Skippers: Dakota skipper (Hesperia dacotae)
(Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae: Hesperiinae)
Profile prepared by Mace Vaughan and Matthew Shepherd, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
The Dakota skipper, a butterfly species native to tallgrass and mixed grass prairies of the northern Great Plains, has always been considered rare and has been the focus of much conservation attention for many years. It faces loss and degradation of its prairie habitat due to certain harmful burning, haying, grazing, and pesticide use practices. Invasion of prairie by alien plants, natural succession, and habitat loss through agricultural and commercial development are also factors implicated in the decline of this species.
Xerces Society Red List Status: Imperiled Other Rankings: Canada – Species at Risk Act: Threatened Canada – provincial status: MB: Endangered Mexico: N/A USA – Endangered Species Act: Candidate USA – state status: IA: Endangered; MN: Threatened NatureServe: G2 IUCN Red List: VU
Due to the extensive loss and degradation of prairie habitat over the past decades, the distribution of the Dakota skipper has become fragmented and greatly reduced. The Dakota Skipper is now extirpated from the states of Illinois and Iowa (where it remains on the state’s endangered species list), where the species was last recorded in 1888 and 1992 respectively. Additionally, it is no longer believed to occur in far eastern Montana. In western North Dakota and northern Minnesota (it is a state threatened species), the status of the Dakota skipper is considered to be “tenuous,” with most populations highly isolated and vulnerable to, or threatened with, extirpation. In Canada, the Dakota skipper is listed as threatened under the Manitoba Endangered Species Act. The status of populations in Saskatchewan is unknown, although the species is considered rare and receives little or no protection.
It is a U.S. Endangered Species Act candidate species (67 Federal Register: 40657- 40679, 2002). There is a pending petition (filed on May 6, 2003) to list the species as threatened or endangered—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allocated it a listing priority of 11 in May 2004 (69 Federal Register: 24876-24904)—and the USFWS is developing a Candidate Conservation Plan for the species.
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The Dakota skipper (Hesperia dacotae) is a small to medium-sized butterfly with a wingspan of 2.4 to 3.2 centimeters. The dorsal surface of adult male wings varies in color from tawny-orange to brown, with a prominent mark on the forewing. The ventral surface is dusty yellow-orange. The dorsal surface of adult female wings is darker brown with diffused tawny orange spots and a few diffused white spots on the margin of the forewing. The ventral surface is dusty gray-brown with a faint white spot band across the middle of the wing. While Dakota skippers may be confused with Ottoe skippers (Hesperia ottoe), the Ottoe skipper is somewhat larger with slightly longer wings.
Hesperia dacotae (Skinner), 1911.
The Dakota skipper is considered an obligate of undisturbed native prairie. The butterfly inhabits wet lowland prairie dominated by bluestem grasses and dry upland prairie dominated by mixed bluestem and needle stem grasses. Both habitat types contain an abundance of flowering plants and have alkaline soils.
Dakota skippers complete one generation per year. They overwinter as mid- instar larvae in shelters at or below ground level. The larvae emerge from hibernation in the spring to complete their development, eventually pupating in June. The adults emerge in mid-June to early July, depending on weather, and mate during a flight period that lasts for about three weeks. Females lay eggs on a range of broadleaf plants and grasses, although a preference for little bluestem grasses has been documented. Dakota skipper larvae prefer little bluestem as a food source, although several grass species are known to be consumed. Recorded nectar sources for adults include purple coneflower (Echinacea sp.), white prairie clover (Dalea candida), fleabanes (Erigeron sp.), blanketflowers (Gaillardia sp.), black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia sp.), and evening primrose (yellow sundrops, Calylophus serrulatus). However, the Dakota Skipper seems to prefer purple coneflowers as nectar sources.
The Dakota skipper was once widely distributed throughout the northern tallgrass, Dakota mixed grass, and a portion of the central tallgrass prairie ecoregions. Its distribution previously included tallgrass and mixed grass prairies of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. The distribution of the Dakota skipper is now largely centered in western Minnesota, northeastern South Dakota, and the eastern half of North Dakota.
Courtesy of Butterflies and Moths of North America, Big Sky Institute.
The main threat to the Dakota skipper is the loss and degradation of their prairie habitat due to certain harmful burning, haying, grazing, and pesticide use practices. Invasion of prairie by alien plants, natural succession, and habitat loss through agricultural and commercial development are also factors implicated in its decline.
The habitat for every known population should be protected and appropriately managed. Much of the habitat of this butterfly is on private lands, so efforts should be made to work with private land owners.
Surveys should be conducted to confirm existing populations and search for additional ones on suitable habitat within the historical range. The draft Candidate Conservation Plan includes mapping all essential habitat, surveys, and research. At present there are no funds to implement the strategy.
Arenz, C.L., and A. Joerns. 1996. Prairie Legacies – Invertebrates. Pages 91-109 in Samson, F.B. and F.L. Knopf (eds.). Prairie Conservation: Preserving North America’s Most Endangered Ecosystem. Island Press, Washington, D.C. 339 pp.
Braker, N. 1985. Felton Prairie. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program, St. Paul. 54 pp.
Biodiversity Legal Foundation. 1994. Petition for a Rule to list the Dakota Skipper butterfly under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. Sec. 1531 et seq. (1973) as amended.
Britten, H. 2001. Conservation genetics of the Dakota skipper (Hesperia dacotae). Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program, St. Paul.
Britten, H.G., and J.W. Glasford. 2002. Genetic population structure of the Dakota Skipper (Lepidoptera: Hesperia dacotae): A North American native prairie obligate. Conservation Genetics. 3(4): 363-374.
Cochrane, J.F., and P. Delphey. 2002. Status Assessment and Conservation Guidelines; Dakota Skipper Hesperia dacotae (Skinner) (Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae); Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Twin Cities Field Office, MN. 80 pp.
Cuthrell, D.L. 1991. The butterflies of Kittson and Roseau Counties, Minnesota, with special emphasis on the Dakota skipper Hesperia dacotae (Skinner). Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program, St. Paul. 48 pp.
Dana, R. 1983. The Dakota skipper: a now rare prairie butterfly. Natural Areas Journal 3(3):31-34.
—. 1991. Conservation Management of the Prairie Skippers Hesperia dacotae and Hesperia ottoe: basic biology and threat of mortality during prescribed burning in spring. Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 594-1991 (AD-SB-5511-S). University of Minnesota, St. Paul. 63 pp.
—. 1997. Characterization of three Dakota skipper sites in Minnesota. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program, St. Paul. 17 pp.
Lenz, D. 1999. Characterization of Dakota skipper habitat in the Towner Karlsruhe prairie complex, McHenry County, North Dakota. Natural Heritage Inventory, North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, Bismarck. 23 pp.
MacNeill, D.C. 1964. The skippers of the genus Hesperia in western North America with special reference to California (Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae). University of California Publications in Entomology, Vol. 35. 230 pp.
Marrone, G.M. 2002. A butterfly survey at Grand River National Grassland, Carson and Perkins Counties, South Dakota. Report submitted to USDA Forest Service, Dakota Prairie National Grasslands, Bismarck, ND.
McCabe, T.L. 1979. Report on the status of the Dakota skipper (Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae, Hesperia dacotae (Skinner)) within the Garrison Diversion Unit, North Dakota.
—. 1981. The Dakota skipper, Hesperia dacotae (Skinner): range and biology, with special reference to North Dakota. Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society 35(3):179-193.
McCabe, T.L., and R.L. Post. 1977. Skippers (Hesperioidea) of North Dakota. North Dakota Insects Publication No. 11. Agricultural Experiment Station, North Dakota State University. 61 pp.
Moffatt, M., and N. McPhillips. 1993. Management for butterflies in the northern Great Plains: A literature review and guidebook for land managers. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pierre, South Dakota. 19 pp.
Olson, B. 2000. Prairie management for Dakota skipper (Hesperia dacotae), Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge, Odessa, MN. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge, Odessa, MN. 21 pp.
Orwig, T. 1995. Butterfly surveys in North Dakota: 1995. The Nature Conservancy, Bismarck, ND. 13 pp.
—. 1996. Butterfly surveys in southeastern North Dakota: 1996. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge, Cayuga, ND. 14 pp.
Orwig, T., and D. Schlicht. 1999. The last of the Iowa skippers. American Butterflies 7(1):4-12.
Reiser, J.M. 1997. A survey of 19 Nature Conservancy preserves to determine butterfly species composition and the presence or absence of five target species; Hesperia dacotae, Hesperia ottoe, Oarisma poweshiek, Poanes viator, and Speyeria idalia in 1995 and 1996. Final Report.
Royer, R.A. 1997. A final report on conservation status of the Dakota skipper [Hesperia dacotae (Skinner 1911)] in the State of North Dakota during the 1996 and 1997 flights, including observations on its potential recovery in the state. North Dakota Department of Parks and Recreation, Bismarck. 26 pp.
Royer, R.A., and G. Hanley. 1998. Butterfly inventory of selected plots within the Little Missouri National Grassland during the 1998 Field Season. A Final Report Submitted to the U.S. Forest Service.
Royer, R.A., and G.M. Marrone. 1992. Conservation status of the Dakota skipper (Hesperia dacotae) in North and South Dakota. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Denver, CO. 44 pp.
Royer, R.A., and M.R. Royer. 1998. Report on an inventory of habitat and occurrence of the Dakota skipper Hesperia dacotae (Skinner 1911)] in the Towner-Karlsruhe Habitat Complex (McHenry County, North Dakota) during 1998. Division of Science, Minot State University and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, St. Paul, MN. 25 pp.
Schlicht, D. 2001. The decline of Dakota skipper Hesperia dacotae at Prairie Coteau in Pipestone County, Minnesota. Text from a presentation at the Iowa Academy of Sciences, April 21, 2001. 18 pp.
Schlicht, D., and M. Saunders. 1994. Completion of status surveys for the Dakota skipper (Hesperia dacotae) and the poweshiek skipper (Oarisma poweshiek) in Minnesota (with additional data on the regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia)). Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program, St. Paul. 22 pp.
Schlicht, D.W., and T.T. Orwig. 1998. The status of Iowa’s Lepidoptera. Journal of the Iowa Academy of Sciences 105(2):82-88.
Skadsen, D.R. 1997. A report on the results of a survey for Dakota skipper [Hesperia dacotae (Skinner 1911)] in northeast South Dakota during the 1996 and 1997 flight periods. South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, Pierre. 34 pp.
—. 1999a. Addendum to a report on the results of a survey for Dakota skipper [Hesperia dacotae (Skinner 1911)] in northeast South Dakota: 1998 flight period. South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, Pierre. 12 pp.
—. 1999b. A report on the Dakota skipper Hesperia dacotae (Skinner 1911)] recovery meetings in South Dakota. South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, Pierre. 7 pp.
—. 1999c. Dakota skipper [Hesperia dacotae (Skinner 1911)] surveys at Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program, St. Paul. 19 pp.
—. (Undated) Progress report for continued Dakota skipper surveys and monitoring on USFWS lands in Minnesota. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program, St. Paul. 2 pp.
Spomer, S.M. 2002. Butterfly and skipper survey, Dakota Prairie National Grassland, Ransom and Richland Counties, ND. 2002 Field Season Report. Submitted to Pamela J. Bell/Dan Svingen, Custer National Forest, 1310 Main, Billings, MT 59102. 18 pp.
Swengel, A.B., and S.R. Swengel. 1999. Observation of prairie skippers (Oarisma poweshiek, Hesperia dacotae, H. ottoe, H. leonardus pawnee, and Atrytone arogos iowa) (Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae) in Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota during 1988-1997. The Great Lakes Entomologist 32(4):267-292.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1994. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Notice of 90-day Finding on a Petition to List the Dakota Skipper as an Endangered or Threatened Species. 59 Federal Register 38424-38425 (July 28, 1994).
—. 1995. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Finding on a Petition to List the Dakota Skipper (Hesperia dacotae) as an Endangered or Threatened Species. 60 Federal Register. 10535-10536 (February 27, 1995).
—. 2002. Designating Dakota Skipper as a Candidate for Listing under the Endangered Species Act. Questions and Answers. USFWS Fact Sheet.
—. 2004. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Review of Species That Are Candidates or Proposed for Listing as Endangered or Threatened; Annual Notice of Findings on Resubmitted Petitions; Annual Description of Progress on Listing Actions; Notice of Review; Proposed Rule. 69 Federal Register. 24876-24904 (May 4, 2004)
Big Sky Institute, Butterflies and Moths of North America: Dakota skipper (Accessed 1/21/09)
Petition to list the Dakota skipper under the Endangered Species Act
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species Program; Species Profile: Dakota skipper butterfly (Accessed 9/23/08)
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 3; Endangered Species Information: Dakota skipper (Accessed 9/23/08)
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, North Dakota Field Office; Species Information (Accessed 12/22/04)
Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility; SpeciesBank: Dakota skipper (Accessed 12/22/04)
Butterfly Conservation Initiative; The Dakota skipper butterfly (Accessed 9/23/08)
Vaughan, D. M., and M. D. Shepherd. 2005. Species Profile: Hesperia dacotae. In Shepherd, M. D., D. M. Vaughan, and S. H. Black (Eds). Red List of Pollinator Insects of North America. CD-ROM Version 1 (May 2005). Portland, OR: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.