Consider the Poweshiek skipperling (Oarisma poweshiek). Most people don’t. It has few Facebook friends or people crying out to ‘Save the Skipperling’. Yet the skipperling is now one of the most rapidly declining animals in North America…skipperlings appear to have blinked out from 96 per cent of their prairie sites in a range stretching from Manitoba to Michigan. This elegant animal, dying out on our own continent, might be more imperiled than pandas or lions. And you’ve probably never heard of it. The Poweshiek skipperling is a butterfly.
As best I can tell, I’ve never witnessed extinction. Never have I known a plant or animal, only to see it vanish forever from Earth. The Poweshiek skipperling could become my first. Few of us know this kind of loss. It does not compare with the death of a friend or a family member. That is absolute and visceral loss. Nor is the loss of the skipperling quite like the closing of our favourite coffee joint. That is tolerable loss. A park might become a shopping mall. We lost Jimi Hendrix but not his music. These are losses – but they are not extinction…
I’ve met the Poweshiek skipperling in the prairie. If this species goes extinct, I will mourn it…Once the skipperling heads to oblivion, I will have only the memory of spending the afternoon of 13 July 2003, in a prairie fen in Michigan, on my knees and on my belly with this tiny orange butterfly.
~ Bryan Pfeiffer, in an excerpt from Ghosts and Tiny Treasures
Notes: Photograph: Skippering Butterfly by Bryan Pfeiffer