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1/10/21

Sacramento Checkerspot Butterfly

The Sacramento mountains checkerspot is a butterfly that only lives in New Mexico in the Sacramento Mountains. They live at elevations between 7,800 and 9,000 feet. Females are slightly larger and their abdomen are more rounded in shape. This butterfly feeds off many plants, the most desirable being orange sneezeweed. It is not unique in the fact that it only lays eggs on one rare plant, the New Mexico penstemon. Once these eggs hatch into larvae they will eat penstemon until fall, when they enter into a time of suspended growth until spring. Then they pupate and become adults in midsummer. However, depending on the external conditions, larvae can live for 9 months to a year. Adults have a much shorter lifespan of only two weeks. Checkerspots do not migrate.

The New Mexico penstemon is only found in the Sacramento and Capitan mountains. The checkerspot’s range is only 33 square miles, including only 8 miles of subtitle habitat and 3 miles where they actually live. There may be only 1,000 individuals and decreasing. Problems facing the Sacramento mountains checkerspot butterfly include livestock grazing, off-road vehicle use, construction, development, invasive weeds, extreme weather, and global warming. Most of these more specific problems destroy checkerspot’s habitats. Climate change is a problem because if the butterfly or the penstemon is forced to change their range because of new temperatures, their new ranges may not overlap, leaving the checkerspot to disappear without the penstemon as a host.

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Image courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service

By protecting the checkerspot we also help the penstemon and other creatures affected by the same threats. We also set an example and gain experience that can help us help other animals.

Cloudcroft, the town near the Sacramento mountains checkerspot’s minuscule habitat, has a Draft Conservation Plan that is trying to lessen these threats. Unfortunately this draft only works for public land, so 50% of the butterfly’s land is not helped by the plan. The checkerspot is not receiving protection via the Endangered Species Act. You can raise awareness for this butterfly and advocate for it’s legal protection.

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Photos by J. Popp.

Image by the Center for Biological Diversity

Image courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service

Photos by J. Popp.

Works Cited