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Very Rare Butterflies May Pull Through Winter Because of Snow

Dec 20, 2015 09:59 PM EST
Poweshiek Skipperling
In Manitoba, a recent snowfall will be good for the very rare, endangered butterfly the Poweshiek skipperling. The insects needs snow for insulation in wind and cold weather, but researchers say that if these butterflies don't survive the winter, they will be extinct in that area.
(Photo : Courtesy of Gerald Selby)

In Winnipeg, Manitoba, the poweshiek skipperling butterfly recently scored a win when 19 centimeters of snow fell on the southern grasslands of the Canadian province.

The butterflies, known as Oarisma poweshiek, need snowpack to provide enough water and moisture for them for the winter.

"That definitely alleviates some of the stress," said Cary Hamel of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, according to an article in Global News (Canada). "That snow is one of the major reasons they can survive over our very harsh winters. Without it, we're nervous."

That's because the butterflies spend the winter as caterpillars, sheltered among grass stems and leaf litter on the prairie floor. Snow serves as an insulating protection to them against dry winds and fierce temperatures.

So, what's this butterfly like? The skipperling is a fairly modestly designed, orange-and-brown creature once very common in the tallgrass prairie of southern Manitoba and the American Midwest. Suddenly, after 2001, this flying insect has been more and more scarce at location after location.

This year's survey located only about 36 adult skipperlings in all of Manitoba. There were not so many others in the U.S.

Little is known about the skipperling other than it likes native tallgrass prairie and is attracted to black-eyed Susan flowers. 

"Every one of these caterpillars counts now. And we need them all," as Hamel said in the article. 

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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