Checkerspots: Sacramento Mountains checkerspot
(Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti)
(Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae:Melitaeinae: Melitaeini)
Profile prepared by Scott Hoffman Black and Mace Vaughan, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
The Sacramento Mountains checkerspot is endemic to the Sacramento Mountains of south-central New Mexico, where it is found only in high mountain meadows. The total range covers only 33 square miles—within which the distribution is patchy—around the Village of Cloudcroft. The butterfly is threatened by road maintenance and construction, livestock grazing in its habitat, invasive plants, climate change, campground improvements, construction of new houses, pesticide spraying, collection, and a land exchange between the U.S. Forest Service and the Village of Cloudcroft.
Xerces Red List Status: Critically Imperiled
Canada – Species at Risk Act: N/A
Canada – provincial status: N/A
USA – Endangered Species Act: None
USA – state status: None
IUCN Red List: N/A
Listing of the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot was proposed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act in 2001 (Federal Register 66:46575-46595) but the proposed listing was withdrawn in December 2004 (Federal Register 69: 76428– 76445). A major factor in the decision not to list the butterfly was preparation of the Draft Conservation Plan for the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot Butterfly (Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti).
The New Mexico Wildlife Conservation Act does not include ins ects in its definition of wildlife, so the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot does not receive any protection under state legislation. However, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish does maintain a Species of Concern list that ranks E. a. cloudcrofti (called the Cloudcroft checkerspot) as “sensitive (informal)”.
Sacramento Mountains checkerspot has a wingspan of about two inches. The upperside of its wings are checkered, with white and deep orange squares separated by black bands. The underside of the wings are similarly marked, with orange and cream checkered bands outlined in black. The body is black with rusty-orange hairs on the head and whitish hairs on its thorax. The tip of the abdomen is marked with a circle of yellowish hairs.
Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti (Ferris & R. Holland), 1980. This butterfly has at least two other common names—Cloudcroft Checkerspot (used by NM Department of Game and Fish) and Chalcedon checkerspot (used by NatureServe). The Sacramento Mountains checkerspot is part of the Euphydryas chalcedona (“variable checkerspots”) complex, which comprises three species, E. chalcedona, E. colon, and E. anicia, and thirty-eight subspecies. E. a. cloudcrofti was initially described as Occidryas anicia cloudcrofti.
Adult butterflies lay their eggs on New Mexico beardtongue (Penstemon neomexicanus), itself endemic to the Sacramento and Capitan Mountains. After hatching, larvae feed on the hostplant until their 4th or 5th instar when they enter an extended diapause. Typically, this diapause occurs as the food plants die back in the fall because of freezing temperatures. Depending upon environmental conditions, some larvae may remain in diapause for more than one year. During diapause, larvae probably hide in leaf or grass litter near the base of shrubs, under the bark of conifers, or in the loose soils associated with pocket gopher (Thomomys bottae) mounds. In general, diapause is broken in late spring (March-April) and the larvae resume feeding. At this time they may also feed on tobacco root (Valeriana edulis). They grow through three or four more instars before pupating and then emerging as adults in mid-summer (June-July). Adults have been observed taking nectar from a range of plants, but are often found in association with orange sneezewort (Hymenoxys hoopseii; also called owl’s-claws).
This species is restricted to montane meadows within the mixed-conifer forest at elevations between roughly 2,400 and 2,750 m (7,800 and 9,000 ft) in the vicinity of the Village of Cloudcroft, Otero County, New Mexico. The subspecies has been documented at fifteen general localities. The known range of the butterfly is within a radius of six miles of the Village of Cloudcroft, an 85 square km (33 square mi) area, within which the distribution of the butterfly is patchy and disjunct. There are unconfirmed reports of specimens on the Mescalero Apache Nation lands to the north of the confirmed range.
The species is threatened by road maintenance and construction, livestock grazing in its habitat, invasive plants, climate change, campground improvements, construction of new houses, pesticide spraying, collection, and a land exchange between the U.S. Forest Service and the Village of Cloudcroft.
Some of these threats may be lessened by the Draft Conservation Plan for the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot Butterfly (Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti) developed jointly by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Otero County, the Village of Cloudcroft, and the U.S. Forest Service. In it several actions are proposed, including better development control, exclusion of campers and off-highway vehicle users from some areas, cha nges in forest management to reduce fire risk, and the introduction of permits for butterfly collectors. However, the draft plan only covers publicly-owned land, leaving approximately 50 percent of the butterfly’s range without any management.
The principal concern is to ensure adequate habitat offering the larval hostplants and adult nectar plants remains. Although the range of the butterfly may be 33 square miles, only 5,200 acres of suitable habitat exists, and no more than 35 percent of that (1,900 acres) may be occupied by the butterfly.
Although the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and its partners have prepared a draft conservation plan, this plan only applies to publicly owned land. Approximately half of the suitable habitat is on privately owned land for which management actions can be suggested but not regulated. Development is a significant threat. Construction tends to occur on non-forested lands, i.e., the open areas preferred by checkerspots, because it is less costly to develop.
Under the conservation plan, both Otero County and the Village of Cloudcroft propose to introduce stronger controls on development. Cloudcroft will establish a greenbelt to protect habitat around the village. Otero County is drafting an ordnance that will ensure developers consider the needs of sensitive species, in doing so obligating developers to ensure that habitat of Sacramento Mountain checkerspot is maintained.
The habitat areas also need to be protected from catastrophic fires, over-grazing, and recreational use, both camping and ORV use.
Research focusing both on the butterfly itself and its habitat is needed. Basic life history information such as egg laying behavior is still unknown. A greater understanding of the impacts of grazing, fire ecology, and recreation on habitat quality and appropriate management actions would be valuable. Known checkerspot populations should be monitored to assess the effectiveness of proposed development controls.
Cary, S. J., and R. Holland. 1992. New Mexico Butterflies: Checklist, Distribution and Conservation. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera. 31(1-2):57-82.
Arizona Game and Fish Department. 1995. Status Designations Notebook. Heritage Data Management System (HDMS). Phoenix, AZ.
Stanford, R. E., and P. A. Opler. 1993. Atlas of Western USA Butterflies, including Adjacent Parts of Canada and Mexico. Denver and Fort Collins, Colorado. October 1995 Supplement.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Otero County, The Village of Cloudcroft, and U.S. Forest Service. 2005. Conservation Plan for the Sacramento Mountains Checkerspot Butterfly (Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti). Albuquerque, New Mexico. 105pp. (Accessed 9/23/08.)
Black, S. H., and D. M. Vaughan. 2005. Species Profile: Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti. 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.