The Poweshiek skipperling is dark brown with a light orange head with a one-inch wingspan. When resting, the undersides of its wings appear, showing its white veins, which make the wings look striped. The caterpillar is pale green with a dark green dorsal band outlined by cream lines. This insect spends its winters in caterpillar form on the ground, emerging in the spring and developing into an adult butterfly in late June to mid-July. The adult only lives one or two weeks, mating and laying its eggs. One of its preferred foods is Shrubby Cinquefoil nectar.
I first learned about this tiny near-endangered butterfly this fall from our land steward consultant, Rick McAvinchey, as he wrapped up his study of the Dunham Lake Greenbelt. As Greenbelt chair, I conferred with Rick for much of 2013. A major greenbelt concern was in protecting the wetland in the south end of the lake where North Ore Creek flows. We looked for the elusive Shrubby Cinquefoil and Prairie Thistle plants, identifiers that this was in fact the remnant of a prairie fen. No luck, but the grasses, sedges and forbes were amazingly varied and the tiny insects hopped and fluttered about in abundance.
Finally, a lead DNR wetland botanist, Mike Penskar, volunteered his time to assess our wetland. Within two hours, he identified nearly fifty plants, including indicator plants of prairie fens. In Mike Penskar’s final summary he said that our prairie fen remnant, though small, is a rich, sensitive natural community that should be conserved and protected.’ The wisdom of Penskar’s advice was soon underscored by the news that two sites were habitats for the Poweshiek – one south of Buckhorn Lake in Oakland County and the other west of Bullard Lake in Livingston County. These two sites, on either side of Dunham Lake, are within a few miles of each other.
I contacted MNFI lead conservationist for the study of this insect, David Cuthrill. He is interested in including our fen in his study. Small fen areas are apparently promising habitat for the Poweshiek and may well support other endangered insects such as the Lake Huron leaf hopper, an even rarer insect. He stated, “If you are saving the Poweshiek, you are saving a whole suite of species, some that we don’t even know about yet”