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New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide
Species Group: Invertebrate
State: Special Concern
The rare skipper is a small butterfly with a wing span of approximately 1 ½ to 2 inches. The upper side of the forewing is a bright yellow-orange with a broad, dark brown or black border. The upper side of the hindwing has a central yellow-orange patch surrounded by the dark border. The female’s forewing has less orange than that of the male’s. The underside of both wings is yellow-orange with no border.
DISTRIBUTION AND HABITAT
Rare skippers can be found in isolated populations along the East Coast. These populations can range along the Atlantic from southern New Jersey south to Georgia. Its range was extended into New Jersey in the 1980s and consists of the southern coastal regions of the state and along tidal rivers.
The rare skipper’s habitat consists of fresh and brackish wetlands along tidal rivers and marshes as well as abandoned rice paddies.
Larval host plants include tall cordgrass (Spartina cynosuroides) in northern and coastal habitats and giant cutgrass (Zizaniopsis miliacea) in some southern wetland areas and abandon rice paddies. Adult rare skippers feed on nectar from wetland flowers such as swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnate) and pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata).
In its northern range, the female rare skipper produces one brood of eggs in June. In its southern range, it often produces two broods, one in May to June and one in late July to September. Little is known about its larval development, but larvae most likely overwinter at the mid instar stage and continue to develop once temperatures rise.
CURRENT STATUS, THREATS, AND CONSERVATION
In New Jersey, the rare skipper is recommended for listing as a “special concern” species. This means that they are especially vulnerable to habitat destruction or modification. As this species only exists in isolated populations in specific habitats, the protection of coastal wetlands and rice paddies is critical. Current threats to the rare skipper include development of marshes and engineering projects along tidal rivers. Recreation activities that can alter the habitat are also a danger to populations. Sprays used to control mosquito populations in wetlands also pose a threat. In Delaware, this practice was found to have a severe negative impact on rare skipper numbers.
As there is still relatively little known about this species, conservation efforts focus on studies of life history of the insect and aspects of a suitable habitat. Known populations should be monitored and possible habitats must be preserved.
In 2015, the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Advisory Committee recommended a Special Concern status for this species within the state, but no formal rule proposal has been filed to date.
Text written by Kathleen Wadiak in 2015.
- Butterflies and Moths of North America
- Coastal Wildscapes
- NatureServe Online Encyclopedia
- North American Butterfly Association, New Jersey Chapter
- Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
- The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Species: P. bulenta
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