Skippers: Pawnee montane skipper
(Hesperia leonardus montana)
(Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae: Hesperiinae)
Profile prepared by Mace Vaughan and Matthew Shepherd, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
The Pawnee montane skipper occurs only in the South Platte River drainage of Colorado. At the time of listing as federally threatened, the butterfly’s habitat was threatened with the construction of a dam and reservoir and associated development. In 1990, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not approve the construction of the dam, removing the immediate principal threat to the skipper’s habitat—although in the long term, a similar threat to skipper habitat may resurface. More significantly because of the limited habitat and range of the Pawnee montane skipper, unexpected environmental, random (stochastic) events could also have a major deleterious effect on the population. For the Pawnee montane skipper, periodic fire may be necessary to maintain the open nature of the habitat.
Xerces Red List Status: Imperiled
Canada – Species at Risk Act: N/A
Canada – provincial status: N/A
USA – Endangered Species Act: Threatened
USA – state status: None
IUCN Red List: N/A
The last surveys (1997 and 1998) on record estimated 100,000 individuals. This is down from population figures based on surveys completed in 1985-87, which estimated up to 166,000 individuals. The Pawnee montane skipper was listed as a federal threatened species on September 25, 1987 (Federal Register 52:36176-36180).
Recovery Plan: Pawnee montane skipper Butterfly Recovery Plan; approved September 1998.
Critical Habitat: none designated
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The Pawnee montane skipper is a member of the family Hesperiidae. The upperside of the wing is brownish red with distinct yellowish spots near the outer margins. Underside is brown with cream spots.
Hesperia leonardus montana (Skinner) 1911. Other common names include the Montana skipper.
Pawnee montane skippers inhabit dry, open Ponderosa pine woodlands with sparse understory at 6,000 to 7,500 feet. Two necessary components of the field layer of the habitat are the grass blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis)—the larval food plant—and prairie blazing star (Liatris pycnostachya), the primary adult nectar plant.
The Skipper occurs only on the Pikes Peak Granite Formation in the South Platte River drainage system in Colorado involving portions of Jefferson, Douglas, Teller, and Park counties. The total known habitat within the range is estimated to be 37.9 square miles.
At the time of listing, the skipper’s habitat was threatened with the construction of Two Forks Dam and Reservoir and associated development, which would have inundated up to a quarter of the butterfly’s habitat and reduced its population by up to 40 percent. In 1990, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not approve the construction of the dam, removing the immediate principal threat to the skipper’s habitat. However, in the long term, a similar threat to skipper habitat may resurface as plans for other water storage facilities are proposed.
More significantly because of the limited habitat and range of the Pawnee montane skipper, unexpected environmental, random (stochastic) events could also have a major deleterious effect on the population. In addition, management of the habitat may become increasingly important: For the Pawnee montane skipper, periodic fire may be necessary to maintain the open nature of the habitat.
According to the Recovery Plan, recovery efforts will concentrate on creation of Memoranda of Understanding between land management agencies to provide for maintenance and enhancement of habitat, monitoring skipper presence, monitoring skipper habitat quality and trends, determination of management criteria for habitat maintenance, education of private landowners, and seeking opportunities for conservation agreements to allow enhancement of skipper habitat on private lands. The recovery plan includes as one of its goals conservation agreements to allow enhancement of skipper habitat on private lands.
Monitoring and surveys for skipper presence should continue. Skipper habitat quality and trends should be monitored and further research into best management practices for habitat maintenance is important.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. 1998. Pawnee montane skipper butterfly (Hesperia leonardus montana) recovery plan. Denver, Colorado. 16 pages. (Available online; Accessed 4/18/05.)
Big Sky Institute, Butterflies and Moths of North America: Leonard’s skipper (Accessed 1/21/09)
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Threatened and Endangered Species System; Species Profile: Pawnee Mountain Skipper (Accessed 4/18/05)
NatureServe Explorer (Accessed 4/18/05)
Dispatches From the Vanishing World; “A Reporter at Large (The Skipper and the Dam)” (New Yorker, 12/1/86) (Accessed 4/18/05)
Vaughan, D. M., and M. D. Shepherd. 2005. Species Profile: Hesperia leonardus montana. In Shepherd, M. D., D. M. Vaughan, and S. H. Black (Eds). Red List of Pollinator Insects of North America. CD-ROM Version 1 (May 2005). Portland, OR: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.