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Endangered butterfly shows itself in Benton Harbor

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Environmental groups in Michigan are looking to protect one of the most endangered insects in the world. The beginning of July is the only time Mitchell’s Satyr butterflies are visible in nature.

Last week the first Mitchell’s Satyr was spotted at Sarrett Nature Center in Benton Harbor, one of the few habitats for the butterfly in the world.

“It’s the most endangered butterfly in the world,” said Chuck Nelson, director of Sarrett Nature Center. There are only in about 13 places in the world.”

Nelson said an estimated 600 Satyrs live in a small swamp at the center, making it one of most abundant known to scientists.

“People that love butterflies they know, but you ask our normal visitor here and they don’t know about it,” said Nelson.

The Mitchell’s Satyr sanctuary is so important construction of US-31 stopped at Napier Avenue in the mid-1990s when the butterfly was put on the endangered species list. For two years the US Department of Interior stood guard to protect the butterflies from poachers.

“There aren’t that many around anymore,” said Eileen Carlson, an employee that spots Satyrs at the center.

Mitchell’s Satyr are confined to what’s called a fen. It’s a warm water marsh with a highly basic PH level. The plants growing are exclusive to the rare natural habitat and the Satyr only lays its eggs on those plants.

The first week in July is when the molting and mating period begins for the butterfly.

 “It’s an amazing thing,” said Nelson.

The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy and Michigan DNR are now searching local river basins to find more Mitchell’s Satyr habitats since numbers have gotten so low. “We’re looking over all the river valleys in lower Michigan,” said Nelson.

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