Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery

Scientists believed this butterfly had disappeared from Canada, but in 2005 it was observed on Denman Island, off the coast of British Columbia. Learn more about this species.

 

In 2013, we converted a former aviary on Denman Island into a butterfly rearing facility as part of the effort to save this species. The Oregon Zoo in the United States had been running a successful breeding and release program for Taylor’s checkerspot since 2003, and our goal was to adapt their techniques so that they’d work with our Canadian population, which exists at the northern edge of the species’ range.

Eighteen eggs were collected from the wild, which produced more than a dozen surviving caterpillars. From those initial founders, a breeding population capable of producing hundreds of caterpillars per year was established.

In 2016, operations were moved to the Greater Vancouver Zoo — a partnership that greatly increased our capacity to grow and sustain the program and make it more visible to the public. Propagation of Taylor’s checkerspot continues with the purpose of refreshing the captive program with new founders and building capacity to increase the numbers of butterflies we can release.

This breeding program complements partner efforts to restore and maintain suitable habitat for wild checkerspots and create new release sites for future reintroductions.

We now have a breeding population that is able to produce at least 1,000 caterpillars per year — enough to augment the existing wild population and begin reintroducing the species to additional sites in its historic range.  In 2015, we began releasing Taylor’s checkerspots into restored habitat to supplement the existing population.
By breeding and then releasing caterpillars, we’re aiming to increase the size of the wild population to healthy, self-sustaining levels and to reintroduce this species to areas where it once thrived. Southern British Columbia has historically been the northern edge of the Taylor’s checkerspot range. It’s important to ensure the species survives here as climate change could ultimately wipe out more southerly populations.

Andrea Gielens
Lead Biologist

Andrea has been volunteering with wildlife since she was 13 years old, when she began helping at a local centre for orphaned wildlife, bottle-feeding young deer, raccoons and squirrels. She holds a Master’s degree in ecology from Royal Roads University, as well as a Bachelor’s degree in biology with a focus on zoology and animal behaviour. She has worked at zoos both in Canada and in the U.K., first with primates and small cats and later with the Oregon spotted frog. She has also studied pack dynamics and social behaviour among African wild dogs.
In 2011, Andrea spent a year in the amphibian and reptile department of Wildlife Preservation Canada’s U.K. sister organization, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey. There, among other things, she learned how to treat conservation colonies infected with the deadly chytrid fungus that has been wiping out amphibian populations worldwide. Andrea coordinates our B.C. Wetlands Wildlife project, as well as our work with Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly recovery.
The Taylor’s checkerspot breeding program was initiated on Denman Island by Peter Karsten, former Director of the Calgary Zoo, and former President of both the Canadian and American Associations of Zoos and Aquariums. Peter has a long history of successfully breeding a number of species and is renowned for his work with Pekin robins.
Volunteers from the Taylor’s Checkerspot Community Working Group are also an important part of releases, monitoring and habitat restoration.

How you can help: