Sunday, August 07, 2005

Endangered butterfly makes brief appearance at the zoo

PORTLAND, Ore. - What Oregon Zoo visitors won't see in the Winged Wonders exhibit may be one of the most important butterfly events of the year. This summer an endangered mardon skipper (Polites mardon) developed from egg to adult butterfly in the Oregon Zoo's butterfly lab.

"The skipper lived 19 days," said Butterfly Keeper Mary Jo Andersen. "That's right along the average for the species, which is two to three weeks."

Mardon skippers have tawny orange and tan wings checkered with pale yellow or white rectangles. Individuals have a hairy, stout body, and males are slightly smaller than females. With a wingspan of no more than one inch, this butterfly of the family Hesperiidae is a pipsqueak even by butterfly standards.

The mardon skipper butterfly that emerged from its chrysalis in the zoo's butterfly lab appeared to be approximately in sync with the development of the mardon skipper population in the South Cascades of Washington State, which was the source population for this year's captive-reared skippers. This skipper came from eggs that were laid in flats of grass covered by mesh "tents." After the eggs hatched, the caterpillars were moved into jars with clumps of fescue, a tall grass upon which mardon skipper caterpillars feed. The butterfly lab's mardon skipper caterpillar spent the majority of its time in a nest it made from small bits of the fescue, coming out only to feed.

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