Over 1200 Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars have been released into habitat on Hornby Island to return endangered butterflies to historic habitat.

Another year of  conservation breeding our Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies has reached the most exciting step – releasing our WPC raised animals into their habitat. Though releasing an animal may conjure dramatic images of flinging open a cage, it looks more like a delicate art project when it involves caterpillars.

With paintbrushes, tiny caterpillars are brushed out of their little plastic cups and placed into carefully selected micro-patches of habitat. Then a small flag is labelled and staked into the ground at each release point. This action was repeated many times, by many hands this March, and resulted in over 1200 caterpillars being released into restored habitat. All of this rather un-dramatic paint brush work will, hopefully, result in a busy butterfly flight season in May of this year.

Three small Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars are gently placed into a suitable micro-habitat patch in their new home. (Photo: Chris Junck of the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT))

Throughout Helliwell’s 2021 caterpillar releases, many people were able to lend a hand. Members of K’ómoks First Nation, volunteers from the Hornby Island Natural History Centre, and Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project Team members including BC Parks, Garry Oaks Ecosystems Recovery Team, BC Ministry of FLNRORD and WPC were on site during the course of the releases, which were spaced out over three days to allow for safe social distancing.

 

Clockwise from bottom: K’ómoks First Nation Chief Nicole Rempel, Councillor Katherine Frank and Elder Donna Mitchell help Taylor’s checkerspot larvae find the perfect spot in Helliwell Provincial Park. (Photo by Chris Junck of GOERT)

This release continues the ground-breaking work of the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project Team, aiming to create a third population of this endangered species in BC to help secure their survival. The caterpillars released this year are only the second cohort to be placed on Hornby Island. They were bred and raised by WPC with the support of the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project Team.  The habitat they are being put into in the park was historically a place the butterflies could be found, and we hope that the recovery team’s efforts will allow the species to thrive there again.

Though the habitat may look sparse or unwelcoming so early in the season, Helliwell’s bluffs provide the right mix of sun-warmed hills and food plants, which we hope will allow the Taylor’s checkerspot to thrive here once again.  Photo: Chris Junck of GOERT

Now that the caterpillars are “on-the-ground”, we won’t see them again until they emerge as butterflies in May. We have our fingers crossed that our favourite orange, black and white butterflies will be abundant on these rocky bluffs in a couple of months, like the adult Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly pictured below from the first cohort (in 2020) released on Hornby Island.

Photo: Bonnie Zand

Michelle Polley

Endangered Species Technician – Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly

Michelle is a Conservation Biologist and Field Naturalist with a special interest in Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and Herpetiles (reptiles and amphibians). Currently, she is the technician of WPC’s Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly program in Abbotsford, BC. She has worked with conservation projects for species at risk such as monarch butterflies and the turtles of Ontario.

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