Butterfly Habitat Network: Focus on the Prairie

(Regal Fritillary photographed by Steven Glynn in 2015)

Want to help us conserve the butterflies of the prairie? You can donate and choose the Butterfly Habitat Network location of your choice, or just join and become a member!

This first of our seven part series will focus on one of our Butterfly Habitat Network (BHN) satellite locations. Today, let’s focus on the Prairie, a landscape with some butterfly species that really need our help: Poweshiek Skipperling, Dakota Skipper, Otoe Skipper, Regal Fritillary, and ‘Pawnee’ Leonard’s Skipper. We’ll look at two pieces. First, our Executive Director Marcus B. Gray takes a look at the conservation challenge for this area, and then we have a classic NABA piece by Barry Williams on the plight of the Regal Fritillary.
The Plight of the Prairie – and its Butterflies
by Marcus Brandon Gray
In the years surrounding World War II, Aldo Leopold wrote about how our natural heritage was resigned to roadside ditches, cemeteries and other “odd areas.” Since the time of settlement in the Great Plains, land conversion has been the status quo. My own ancestors were party to the complete redesign of the Missouri landscape. It’s part of the reason I became a Wildlife Biologist in the first place. This land has given so much to us, it’s time to give something back.

Vast prairies once stretched across the Midwest from the Great Lakes to the Dakotas. The occupied range of prairie chickens, wolves, cougars, bison, elk and dozens of lesser-known animal and plant species was decimated. Only in my lifetime have eagles, beaver, otter, rattlesnakes, black bears and cougars begun to recolonize – many with assistance of state wildlife management agencies and an aging human population “moving to town” or otherwise off the land. These are the more adaptable fauna that are able to recover once government-sponsored removal campaigns were abolished.

The latest concern from the avian world is the marked decline of the bobwhite quail. Loss of native prairie and intensive farming practices have eliminated the “odd areas.” Quail were able to adapt for a time, benefitting from hedgerows while prairie chickens lost out; although they held on while farms were small. Quail are suffering significantly from the conversion of hayfields and pasture to fescue coupled with the bulldozing of hedgerows. In the East, the opposite is the case – too many trees. Butterflies share many of the same habitats critical to game animals, neotropical migratory birds and grassland birds. Waterfowl nest in the upland grasslands used by butterflies. When resident game bird enthusiasts decry roadside mowing or fund projects to create brood habitat, they are promoting butterflies. What are young birds eating in those forest openings touted by the ruffed grouse hunter or golden-wing warbler watcher? Insects. Caterpillars to be specific.

The excessive use of pesticides is putting the final nail in the coffin for several species. Reduced to fragments of their former habitat, these prairie remnants are subjected to over-management for conflicting objectives. Use of prescribed fire too frequently has also been raised as a concern to the already debilitated populations of rare butterflies and its use rarely considers the influence it has on non-migratory or primarily sessile butterfly species. While prescribed fire can be a welcomed stewardship tool, for rare prairie butterflies (most of which do not migrate, unlike the well-known Monarch), it can spell disaster for an already-crippled population. The recommendation of butterfly biologists is that fire treatments be implemented in such a way as to minimize mortality of caterpillars, pupae and adults by burning only 1/4 to 1/3 of a site at any given time so as to provide adequate refugia to foster recolonization.

The factors impacting these populations are complex and hard to generalize across the entire Great Plains but the story is well-documented for the tall grass prairie. Busting sod in 1850 was one thing. Our forebearers were striving for a better life and we owe a debt to them for that in one sense. However, there is little excuse for plowing native prairie in 2016. The tiling and draining that has gone on in the last fifteen years in Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota is obscene. We should have learned from prior mistakes, learned from the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. As additional pressures are put on producers to grow more food for an increasingly urban and disconnected public, we have real challenges to face in our food system and the people who grow our food for that matter. Farmers are aging and even with an interest in farming the operating capital, equipment and land costs are driving the intensification of agriculture. It’s like we have begun a reaction we are unable to stop.

The North American Butterfly Association (NABA) is a 501c(3) organization dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of wild butterflies. NABA is gravely concerned with the precipitous decline of prairie butterflies, including but not limited to: Poweshiek Skippering, Dakota Skipper, Pawnee Leonard’s Skipper, Regal Fritillary and Monarch. Poweshiek Skipperling is listed under the federal Endangered Species Act as Endangered. We’re talking extinction here, folks. The butterfly is down to just three known sites in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota The Dakota Skipper is listed as Threatened, is rapidly declining and will likely be lost if something is not done. Other species won’t be far behind. The grasses and forbs critical for the life history of these butterflies are controlled with widespread glyphosate and other herbicide use. Systemic and topical pesticides employed to control true insect pests are adversely impacting whole assemblages of native organisms. Extirpation of large mammals, namely bison and elk have removed major drivers of ecological function from the landscape. Butterflies are the canary in the coal mine for landscape-level impacts to the ecosystem. As the butterflies go, so go other wildlife.

With partners, NABA proposes creation of the North American Prairie Collaborative to develop a series of prairie reserves with the intention of restoring ecological processes that these butterflies evolved with. The idea is to secure funding to purchase contiguous parcels of sufficient size which will allow the group to explore bison serving as a keystone species once again, where compatible. Other programs within this initiative will work to canvass for Congressional designation of a butterfly semi-postal stamp, promote native vegetation establishment on public and private lands via USDA cost-share (conservation payments) and securing matching contributions from partners. Furthermore, conservation easements or leases will be used to increase the overall amount of habitat available for the prairie ecosystem while enhancing the working nature of farms and ranches in the region. Finally, butterflies will be reintroduced to make use of the newly-available habitat.

This collaborative has the potential to bring in non-traditional partners and develop innovative approaches to complex problems. NABA envisions participation from resident game bird organizations, large mammal groups, zoos, institutions of higher learning, state and federal agencies, tribal entities and more. There are some good efforts underway independently but there is a need for coordination to improve effectiveness. For more information about how to get involved, contact the author (Marcus Gray, Executive Director for NABA) at gray@naba.org.

The North American Butterfly Association (NABA) is a 501 c(3) non-profit entity headquartered in Morristown, NJ. The organization’s largest project is the National Butterfly Center in Mission, TX. Through an active Chapter system and engaged membership, NABA works locally to promote on-the-ground conservation work and institutes policy initiatives to further its mission. For more information visit http://www.naba.org. Connect with us on social media @NABAButterfly.


Winter 1999:
Regal Fritillaries in a Tailspin
a Story of East and West DNA and the Urgent Need for Conservation of a Flagship Species by Barry Williams




Happenings: Andover Memorial Hall Library Butterfly Photography Exhibit

The Memorial Hall Library in Andover, Massachusetts is displaying several of Howard Hoople’s butterfly photographs during the month of November. You can visit the library to see the exhibit in person ( see http://www.mhl.org/artists for location, hours, etc.). Or you can see the twelve photos Howard chose (out of about 55,000 taken so far!) for the show at:

Ward 2013-06-28 - 28

[Mike: Howard happens to be our Massachusetts NABA chapter president! Check out this awesome series of photographs; can you identify all of the butterflies?]

Events: Tallahassee Hairstreak Chapter 2017 Planning Meeting: Sunday, December 11, 2016

There will be a meeting on December 11th at 2:00 PM at the home of Dean and Sally Jue (3455 Dorchester Ct., Tallahassee) to plan our chapter’s 2017 programs, activities, and events. If you have suggestions for the 2017 calendar, please pass the information along to any of our chapter officers. Their e-mail addresses are on our chapter website at http://www.naba-hairstreak.com/contact.html. If you want to attend the meeting, please e-mail Dean at djue.hairstreak@gmail.com so we can accommodate you.

Introducing the Butterfly Habitat Network

Continent-wide Butterfly Habitat Network Launched


(A map of the National Butterfly Center and sample satellite regional locations. Click on each to learn more, with a larger explanation below.)

The North American Butterfly Association (NABA) is launching the Butterfly Habitat Network (BHN); a new, continent-wide conservation initiative and would love to have your help. Using decades of accumulated knowledge from butterfly count data, natural history investigations, our residential gardening program and regional activities accomplished by the National Butterfly Center and more; NABA is scaling-up efforts to protect, enhance and create habitat specifically for butterflies. We intend to inform work on the landscape level that will benefit not only butterflies but other pollinators and entire accompanying suites of species dependent on the ecosystems where butterflies exist. Butterflies are important pollinators of native plants and represent (as caterpillars) a major food resource for birds. Habitats critical to butterflies are essential to nesting waterfowl, neotropical migratory birds, upland game birds and more. To recover imperiled species of butterflies and keep common species common are our goals. By establishing core reserves in sensitive, often declining, vegetative types, NABA can provide stewardship activities on-the-ground on properties whose management is controlled by biologists dedicated to preservation of butterflies. These core areas will be the critical space needed for population maintenance, as part of a network of public and private working lands managed by NABA and partners, that expands the acreage available to butterflies through Farm Bill incentives and other programs. The mosaic of land conservation strategies is designed to promote biodiversity while fostering sustainability of agricultural operations. Sites for acquisition, easements or habitat augmentation will be selected in reference to their butterfly value, proximity to other suitable habitat and likelihood of long term success.

Why is this important? For many understandable reasons such as competing stakeholder interests, shifting management priorities, decreases in staff/budget and the like; state/federal agencies and more broadly defined non-governmental organizations do not manage solely for butterflies. Often, specific prescriptions are needed to create and maintain quality habitat for butterfly reproduction and overwintering. NABA proposes continuing our efforts to influence management of land with butterflies in mind but believes the time has come as an organization to ramp up activities related to developing a series of butterfly reserves, larger-scale habitat projects and transition into managing populations of butterflies.

The NABA Board of Directors and staff have selected representative projects across the diverse geographic areas of North America as a starting point of the BHN. There are rapidly declining prairie butterflies due to native grassland conversion, diminished populations of butterflies in extreme Southern Florida due to development, problems with transitional habitats maturing beyond their usefulness to rare butterflies in New Jersey, a host of opportunities for dozens of species in Texas and pesticide-impacted species across the continent that require non-treated parcels to recolonize. There are many more areas in need of preservation. You are able to decide which specific project or projects matters the most to you while retaining the ability to allow NABA to apply funding where it is needed most.

Building on our years of work at the local level, your participation is critical to increasing the continent’s populations of butterflies. If we can save butterflies, we can save ourselves ® is more than just a slogan – it is the understanding that adequate, well-cared for space for the wild others of this planet will ensure survival and quality of life for human beings.


Here are our sample regional network locations. Actual sites will be determined over the course of the campaign.

Southern California/Hermes Copper: Wildfires have destroyed critical habitat sites for this species which has yet to receive endangered status. At the same time, although prescribed fire can be a useful management tool, in some situations it is detrimental – especially as the range of a species is drastically reduced. http://butterflies.naba.org/?p=353

Klots’ Bog – New Jersey/Georgia Satyr, Two-spotted Skipper, & Bog Copper: This site is about the marching of succession. The vegetation here is maturing beyond the usefulness to the rare Georgia Satyr, Two-spotted Skipper, and Bog Copper, and this site requires management to provide the growth of a more immature biome. http://butterflies.naba.org/?p=334

Prairie/Poweshiek Skipperling, Dakota Skipper, Ottoe Skipper, Regal Fritillary, and ‘Pawnee’ Leonard’s Skipper: The preservation of tall grass prairie ecosystems is crucial to the endangered Poweshiek Skipperling and threatened Dakota Skipper, Otoe Skipper, Regal Fritillary, and ‘Pawnee’ Leonard’s Skipper as their habitats have been degraded by development. The grasses and forbs critical for the life history of these butterflies are controlled with widespread glyphosate and other herbicide use. Systemic and topical pesticides employed to control true insect pests are adversely impacting whole assemblages of native organisms. Extirpation of large mammals, namely bison and elk have removed major drivers of ecological function from the landscape. Butterflies are the canary in the coal mine for landscape-level impacts to the ecosystem. As these butterflies go, so go other wildlife. http://butterflies.naba.org/?p=289

South Florida/Miami Blue, Schaus’ Swallowtail, Florida Leafwing, and Bertram’s Scrub-Hairstreak: We are seeking to re-establish the Miami Blue and support the Schaus’ Swallowtail, Florida Leafing, and Bertram’s Scrub-Hairstreak. Housing and commercial development has been obliterating these species’ habitat. Mismanagement led to the death of the captive population and destruction of the butterflies’ host plant on state land. http://butterflies.naba.org/?p=306

National Butterfly Center – Mission, Texas: Help us maintain the gardens at the National Butterfly Center. The gardens at the National Butterfly Center are a magnet for, and home to, literally thousands of butterflies. We have created these spectacular gardens using plants native to south Texas and northern Mexico. In fact, we believe that the gardens at the National Butterfly Center are the largest gardens in the United States that showcase regionally native plants in a formal garden arrangement.
Since planting these demonstration gardens, almost 200 kinds of butterflies have been seen at the National Butterfly Center, and many thousands of adults and school children have come to the Center to see and learn about native butterflies.

South Texas/Manfreda Giant-Skipper: We seek to re-establish this species, which hasn’t been seen in the US, north of the border, since the 1980’s. This means creating more habitat containing the Manfreda, this butterflies’ caterpillar food plant.

Central Mexico/Monarch: Human activity threatens the crucial overwintering sites for Monarchs in Central Mexico. Locations protected from mining and logging activities are required to maintain these as viable habitats during this part of the Monarch’s migration.

The North American Butterfly Association (NABA) is a 501 c(3) non-profit entity headquartered in Morristown, NJ. The organization’s largest project is the National Butterfly Center in Mission, TX. Through an active Chapter system and engaged membership, NABA works locally to promote on-the-ground conservation work and institutes policy initiatives to further its mission. For more information visit http://www.naba.org. Connect with us on social media @NABAButterfly.

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Events: Central Arizona Chapter Meeting Saturday, November 19th

The North American Butterfly Association’s Central Arizona Butterfly chapter invites you to join us for a free and exciting meeting on Saturday, November 19th, from 2-4pm that will recap our efforts, field trips and meetings of the past year. Members will show-off their most beautiful, interesting photos of butterflies, moths or caterpillars in a photo presentation. We will be selling our 2017 butterfly calendar, field guides, jewelry and butterfly related art. We will also trade host plant cuttings and seeds, and have our yearly raffle. There will definitely be time to socialize with light refreshments provided. Meeting will be held the at Papago Buttes Church of the Brethren, 2450 N. 64th Street, Scottsdale, AZ 85257 (On the NW corner of Oak and 64th St. This is about one mile north of the Desert Botanical Garden).

For more information about the Central Arizona Butterfly Association please visit http://cazba.org/default.aspx

Butterfly Gardening: Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)

(The awesome Hackberry Emperor, Asterocampa celtis)

We don’t often think of trees when considering planning a butterfly garden, which is to overlook their importance as host plants for some caterpillars. Today let’s look at the Common Hackberry, also known as the American Hackberry.

A relative of the Elm tree, hackberry trees are adaptable to a wide range of light and moisture levels. Often planted for its purple-red fruit that attracts a wide variety of birds, hackberry can be used as a native alternative for Chinese and Siberian Elms.

(map of Celtis occidentalis from bonap.org: dark green squares mean the species is present in county and native, light green means species is present and not rare, yellow means species is present but rare, and blue means the species is native, but adventive in state)

Importance as a caterpillar food source: Hackberry trees provide many butterfly species with caterpillar food. Although the activity is usually high above easy viewing levels, some guidelines for caterpillar identification are:

  • Tawny Emperor caterpillars eggs are laid in large groups of 200 to 500 on hackberry bark or leaves. The young caterpillars feed in large groups.
  • Hackberry Emperor caterpillar eggs are laid in small groups ranging from one to twenty.
  • American Snout caterpillar eggs are laid in small groups.
  • Caterpillars of the Question Mark butterfly live alone on hackberry leaves.
  • Mourning Cloak caterpillars live together in a web while eating hackberry leaves.

Importance as a butterfly nectar source: Hackberry is used as a nectar source but its popularity varies by location.

The following article originally appeared in Butterfly Gardener (Vol. 14, Issue 1, Spring 2009). NABA member Lenora Larson has graciously allowed us to reprint it here.


Is there a perfect tree? Consider the magnificent hackberry tree, Celtis occidentalis. Many species of butterflies consider it the perfect caterpillar food plant, including the Question Mark, Mourning Cloak, Hackberry Emperor, Tawny Emperor and the darling American Snout. About every five years, we are blessed with huge eruptions of Hackberry Emperors. Leave your car window open, and fifty will perch on your steering wheel, enjoying its saltiness.

Birds also celebrate hackberry trees. Winter residents such as yellow-bellied sapsuckers, wild turkeys, and mockingbirds depend on the persistent berries. In fall and again in spring, great flocks of migrating cedar waxwings swoop onto the hackberry tree to gobble berries while discussing their journey in that distinctive musical twitter.Hackberry fruit And our beautiful fox squirrels eat both the leaf galls and the fruit. I have personally taste-tested the sweetness of the dark red berries, a thin flesh around a single nutlet.

Landscape designers effusively praise the hackberry tree and rate it “superior.” Like other members of the elm family, it creates a shady canopy, growing to 60 feet with a 40 to 50 foot spread. This American native’s resistance to pollution makes it the perfect urban tree. From zone 3 to Florida’s zone 9, hackberries flourish in any type of soil: acidic, alkaline, clay or loamy or sandy. Bring on the flood or the drought, hackberries thrive. Mature hackberry trees prefer full sun, but will grow in partial shade.

Garden designers yearn for four-season interest. The May flowers are an insignificant green, but the pale green spring leaves and yellow fall foliage are attractive.Hackberry Bark Even better, the “geographic” bark provides that scarcity, winter charm. Stomping through the snowy forest, a hiker can easily identify hackberry trees by the light gray bark arranged in deep, corky furrows that look like mountain ranges.

This beautiful native tree feeds animals, grows under tough conditions and harvests as attractive hardwood for furniture and flooring. How can we even question this tree’s perfection? In a word, berries. Hackberries. They are spread far and wide by birds and have at least a 300% germination rate. (OK. The book says 34%, but it seems like 300%). From June to October, I’m patrolling my gardens for seedlings. If you don’t tug the seedlings out the first year, they resist all but the strongest arm. And by the third year, even Round-up requires multiple applications to eradicate the pesky upstarts.

We were so close to perfection! Is there a solution? Yes, “stooling:” the cutting of trees and shrubs to the ground each winter. Butterflies agree with this strategy because the caterpillars prefer the tender leaves of the newly stooled growth to the tougher leaves of an adult tree. My one huge mature specimen keeps everyone provided with winter food. With sharp eyes and luck, all seedlings are eradicated each spring, except for a lucky few that choose their landing spot well. These are maintained as stooled specimens that don’t bear berries and provide succulent leaves for the caterpillars. Stooled specimens are short-lived and after four or five years, they give up in frustration over not being allowed to achieve their genetic potential. No problem, because I can count on the choice of hundreds of replacements each spring. Perfect!

Lenora Larson gardens and hosts butterflies in the cruel winds and clay soil of Eastern Kansas.


Common Hackberry Cultural Requirements
USDA Hardiness Zone: 2 to 9
Bloom Period: Not applicable
Bloom Color: Not applicable
Plant Height: 60 to 100 feet
Plant Spread: Rounded crown
Light Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Soil Moisture: Moist but well drained
Animal/Pest Problems: None





Opportunities: Postdoctoral Position on Plant-Pollinator Interactions at Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research

Postdoctoral Position on Plant-Pollinator Interactions at Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research

Penn State’s Department of Entomology and Center for Pollinator Research seeks a Postdoctoral Research Associate to lead a USDA-SCRI funded project examining pollinator interactions with ornamental plant species. The candidate should have extensive experience in (1) working with honey bees (2) evaluating foraging behavior of bees (3) palynology and (4) use of molecular tools to identify plant species from pollen samples. The candidate should have excellent written and oral communication skills, the ability to collaborate with and coordinate the efforts of a large team of researchers from different universities, and a track record of publishing his/her work in scientific journals and presenting to broad audiences. Preference will be given to candidates with a PhD in Entomology, Biology, or related field. This is a one-year appointment, with possibility of extension. For more information, please contact Christina Grozinger, Professor, Department of Entomology, Penn State University, cmg25@psu.edu.

Apply at https://psu.jobs/job/67504