In Ontario, mottled duskywing butterflies rely on New Jersey tea and prairie red root – two shrubs commonly found in tallgrass prairies. However, those ecosystems are increasingly rare. As a result, only a few populations of this endangered pollinator remain in the province.

WPC is working to bring them back as part of the Ontario Butterfly Species at Risk Team. Together, we are spearheading an innovative effort to reintroduce the duskywing to Pinery Provincial Park in southwestern Ontario.

The third field season for mottled duskywing recovery at Pinery Provincial Park is underway and off to an exciting start! This is my third season of insect field research, but my first time working with an endangered species so I didn’t know what to expect or how many duskywings we would actually be seeing. This species is endangered because of its incredibly niche habitat requirements.

This recovery project is a step towards a thriving population of duskywing butterflies in Ontario.

We’ve set many exciting new records so far this season!

#1 Earliest sighting of a mottled duskywing

To my surprise, on the crew’s first day, we found one male mottled duskywing – setting a new record for the earliest sighting of a mottled duskywing in the park on May 8th, 2023! This assured me that we are headed into a successful season and shows that the efforts of the past research teams have proven to be effective.

A male mottled duskywing with wing markings to indicate whether it is a male (left markings) or female (right markings) and generation/site (colour of markings).

First mottled duskywing I saw this season!

#2 High count records

This success continued as we worked, setting new high-count records often and exceeding what we expected to find. Despite some of our sites being less active than others, we’ve been able to find mottled duskywings at all three previous release locations. Our most successful day so far was a high count of 20 at our most active site.

#3 First observed mating

During this busy day, we also found mottled duskywings mating – another first for the park. Evidence of mating behaviours indicates that this population may become self-sustaining, requiring less intervention from the research teams in their current focus of live releasing from the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory.

First observed mating of mottled duskywing at Pinery Provincial Park

#4 Most DNA samples taken

Only one month into our field research this season, we have already reached our quota of obtaining DNA samples from mottled duskywings within the first flight period – something that was not possible in previous seasons due to low population numbers. This DNA research will provide more information on what is helping each generation of butterfly to survive within the park.

Due to the early success of this season, we are hopeful that in years to come the mottled duskywing population at the Pinery will become more self-sustaining and require less effort from the recovery team, especially with the first observed mating this year!

Dolan Bohnert

Dolan is a Fleming College and Trent University graduate where he studied Fish and Wildlife Technology, Biology and Environmental Resource Science. He has a passion for birding, entomology and conservation.

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