ALBUQUERQUE, NM—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized listing the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Designation of critical habitat for the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly will be proposed at a later date.
“The Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly is among a group of pollinators – including bees, bats and birds – experiencing serious declines across the country,” said Amy Lueders, the Service’s Southwest Regional Director. “Protecting pollinators is vitally important to maintaining the natural mechanisms that sustain us and our world.”
While there are various checkerspot butterflies, this subspecies is found in only a few high-elevation mountain meadows within the Sacramento Mountains on the Lincoln National Forest in southeastern New Mexico. These butterflies are about 2 inches wide as adults and members of the brush-footed butterfly family, Nymphalidae. Like many other butterflies, the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly relies on a single species of host plant, the New Mexico beardtongue, to lay its eggs.
In recent years, the ecosystem where the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly lives has been degraded by incompatible grazing, human recreation,
Climate change includes both global warming driven by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Though there have been previous periods of climatic change, since the mid-20th century humans have had an unprecedented impact on Earth's climate system and caused change on a global scale.
Learn more about climate change , altered fire regime, and invasive and non-native plants. The Service is partnering with the U.S. Forest Service, butterfly experts and non-governmental organizations to restore butterfly habitat on the Lincoln National Forest.
Native pollinators such as the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly are critical to healthy, functioning ecosystems. The growing extinction crisis highlights the importance of the ESA and efforts to conserve species. It also underscores how human activity can impact wildlife and ecosystems by contributing to habitat loss, collection/overutilization, and
An invasive species is any plant or animal that has spread or been introduced into a new area where they are, or could, cause harm to the environment, economy, or human, animal, or plant health. Their unwelcome presence can destroy ecosystems and cost millions of dollars.
Learn more about invasive species and disease. The growing impacts of climate change are anticipated to further exacerbate these threats and their interactions for many species and ecosystems.
The Service found that the designation of critical habitat for the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly is prudent, but we are unable to make a critical habitat determination at this time. The Service is continuing to consider what areas may be essential to the butterfly’s conservation and expects to propose a designation of critical habitat in the coming year.
The listing rule goes into effect March 2, 2023. The rule, comments and materials the Service received, as well as supporting documentation used in preparing the rule, are available for public inspection in the docket on http://www.regulations.gov; search for Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2021-0069.
America’s fish, wildlife and plant resources belong to all citizens, and ensuring the health of imperiled species and their habitats is a shared responsibility. The Service is working to actively engage conservation partners and the public in the search for improved and innovative ways to conserve and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What action is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service taking?
A: Based on a review of the best available science, the Service is finalizing its rule to protect the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA defines endangered as a species that is currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
Q: What is the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly and where does it live?
A: The Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti) is currently recognized as a subspecies of the variable checkerspot butterfly. These butterflies are about two inches wide as adults and are a member of the brush-footed butterfly family, Nymphalidae. This subspecies is only found in Otero County, New Mexico.
In the Sacramento Mountains, the butterfly occupies subalpine meadows between 7,800 and 9,000 ft. in elevation. These meadows exist along canyon bottoms and hilltops between spruce-fir forests.
The butterfly lays its eggs on New Mexico beardtongue (Penstemon neomexicanus). When the caterpillars hatch, they spin a silken tent around the New Mexico beardtongue to protect themselves. Caterpillars spend the winter in a state called diapause, which is similar to hibernation. When they emerge in the spring, they consume more plants before becoming a chrysalis and later turning into butterflies. In summer, after the monsoon rains come, the adult butterflies emerge for a short time to mate and lay eggs. Adult butterflies prefer to drink nectar from orange sneezeweed (Helenium (Hymenoxys) hoopsii).
Q: What are the primary threats to the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly?
A: After a review of the best available scientific and commercial information, the Service determined the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly is at risk of extinction due to the scarcity, small size and isolation of remaining populations. The species had declined in recent years due to degraded habitat, caused by incompatible grazing, human recreation, climate change, altered fire regime, and invasive and non-native plants.
Q: Are there any conservation efforts focused on the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly?
A: The U.S. Forest Service has worked for many years to survey and manage habitat for the butterfly. Recently, the Forest Service started working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, butterfly experts, and non-governmental organizations to restore butterfly habitat in the Lincoln National Forest.
Q: Is the Service also designating critical habitat for the species?
A: The Service has found that the designation of critical habitat for the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly is prudent, but we are unable to make a critical habitat determination at this time. The Service is continuing to consider what areas may be essential to the butterfly’s conservation and will propose a designation of critical habitat at a later date.