Monitoring Colorado’s Pawnee Montane Skipper

Monitoring Colorado’s Pawnee Montane Skipper

Amanda Accamando – Curatorial Manager

I’ve chased butterflies through the rainforests of Puerto Rico, visited butterfly farms in Costa Rica, observed butterflies puddling in Nicaragua, and even spent a summer monitoring butterflies in the most exotic of places – New York City. But it wasn’t until last week, in the depths of Pike National Forest, that I observed my first federally ‘threatened’ butterfly – the Pawnee montane skipper (Hesperia leonardus montana).   I was lucky enough to join a team from the US Forest Service and the Colorado Natural Heritage Program as a volunteer in monitoring this butterfly throughout its habitat, the ponderosa pine forest

Skipper butterflies in North America aren’t your typical colorful and charismatic butterflies that one usually hopes to attract to a garden. Skipper butterflies (in the family Hesperiidae) tend to be small, often brown colored and well camouflaged butterflies. These butterflies are fast fliers darting from flower to flower, deriving their name ‘skipper’ from this flight pattern. Pawnee montane skippers are not especially distinctive, except in one respect – they are found in only one place in the world!

Pawnee montane skippers are endemic to Colorado. Actually, they are restricted to a very small area of about 40 square miles in the Upper South Platte River drainage system. Although their larval host plant, blue grama grass, is abundant in the area, recent forest fires may have impacted population sizes, putting this butterfly at risk for extinction.

To understand the habitat needs and how forest management techniques, such as tree-thinning, are affecting Pawnee montane skippers, the US Forest Service has embarked on a long term monitoring study of the butterflies. So, for about one month every August, a group of biologists and volunteers hike through ponderosa pine forest along 400 meter transects (lines) trying to count Pawnee montane skippers. On August 24, I joined the group hoping to spot one of these skippers to help out the study and to add the butterfly to my life list!

Before heading out to the transects a biologist prepared the group for monitoring by teaching us how to distinguish Pawnee montane skippers from a more common skipper, the Colorado skipper (Hesperia colorado). The main difference between the Pawnee montane skipper and the Colorado skipper is found on the off-white colored patches on the underside of the wings. Common skippers have very defined patches outlined in black on their wings, whereas Pawnee montane skippers have less defined patches that ‘bleed’ into the surrounding wing color, and will sometimes not have patches at all. We were also taught how to spot differences between male and female skippers – males have much more angular wings and a black pheromone patch on the inside of their wings. 

Once we were skipper identification experts we headed out to the field armed with liters of water and our binoculars! My group of four people was responsible for monitoring 5 transects, each 400 meters long and 10 meters wide. The four of us walked together in a straight line stopping each time we thought we spotted a butterfly. Using our binoculars we tried to focus in on the butterfly to identify what species it was and whether it was male or female.

We saw about 30 skippers that day, both Pawnee montane skippers and Colorado skippers. Many of the skippers were spotted nectaring on their preferred nectar plant, prairie gayfeather (Liatris punctata). However the highlight of the day was watching a female Pawnee montane skipper oviposit (lay an egg)! We placed a fluorescent orange flag near the egg and recorded the location of the egg with a GPS, so that the biologists could check on the egg in the upcoming months.

 Overall, it was an amazing day hiking through ponderosa pines to contribute to our knowledge and ultimately the recovery of the Pawnee montane skipper!


August 31, 2011 at 5:28 pm Leave a comment



Amber Lynn Partridge, Zookeeper

 As we all know, May through September/October is mosquito season in Colorado. More people are spending time outdoors, and that means that people are more likely to get mosquito bites. Out of the more than 50 species of mosquitoes found in Colorado, only a few are disease vectors. Most people are familiar with West Nile Virus, but for those that are don’t know about it, here is some information about this mosquito-borne disease.

West Nile Virus was first seen in the United States in 1999 in New York and has spread across the country since that time. It is a virus in the Flavivirus family, was historically was found in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, and was first identified in 1937 in Uganda. In these parts of the world, it is considered a “children’s disease” because most people are exposed to the virus at a young age, and are then immune to the disease for life. While several species of mosquitoes can carry the virus, Culex tarsalis is the main West Nile vector in Colorado. West Nile is mainly a disease passed between mosquitoes and birds, but when an infected mosquito bites a human, the virus is transmitted. Scientists believe that most people who are infected with West Nile Virus do not show any symptoms, while others only show flu-like symptoms, which can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Lack of appetite
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Rash
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Vomiting

The incubation period for the virus is between 3-20 days following the infected bite. There is another form of the virus, called West Nile Virus Neuroinvasive Disease. This form of the virus is very serious, but far less common than the other form. This form of the virus causes encephalitis or meningitis, which is an inflammation of the brain and surrounding tissues. In this form of the disease, the first symptoms are usually headache and fever. These symptoms can quickly progress into muscle stiffness, disorientation, muscle tremors, and potential coma. There is also a potential for permanent brain and tissue damage or even death.

The good news is that you can prevent West Nile Virus in some very easy ways. Draining any standing water around your house is a very easy and effective way to prevent mosquito breeding. Limit time spent outdoors to daytime hours and try to stay inside at dusk and dawn. If this is not possible, the best defense against mosquitoes is repellent. According to the CDC, DEET is the best repellent to use. When using DEET, 25-35% active ingredient is best and will last the longest. Most people can safely use DEET without any side effects. One of the biggest complaints about DEET is that it feels very greasy. There are several alternatives to DEET that, if used, MUST be applied every 30 minutes to every hour to be effective. Picardin and Lemon Eucalyptus Oil are both effective mosquito controls and tend to cause fewer side effects. Again, please note that these must be reapplied frequently for effective mosquito control. Dressing in long sleeves and pants will also help prevent mosquito bites. Using these tips will help prevent bites, disease, and those itchy welts.

Other places to look for information:




August 11, 2011 at 3:11 pm Leave a comment

The Know About the Black Widow

 Although the Black Widow is a spider that is potentially harmful to people due to its venom, which is estimated to be (ounce to ounce) 15 times stronger than that of a rattlesnake (although one rattlesnake bite can deliver more venom than a widow can hold in its body), serious harm to humans from a Western Black Widow, Latrodectus Hesperus, is relatively uncommon, and fatalities are rare. The Western Black Widow, Latrodectus hesperus, is the Widow species most often encountered in Colorado. Black Widows have been known to cause death on very rare occasions, but mostly to infants, the elderly, and the infirm. Although Black Widows can bite multiple times, they have a finite amount of venom and after a few full envenomations they will deliver dry bites. Widows are very passive animals and only bite when threatened in their web. Bites typically occur when a victim reaches blindly into a dark area near the ground and inadvertently destroys a Black Widow’s web; the spider will bite in self-defense. Widows are very clumsy when not in their webs, and therefore are not found wandering or hunting. There is an antivenin for the neurotoxic venom of the Black Widow, but because in many cases the reaction to the antivenin is more severe than the bite it is administered in less than 7% of all hospital admittances for Widow bites. While it is virtually impossible to say for sure whether you have been bitten by a Widow or some other spider or insect without actually witnessing the bite, Widow bite symptoms are quick to appear (30-40 minutes) and can include any of the following: · Local pain, redness, burning and swelling at bite site (some victims may have minimal pain from the bite itself) · Abdominal pain (pain can be similar to appendicitis) · Localized or generalized muscle cramps (stomach, shoulders and back) · Headache · Rash and itching · Sweating · Eyelid swelling · Salivation, tearing of the eyes · Weakness, tremors or paralysis (especially in the legs) · Nausea and/or Vomiting · Dizziness and/or Fainting · Chest pain (similar to a heart attack) · Respiratory difficulties · High blood pressure Because of this large range of uncomfortable and alarming symptoms, victims of serious Widow bites will usually seek medical treatment immediately. It is important to wash the bite site, no matter the spider, as soon as it is identified. Although a Black Widow’s venom will be out of your system after several days, a severe infection such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which is highly resistant to some antibiotics, can be present and may not exhibit symptoms for quite some time.

Chad, Zookeeper at the Butterfly Pavilion

July 28, 2011 at 7:01 pm Leave a comment

What a Rare Find!

Something interesting to read about is the rare half-male, half-female butterfly that hatched at London’s Natural History Museum!

This is so rare, like 0.01% of butterflies hatch are gynandromorphs!

Read more at,

July 13, 2011 at 2:30 pm Leave a comment

School of BNC Expanding Their Programs


Ballet Nouveau Colorado (BNC) is a Broomfield based 501(c)3 nonprofit organization serving the community for nearly 20 years. BNC is committed to enriching lives through innovation in dance. An active member of the National Guild for Community Arts Education, The School of BNC serves more than 300 students per year and is committed to every student regardless of age, ability, aspiration, or socio-economic status. Under the guidance of Julia Wilkinson Manley since 2002, the school is highly respected for providing a nurturing and professional environment for students from toddlers through adults.


Recently, the School of BNC expanded its programs to include Dance With Me – a class especially for toddlers and their caregivers. This is an early childhood learning and development class designed for children ages 1 to 3 years old and their caregiver. The class explores the three basic elements of dance – time, space and energy – while promoting physiological, emotional, social and cognitive development. Dance With Me acknowledges a child’s innate sense of rhythm and movement ability, provides a safe and fun environment where they can explore and further develop these skills, strengthens family connections and builds confidence.


Dance With Me integrates the physical experience of kinesthetic learning with the other sensory experiences of visual and auditory learning through observing and listening. The class is most effective when caregivers actively participate in the class, as caregivers play an important role in a child’s development and participation is key. Caregivers don’t need to have any expertise or experience in dance – they simply need to have fun!


During the summer, the School of BNC will offer Dance With Me on Saturday mornings. BNC studios are located just off Hwy 36, near the Flatirons Cross Mall. To learn more about this class and other classes and programs at BNC, go to or call 303.466.5685.

June 16, 2011 at 3:41 pm Leave a comment

Alex and His Experience With Eating Bugs…mmm…

Alex eating bugs


Eating bugs for the first time was not as bad as I thought it would be. We had to eat one of each; there was a chocolate covered worm, a barbeque flavored mill worm, a sour cream flavored cricket, and a grape flavored cricket sucker. The texture of the bugs was the most interesting part because I did not know what to expect, but they ended up being crunchy. If I had to pick a favorite bug it would have to be the chocolate covered worm because it mostly tasted like chocolate. In the end it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it would be. Having said that I would not make bug eating a habit!

June 10, 2011 at 6:03 pm Leave a comment

Marvelous Mud

Enjoy the Marvelous Mud: Clay Around the World event at the Denver Art Museum from June 11 to September 18 which includes eight exhibitions, live artist demonstrations, and hands-on programming. Feel free to share this experience with all your family!!

General Admission CO Residents Others
Member Free Free
Adult $10 $13
Senior (65+) $8 $10
College Student $8 $10
Youth (6–18) $3 $5
Child (0–5) Free Free

For more information: 

June 9, 2011 at 4:57 pm Leave a comment

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