Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery

This small, vibrantly-coloured butterfly once thrived in Garry Oak ecosystems, wet meadows, and disturbed habitats from the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. As recently as 2005, scientists believed that this butterfly had disappeared from Canada. Two isolated populations have since been found, on Denman Island and near Oyster River on Vancouver Island. The species is quite sedentary, often using one small patch of habitat for their entire lifecycle. Learn more about this species.

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Conservation breeding of Taylor’s checkerspots began in 2013 in a converted aviary on Denman Island, with the collection of 18 wild eggs. In the years since, breeding has been moved to facilities at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. Techniques we use are adapted from a successful breeding and release program for the same species at the Oregon Zoo, and applied to suit the biology of our Canadian Taylor’s checkerspot populations. We now have the capability to produce over a thousand caterpillars per year, while engaging in education and outreach with Greater Vancouver Zoo guests.

This breeding program complements partner efforts that restore and maintain suitable habitat for the species, and that create new release sites for reintroductions.

The breeding population has seen increasing success since the beginning of the program. We can now produce over 1000 caterpillars a year, with improvements being made consistently. Through our captive breeding program, we continue to gain insight into the species’ behaviour, needs and development. The Taylor’s checkerspots are released as large caterpillars in early spring. In 2015, we began releasing caterpillars into restored habitats on Denman Island to supplement the existing populations.

In the early spring of 2020, the first generation of caterpillars were released into restored habitat in Helliwell Provincial Park on Hornby Island, a project many years in the making. In this formerly occupied habitat, we are attempting to establish a third, resilient population of checkerspots in BC. This important habitat on Hornby Island has been restored in collaboration with our partners.

We were thrilled to see that, come May 2020, there were adult Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies flying in these restored meadows. Releases of caterpillars on Hornby Island will continue, and the population will be monitored by our team to ensure their success.

By breeding and then releasing caterpillars, we aim to establish new self-sustaining populations in the Taylor’s checkerspot’s former range. We are also working to locate additional remaining wild populations of the species. We are protecting the Taylor’s checkerspot in BC, at the northern edge of the species’ range. This action becomes only more important in the face of climate change, which could spell the end for more southerly populations.

Andrea Gielens
Lead Biologist

Andrea manages the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly recovery program in BC. Andrea has studied in Canada and abroad, including a term at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey. Andrea also manages our captive breeding and release programs for the coastal western painted turtle and Oregon spotted frog.

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