We. Have. Eggs!

For those of you that follow along with the happenings of Wildlife Preservation Canada, you may remember that last year the Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly breeding didn’t… go as planned. We have a number of ideas about why the butterflies wouldn’t breed last year, but at the end of the day we were left with no eggs and a lot of disappointment.

A highlight of last year was the discovery of a new checkespot population on Vancouver Island. This year we collected larvae from the site to use for captive breeding. Once the caterpillars started becoming chrysalis there was this unsettling stress that started to build in me. What was going to happen when they emerged? Would they breed? Would all of our hypotheses about last year be proven wrong? Would I be stuck with the month-long frustrations of last year?

On a sunny day in May, when the males were about three days old and the females were beginning to emerge, I put the butterflies outside for breeding.

And nothing happened.

Oh, the despair! I was panicking already. I switched their set up around and tried again the next day. This time, when I came back from lunch, I found a copulating pair!

Aerobatics of copulation? The male links with the female and will hand from the ceiling if needed to stay attached.

So yay! Success! My worries were over right?

Wrong.

Butterflies must stay joined for at least an hour before a copulation can be deemed successful. So I had to wait for that. Once I had a successful copulation, then there was reason to celebrate right?

Nope.

I wasn’t ready to relax until that female laid eggs. What good is copulation if it doesn’t produce eggs? Five days (read: an eternity) after copulation, one of our bred females laid. It was only then that I breathed my first sigh of relief. We had eggs! This was a huge improvement from last year. Since the first female laid, we’ve had other females successfully breed and lay eggs too. For a species so near extinctions I can’t express how important this is. Eggs are new individuals, new members of the species that will be kept safe in captivity until they can return to the wild and further wild population

Look at those little balls of stress… I mean eggs.

Now that we have eggs, I can finally relax. The stress that I’ve carried around deep in my chest since the beginning of May is fading. And as part of that stress relief, let me convey how annoying butterflies are.

They are so frustrating to work with. On warm days they fly around like children who have had too much sugar. They out maneuver us during feeding and we spend a chunk of time chasing them around our butterfly shed at the Great Vancouver Zoo.

There are a number of butterfly metaphors that I’ve discovered I hate hearing. It’s especially annoying hearing them during breeding season.

For example:

Love is like wings of butterfly.

Brittle and colourful? Nonsense. NEXT!

Elegance is a butterfly.

Nope. They flop around when it’s too cold. And if you touch their wings for marking they act like soccer players that have a scrapped knee. NEXT!

You can only chase a butterfly for so long.

Not true. When working with an endangered species, if one flies out of its cage you chase them for as long as it takes to get them back. NEXT!

Take time to be a butterfly.

No. Do. Not.

Alright I’m done. I’ll leave you with my joy that we have eggs and with a quote about butterflies I actually like:

“Butterflies are nature’s tragic heroes. They live most of their lives being completely ordinary. And then, one day, the unexpected happens. They burst from their cocoons in a blaze of colors and become utterly extraordinary. It is the shortest phase of their lives, but it holds the greatest importance. It shows us how empowering change can be.”

― Kelseyleigh Reber