Native grassland habitats are increasingly threatened by a wide array of human influences including habitat conversion, invasive species, pesticide use, and climate change.
The loss of this prairie habitat has resulted in the dramatic decline of several highly specialized grassland species including the Poweshiek skipperling. This small butterfly may go unnoticed by most, but it is dependent on tall grass prairie habitat.
At Assiniboine Park Zoo, we have established a head-starting program for grassland specialist butterflies that are at risk of extinction. Head-start programs bring young animals in from the wild and raise them until they are old enough to survive on their own. They are then released into the wild to increase the population size or re-establish the population in areas where they have gone extinct.
About the Species
Breeding & Ecology
The Poweshiek skipperling takes one year to complete its life cycle. It is active in its adult form for only two to three weeks in June and July when they breed and females lay eggs on grasses found in tall grass prairie habitat. When the eggs hatch, caterpillars emerge and feed on grasses, before spending the winter at the base of plants under the snow. The following spring, the caterpillar will form a chrysalis, and emerge as an adult that June or July to repeat the cycle.
Less than 1% of the native prairie habitat that once covered Manitoba remains to this day. This habitat is critical for the Poweshiek skipperling as well as other grassland-specialist species. Most of this land has been converted to agriculture. Other threats include climate change, pesticide use, overgrazing, fire, and invasive species.
Critically Endangered - Poweshiek skipperling have been listed as endangered in Canada since 2014 and the USA since 2013. The IUCN RedList of Threatened Species lists Poweshiek skipperling as Critically Endangered globally. Manitoba is the only province in Canada where the Poweshiek skipperling can still be found.
The historic range of Poweshiek skipperling. Today, it can only be found in Manitoba and one site in Michigan.
Black dots on the map represent confirmed historical locations (now extirpated), shaded areas represent inferred historical habitat. Source: Saarinen et al. 2016
Conservation & Research
The Assiniboine Park Zoo is committed to ensuring that Poweshiek skipperlings remain a part of Manitoba’s natural heritage for generations to come. As an important part of the biodiversity of tall grass prairies and an indicator of this imperilled ecosystem’s health, securing the future of Poweshiek skipperling will also benefit other rare and unique inhabitants of Manitoba’s tall grass prairie.
What is Being Done in Manitoba?
The University of Winnipeg, The Nature Conservancy of Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Province of Manitoba, Assiniboine Park Zoo, and other experts are working together to form the Canadian section of the Poweshiek Protection Team. We are actively working on recovery and research projects that will help us understand and supplement the wild population that remains.
What is Assiniboine Park Zoo’s Role?
We are running a captive rearing and head-starting program for the endangered Poweshiek skipperling in collaboration with local and international experts. Each summer a small number of wild female Poweshiek skipperlings are brought to the Assiniboine Park Zoo for a short period of time to lay eggs. After laying, the female skipperlings are returned to their natural habitat. Once the eggs hatch, we provide optimal growing conditions for the caterpillars, including overwintering in a climate-controlled incubator, until they are ready to be released as adults the following summer. Our team of staff, students, and volunteers also conduct surveys to monitor the heath and abundance of wild skipperling populations and to gauge the success of our head-starting program.
What Can You Do?
You may not have prairie habitat where you live, but pollinating insects and rare habitats are everywhere. Protect habitat and support organizations who are working towards that goal. You can also create habitat for species at your home, school, work, and community.
Wildlife Conservation Fund
Join us in taking action to protect and conserve wild habitats and species including the Poweshiek skipperling. As a not-for-profit conservation organization, the Assiniboine Park Conservancy relies on the generosity of donors to make our conservation programs possible.