Minnesota Conservationists Release Endangered Butterflies Back into Wild
LAKE BENTON, M.N. – It’s a process that’s been called a win for nature by conservationists. Dakota Skippers, a common butterfly in the area all but disappeared three years ago.
Now, we’re again seeing more of the endangered species thanks to the Minnesota Zoo and The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota.
“We know that Dakota Skippers used to be here for many generations and for some reason they’re not here,” said Nina Hill with The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota.
Dakota Skippers butterflies inhabited the Sioux Empire for as long as conservationists could remember. Until they seemingly. vanished from thin air.
“Dakota Skippers are one of those butterflies that have collapsed dramatically. There are probably other species doing the same thing, we just don’t know about it,” said Conservation Biologist at the Minnesota Zoo, Erik Runquist.
Experts have some ideas as to why the species disappeared, like changes in climate or pesticides making their way to prairies, but have no way of knowing exactly.
“We can speculate a loss of habitat, the prairie has been broken up into smaller pieces,” said Hill.
Regardless of why, something needed to be done. The Minnesota Zoo along with The Nature Conservancy started nursing the skippers back to health.
“If we could use the zoo-based breeding operations like we would do for any other large mammal that you might think of at a zoo as a tool for conservation of this prairie butterfly,” said Runquist.
The process started in 2017. That first year, 200 Dakota Skippers were nursed back to health and released. The total jumped up to 250 in 2018. This year, they’re hoping to release 400 and the results speak themselves.
“We’re hitting those marks where we need to, we’re seeing individuals again, we’re reciting individuals that have been released out here. We think they disappeared from this spot about a decade ago. We’re also seeing them breed for the first time, in multiple decades. So, those are big wins,” said Runquist.
Conservationists say they can use the results from this restoration to help populate other areas in the future.