Richard A Leussler – Nebraska’s Greatest Lepidopoterist and Hesperia pahaska

It is of interest that while Richard A Leussler was/is perhaps Nebraska’s most noted Lepidopterist, that was not his vocation. While I was unable to find out much about his early years he was evidently born in St Louis in 1866 and came to Nebraska in 1902 as an executive in the Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway Company which ceased operations in 1955. His work also took him into leadership jobs with steel and bridgework companies. He passed away in Omaha on August 22, 1943.

But he is perhaps most well known for his work as an amateur lepidopterist. During his time in Nebraska he published nine scientific papers (the most notable being a statewide compilation published in 1938 which listed 159 species) and described one new species and four new subspecies. His collection of 3476 specimens is now housed at Ohio State University. Mr. Leussler made numerous trips across the state which would likely have been quite an adventure with the state of roads at that time.

The new species Mr. Leussler described from the state is Hesperia pahaska (Leussler, 1938). In 1938 in the Entomological News he wrote: “On the high plains of the canyon region in Sioux County, Nebr., there flies a skipper which has passed under various names but which differs from all named forms. An examination of the genitalia indicates that it is distinct. I propose for it the name pahaska, the name the Sioux Indians bestowed upon Col. Wm. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) who killed Chief Yellow Hand in single combat in War Bonnet Canyon, upon the rim of which this skipper flies. “Pahaska” in the Sioux language means “White Chief”.”

So this is a butterfly first discovered and described in Nebraska with “the high plains of the canyon region in Sioux County, Nebr.” being its type locality. The type specimens are in the Triplehorn invertibrate collection at Ohio State University. Today War Bonnet Canyon is on private land and to my knowledge has not been visited recently. Of late the Pahaska Skipper has been difficult to locate in the Pine Ridge area. I did manage to find one in Kimball county south of Interstate 80 mm1 last year (see June 26 2020 post). It flies once a year from late May into July. It’s larvae feed on short to mixed grass prairie grasses.

Additional specimens can be viewed by utilizing the following link.

Hesperia p pahaska thumbnails (butterfliesofamerica.com)

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