Expanded Taylor's checkerspot recovery zone highlights scale of conservation efforts

When discussing Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly recovery, captive rearing and release of larvae are quick to come to mind.  But did you know that the effort to prepare the habitat for larvae release is extensive and consumes the majority of the year? CNLM manages two occupied sites and is preparing many others for future butterfly introductions.  Years before a release occurs, work beings to bring weeds under control. Once this has occurred, native plants can be added through seeding and planting, being sure to provide host and nectar plants for the butterfly. If the habitat is deemed suitable, it is then selected as a release site. While the wildflower bloom and larvae release are exciting events, they are the culmination of months and years of work by many.

Volunteers surveying native plant plugs to be planted at Glacial Heritage

Invasive grasses and Scotch broom are the biggest threats in the south sound prairies, as they form monotonous stands and alter habitat structure.  Herbicide is applied each spring to control invasive grasses and each fall to control Scotch broom, in combination with year around manual removal efforts. Prescribed burning is also used to assist in management of these threats. With these weeds brought under control, plant materials can be added to the site –a particular seed mix is selected to meet the habitat requirements of Taylor’s checkerspot. Host plants specific to the butterfly are needed for egg laying and food for larvae. In addition to host plants, the butterflies require specific nectar species that are flowering during the adult flight period.  These host and nectar plants are both seeded post-fire and planted in dense patches.   At Glacial Heritage Preserve alone, over 22,000 host and nectar plugs and 360 pounds of native seed were added to the site in 2016/2017.

Checkerspot caterpillar


Once habitat is deemed suitable comes the reward of larvae release. Over the past 5 years, over 10,000 larvae have been released at Glacial Heritage Preserve.  Releases are conducted in the spring when larvae break diapause. Monitoring of these sites during the adult flight season is the measure of success for recovery efforts – habitat enhancement, captive rearing, and larvae release combined.   Glacial Heritage has not met recovery objectives (250 observations in a single day of the flight season), although each year the area of habitat on the Preserve suitable for checkerspots expands, providing increased opportunity.  This spring, Susan Waters, our pollinator expert, will be assisting with survey efforts both in the south sound, and in Clallam County where CNLM owns and manages the occupied Dan Kelly Ridge Preserve. 

Tim Leque, a CNLM staff member, places checkerspot larvae on host plants (Photo Credit: Sanders Freed)With each spring, new excitement brews as the adult Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies emerge, mate and lay eggs for the next generation.  Knowing the extensive and time consuming process that has preceded seeing adult Taylor’s checkerspot during their flight period makes seeing this federally ‘endangered’ species fluttering across restored prairies even more rewarding.  We hope this year will bring the first recorded observations of over 250 adults in one day. Seeing this species again flourish at Glacial Heritage Preserve, last seen in the late 1990’s, will be the reward of over a decade of effort by many restoring the site to high quality.