Mitchell’s Satyr Conservation
One of the world’s rarest butterflies, the Mitchell’s satyr is found exclusively in fen habitats in Michigan and Indiana where the adult butterflies fly between the third week of June and the third week of July.
These butterflies are listed as an endangered species because of habitat loss. Satyr’s require a specialized wetland habitat found in prairie fens for survival and the draining of these fens for agriculture is decimating the population. Altering these wetland ecosystems also allows invasive plants to take hold which are unsuitable for the Mitchell’s satyrs.
The Toledo Zoo has a program geared towards saving this species of butterfly. While partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Zoo has a large greenhouse on grounds where Mitchell’s satyr caterpillars are raised in captivity for release back in to the wild. Mitchell’s satyrs are originally collected in the wild, then brought back to the Zoo to lay their eggs on sedges in specialized enclosures. The adults are then released back where they were collected. When the caterpillars at the zoo eclose, they will be taken to a new site for reintroduction in Indiana.
Mitchell’s satyr caterpillars exclusively feed on grass-like plants called sedges found in fens. When the caterpillars hatch, they are extremely small and blend in perfectly with the sedge. Biologists keep track of caterpillars in captivity by meticulously counting them several times a week.
Coldwater Fen in Coldwater Michigan is home to a significant population of Mitchell’s satyrs. Fens are characterized by being a low nutrient system that receive carbonate-rich ground water from seeps and springs. The vegetation in fens are sedges and flowering plants.