2013: Another successful rearing season for the Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies at Mission Creek

By GRA Dennis Aubrey, SPP Taylor’s Checkerspot Program Coordinator

Our second season rearing Taylor’s checkerspots at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women has just concluded, and again the hard work has paid off. Over 2,800 caterpillars are dormant in their diapause period, waiting to be moved to the cold diapause area for winter, eventually to be woken up and released onto south Puget lowland prairies next March.

Caption: Adult Taylor’s checkerspots are fed honey water with Q-tips every day. Video still by Rosemarie Padovano.

Adult Taylor’s checkerspots are fed honey water with Q-tips every day. Video still by Rosemarie Padovano.

This season began with a similar release, when our 3,000 caterpillars from 2012 found new homes at Glacial Heritage Preserve, south of Littlerock, WA. The remaining 150 in our care were raised to adults and bred to produce this year’s cohort. Breeding introductions were made according to the genetic pairings designated for us by our partners at the Oregon Zoo, and additional wild females were captured to lay eggs in captivity by our partners at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Oviposition study
Additionally, inmates participated in an oviposition preference research project with an Evergreen graduate student, helping to determine which of two native host plants was more preferred for egg laying. Taylor’s checkerspot females choose the host plant for their offspring very carefully, and insight into which ones are most preferred can inform management decisions for restoration in the future.

Newly hatched caterpillars are fed fresh plantain leaves and are also given mashed leaf pulp that we call “plantain pesto”. This helps them gain nutrients more easily until their mouthparts become strong enough to slice through the leaves.

Newly hatched caterpillars are fed fresh plantain leaves and are also given mashed leaf pulp that we call “plantain pesto”. This helps them gain nutrients more easily until their mouthparts become strong enough to slice through the leaves. Video still by Rosemarie Padovano.

Surprising genetic anomaly
Interestingly, at the end of the rearing season, the Oregon Zoo had a small number of caterpillars that refused to go to sleep! Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars typically go into diapause in early July and don’t wake up until the end of February when they emerge to become adult butterflies. These eight individuals at the Oregon Zoo skipped diapause entirely and went directly into adulthood, a behavior more common in migratory butterflies. Because these few individuals may represent a beneficial genetic anomaly, they were moved to the facility at Mission Creek and given extra special care. Just four possible genetic pairings were identified for breeding, and the inmate technicians were able to successfully pair one of the sets, producing 150 eggs which have now hatched into healthy hungry caterpillars. These are currently being reared in the greenhouse and it will be interesting to learn in the next few weeks if they follow their parents and go directly into adulthood, or if they return to more typical patterns and go into diapause as quickly as they can.

Donate to support SPP
To support SPP’s work with endangered species, please donate funds or materials to our programs. Donation funds are used to recognize the excellent contributions made by inmates and to provide them with educational resources.

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  2. Flight of the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterflies | Sustainability in Prisons Project

    […] engagement. We had just entered the greenhouse of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (TCB) captive rearing program at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women on an early morning of […]

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