Years of work came to fruition on Friday when Assiniboine Park Conservancy announced it would return the endangered butterfly species to their natural habitat each year to restore both populations and habitat.
Nearly 50 Captain Powseeks were released at the Tallgrass Prairie Reserve near Vita, Isle of Man. — is the only place in Canada where they are seen.
Elsewhere, the only natural habitats for brown butterflies as small as a dime are Flint, Michigan, and the Assiniboine Park Reserve, where they are kept and released.
“They were common in the Midwest and Canada in the early 2000s, but in about a decade they lost more than 90 percent of their extant population,” said Laura Burns, a research and conservation expert at the zoo. ” says.
About 500 powseeks remain in the wild, and the decline in pollinator populations, including pesticides, climate change and invasive species, remains a mystery.
But despite that cause, Burns is now focused on reviving the species in reserves.
“Our job now is to keep them from going extinct until we figure out what happened,” she said.
In the program’s sixth year of breeding and release, the research team released Powseeks into a new area of the Tallgrass Prairie Reserve. This area is located in southeastern Manitoba, currently considered one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Only about 1 percent of their former habitat remains.
Like the coal mine canary, the Pawseek skipperling and its sister species, the Dakota skipperling, are kept in zoos for re-breeding and are what conservationists call “index species.”
“When you lose a butterfly or your population plummets, you know the habitat is no longer healthy,” Burns says.
“And that’s what Captain Powshek and Dakota are telling us: We need to make the prairies healthier.”
Monarch butterflies live in houses, unlike the black-and-orange monarch butterflies, which are attracted to milkweed and can travel long distances, and the environment they live in cannot be replicated in residential backyards. Restoring tall grass prairies is the only option to prevent insect extinction.
Marika Olnyk, management coordinator for the Conservation Society of Canada, works with the zoo to manage the reserve and ensure that the captain’s cubs, released into their habitat, have a chance to survive.
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Burn management, trimming of shrubs and plants that may encroach on reserves, and control of invasive species are all done to allow boobies to thrive in their habitat.
“It’s actually pretty exciting when you think about it. There are less than 500 remaining individuals and we’re starting to get them back to their former habitat,” she said.
Conservation groups and zoos also frequently monitor protected areas in the southeast to see if populations are maintaining or declining. Burns said he has seen more skipper rings this year than ever before.
“For now, I’m very optimistic,” said the researcher.
Barnes said he hopes that the more birds are released, the more humans will become obsessed with insect swarms and advocate for their survival.
“Little things matter and everyone loves stories of underdogs…I can’t think of a better underdog than a little brown butterfly that most people have never seen.”
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