caterpillar. The caterpillar grows and hatches out of its egg and must start eating in order to grow. The caterpillar sheds its smaller skin a few times during growth before it begins the “pupa” stage.It forms the chrysalis, the cocoon formed around its body to undergo metamorphosis. The final stage is when the newly formed butterfly emerges from its cocoon, no longer a ground-anchored insect.

For more details about the butterfly’s life cycle click here.

Here are some butterflies common to Michigan, that can be spotted while enjoying Michigan’s nature.

White Admiral

The White Admiral has a 2.25-4 inch wingspan and has a white band in the middle of both wings. Hind-wings also may have a row of blue dashes or red dots toward the edges. The White Admiral is usually found in Northern deciduous evergreen forests. This butterfly likes to eat rotting fruit and nectar from small white flowers.

Giant Swallowtail

The Giant Swallowtail boasts a wingspan of up to 6 inches, making it one of the largest of its species. The swallowtail can be spotted as a black winged-insect with yellow spots on its edges creating a band across them. The Giant Swallowtail chooses rocky and sandy hillsides near bodies of water. This butterfly likes to get its nectar from several plants including goldenrod, azalea and swamp milkweed.

Monarch

The Monarch is a well-known butterfly with an interesting history. This butterfly is known to migrate from the north to the south including places in California and Mexico during the harsh, northern winter months. The Monarch has black and orange wings with white dots near the margins. The Queen butterfly who is a close relative is often mistaken for a Monarch but is also commonly spotted in Michigan. Monarchs are particular to milkweed plants.

Silver Spotted Skipper

The Silver Spotted Skipper has a small wingspan which can be up to about 2.5 inches. Its wings are a mixture of brown and black, with transparent gold spots and a metallic silver band. They reside in disturbed and open woods, streams and prairie waterways. This butterfly avoids feeding on any yellow flowers but instead eats plants like everlasting pea, common milkweed and thistles.

Little Glassywing

The little Glassywing has an even smaller wingspan than the Silver Spotted Skipper, which can be up to 1.5 inches. The wings are a combination of brown and black like the Skipper. These butterflies prefer to feed on white, pink and purple flowers including common milkweed and peppermint. These butterflies like to live near shaded wood edges.

Endangered butterflies

Two other butterflies that can be found in Michigan are the Karner Blue and the Mitchell’s Satyr. These butterflies are particularly noteworthy in the state because of their endangered status. MNA has profiled these butterflies in the past, bringing awareness to their endangered status in the U.S.

 

Species Spotlight: The Mitchell’s satyr butterfly

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The Mitchell’s satyr butterfly. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

The Mitchell’s satyr butterfly is considered one of the world’s rarest butterflies. Historically, it was found in New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Maryland. Today, it is only found in 19 sites throughout Michigan and Indiana.

The Mitchell’s satyr butterfly is a dark brown, medium sized butterfly with a wingspan ranging from 1.5 to 1.75 inches. The undersides of their wings contain orange bands and a row of four to five black eyespots surrounded by yellow rings. The three spots in the center are always the largest.

In July, females lay their tiny eggs close to ground on young leaves of plants, usually on the undersides of the leaves or on the stems. The eggs hatch within seven to eleven days. The caterpillar feeds on sedges and hibernates under the snow during the winter months to later emerge and resume its development and form a cocoon. In late June and July, the butterfly emerges to live its adult life for about two weeks.

These butterflies are the most geographically restricted species of eastern butterfly. This is because they require a special type of wetland habitat to survive. These wetlands are only found in prairie fens, which globally rare and very vulnerable because they are only found in parts of the midwest that were carved by glaciers. Prairie fens are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in Michigan. They are low-nutrient grassy wetlands with peat soils that have a basic pH balance. They have a unique diversity of plants and animals specific to the fens due to their soil and alkaline groundwater that feeds into it from seeps and springs. Tamarack trees, poison sumac, sedges and a variety of wildflowers call the prairie fens their home.

This species was put on the endangered species list on June 25, 1991 for a number of reasons, but the main reason was loss of habitat and land modification. Many of the fens the butterflies are native to have been altered for agriculture and land development. This has also led to invasive species of plants that make the land unsuitable for the butterflies. Natural processes like wildfires, changes in water levels and flooding from beavers have been eliminated from the fens. A Federal Recovery Plan has been completed which guides conservation efforts for the butterfly and its habitat. The Department of Natural Resources also received a grant in 2006 that provides a framework for managing prairie fens for the butterflies.

The Michigan Nature Association currently has 14 sanctuaries that contain prairie fens. MNA began working to conserve Michigan’s prairie fens in 1961 and still continues efforts today in order to protect these habitats and the wildlife that depend on them. MNA’s efforts to benefit the fen and the butterflies include prescribed burns to help restore the habitat and the removal of invasive plants. To get involved, visit www.michigannature.org.

ENDANGERED!

At MNA, our Mission is to protect special natural areas and the rare species that live there. The goals of our blog are to cover the latest environmental issues affecting these areas and provide information about the efforts of our volunteers. Our weekly “ENDANGERED!” column serves to inform you about the endangered plant and animal species found in and around these special natural areas, and how you can contribute to conservation efforts before it is too late.

Mitchell’s Satyr
By Yang Zhang

The first species featured in our “ENDANGERED!” column is the Mitchell’s satyr (pronounced say-ter), one of the world’s rarest butterflies. In Michigan, you may have the chance to spot this species, but without your help that opportunity may soon disappear.

Physical Appearance:

Mitchell’s satyr is a dark, chocolate brown, medium-sized butterfly with a wingspan that ranges from 1.5 to 1.75 inches. It has a three-part segmented body with a head, thorax and abdomen and antennae.

On the undersides of the butterfly’s rounded wings is a row of four to five orange-ringed, black circular eyespots with silvery centers. Beyond the eyespot rows on the outer part of the wing are two orange lines. The dorsal, or upper wing, is unmarked and thinly scaled. Males are slightly smaller and darker than females.

Preferred Habitat:
Mitchell’s satyr habitat is restricted to a unique type of wetland called a fen, which is a low-nutrient system that is enabled to support life with carbonate-rich ground water entering the system from seeps and springs. Fens are usually home to sedges, grasses and a wide variety of wildflowers, which makes the fen a magnet for insects including Mitchell’s satyr.

Some MNA sanctuaries, like the Butternut Creek Nature Sanctuary, are carefully managed to remain a fen and provide habitat for rare species such as the Mitchell’s satyr.

Life Cycle:
An adult Mitchell’s satyr lives for only a few weeks, but it takes a year for a caterpillar to turn into a mature butterfly.

The satyr goes through three life stages. In July, females lay tiny eggs on the young leaves of low, tender plants. The eggs hatch in 7-11 days. The caterpillars, which are very small and difficult to spot, feed on tussock sedge and other fine-leafed sedges. In winter, they hibernate under the snow and emerge in spring to resume eating until they form a chrysalis. The adult butterflies emerge from a cocoon in late June, and males emerge a few days earlier than females.

List Status:
Historically, Mitchell’s satyr inhabited fens across New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and possibly Maryland. Today, the butterfly can only be found in 19 fens in southern Michigan and northern Indiana.

The greatest threat to Mitchell’s satyr is habitat loss and degradation. Most fens have been altered or drained completely for urban and agricultural development. Pesticides, fertilizer and nutrient runoff from agriculture contaminate the fen wetlands, as well. In addition, wetland alteration has led to the invasion of exotic weeds, such as glossy buckthorn, which can shade out the satyr’s food plants. It’s also believed that butterfly collectors could have contributed to the population loss of the Mitchell’s satyr. Because there are so few butterflies, the collection of even a few individuals could harm the entire population.

Protection Efforts:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) added Mitchell’s satyr to the federal list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants on June 25, 1991. It is illegal to harm, harass, collect or kill the butterfly without a permit from FWS.

FWS also created a recovery plan that describes actions needed to help the butterfly survive and thrive so that it can be taken off the endangered species list in the future.

Michigan and Indiana’s natural resource departments and partners have developed a Habitat Conservation Plan that provides a comprehensive framework for managing fens for Mitchell’s satyr.

The Michigan Department of Transportation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, and The Nature Conservancy are jointly preserving and improving two of the butterfly’s habitats of Michigan: the Blue Creek Fen in Berrien County and the Paw Paw Prairie Fen in Van Buren County.

How You Can Help:
MNA protects close to 30 fens, two of which are home to the Mitchell’s satyr. Fens are managed in multiple ways. One way MNA manages fens is by holding prescribed burns. A fen in decent shape requires a prescribed burn every three-to-five years. Fens with a larger presence of woody growth or invasive species may require more frequent burns every two-to-four years. MNA also manually removes invasive species from fens and protects the hydrology of the land by objecting to potential developments in the area. With the help of MNA volunteers, we strive to protect the unique habitat of the Mitchell’s satyr.

MNA volunteers are currently working to protect this and other endangered species, and you can help too. Join our efforts as a volunteer removing invasive plants in the special natural areas where this species lives. Or, become a steward and take responsibility for planning efforts to maintain a specific MNA sanctuary. To find out how to get involved, visit our website.

Sources: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Michigan State University