The Lesser Prairie Chicken

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC) as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. It is estimated that in 2013 only 17,615 individuals existed and are confined to 17% of their historic rangeland. Some of the primary causes of the LPC decline are thought to be habitat loss and fragmentation, drought, fire suppression, industry development and rangeland conversion.

 

Background

The Lesser Prairie Chicken, or Tympanuchus pallidicinctus, is a North American grouse species. LPC are mostly brown with small white or tan horizontal stripes and are about the size of a domestic chicken. Males have red-purple air sacs on the side of their necks that inflate when courting females.

LPC are commonly known for their elaborate mating dance, which is performed in an open area called a lek. LPC are not very territorial, except for their leks, so home ranges of individuals overlap and vary by sex, age, season, and weather patterns.

Insects, such as grasshoppers, beetles, bugs, and caterpillars, are a key component of the LPC diet and are especially important for broods. LPC adults also eat vegetation, such as oaks, grain crops, sumac, and gromwell, depending on the season.

The primary causes of LPC population decline are habitat loss and fragmentation. Specifically, conversion of native prairie to cropland, long term fire suppression leading to tree invasion, grazing management practices, herbicide spraying, fragmentation caused by oil and gas development and wind energy development,  fences and utility lines, prolonged drought and climate change.

LPC Life Cycle

The critical reproduction period ranges from March 1-July 15

  • Breeding season is mid-March through May
  • Nests are initiated mid-April though late May
  • Hatching peaks in late May through mid-June
  • Brooding occurs after hatching

Appearance:

 The monarch is a large orange butterfly who's wings have prominent dark veins and two rows of white spots at the edges, and the body is dark. The wingspread ranges from 89 to 105 millimeters (about 3.5 to 4 inches). Males are bigger than females and have a visible dark spot over a vein on their hind wings.  

Where they Live:

Monarchs in northern states settle primarily in conifers and maple trees, while monarchs in the south commonly live in pecan and oak trees. Monarchs spend the winters in forests, forming clusters of butterflies in a state of diapause, which is like hibernation. The forests provide protection from wind and storms and exposure to dappled sunlight to keep the butterflies warm enough not to freeze but cool enough not to break diapause and deplete the fat reserves they need to survive the winter. In Mexico, monarchs spend the winters primarily in oyamel fir trees, and in California they cluster in gum, pine, cypress and sycamore trees.

Status:

Monarchs across North America have declined by more than 80 percent over the past 20 years. In the mid-1990s there were approximately 1 billion monarchs, but as of winter 2013-2014, the population had declined to 35 million. Monarchs are threatened by the loss of milkweed in the Midwest due to spraying of Roundup (glyphosate) on genetically modified crops that has nearly wiped out milkweed from the core of the butterfly's range. They are also threatened by sprawl, global climate change, pesticides, development of their overwintering groves in California, and logging of their overwintering grounds in Mexico.

The low monarch wintering numbers in 2013 and 2014 resulted in an April 2014 statement of shared concern by leaders of the United States, Mexico and Canada. The monarch butterfly was specifically included in the 2014 Presidential Memorandum on pollinator conservation. Additionally, the FWS is conducting a status review to determine if protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is warranted for monarchs.