While butterflies are beautiful to look at and increase the number of species living in a particular area the critical importance of these small creatures is the work that they provide our environment as pollinators. As you may know there is an increasing issue with declining populations of pollinators in agricultural areas especially, which is in turn affecting productivity of farmlands.
Pollinators such as bees and butterflies play a vital role in the pollination of plants and the production of crops, and if we don’t try to protect our native pollinators we will continue to see a decline in the diversity of native plants as well. Many native flowers are not pollinated by bees but by butterflies whose long proboscis (mouthpart used for feeding) are able to reach deep enough into the flower to pollinate these species.
Along with their important role as pollinators, butterflies such as our own Taylor’s checkerspot are known as an indicator or keystone species. These species are those which give us insight on the health of the environment they are living in. These are species who are sensitive to changes in climates, as well as changes in chemical balances such as pollution in the air and water or the use of pesticides. The presence or absence of an indicator species informs biologists about the health of the environment and can help inform if conservation measures are required for a particular area.
The Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha taylori) was listed as an endangered species in 2013. The TCB is a prairie species that was once documented to be quite spread in over 70 different sites through BC, Washington and Oregon state. After population declines they were then to be extirpated (locally extinct but exists elsewhere) from Canada until a small population on Denman Island was discovered in 2005. The butterflies in Canada occupy approximately 5% of its current habitat.
Today the captive breeding program, located this year at the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove, has successfully produced 83 individuals from larvae that arrived from Denman Island in March. Currently 37 females and 46 males have emerged from pupae stages and breeding has just begun this week. We hope to see some eggs being laid over the next few days and will continue to breed females over the course of the next couple weeks!