The Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program Releases Another Butterfly

by Liz Louie, SPP Butterfly Technician
Introduction by Lindsey Hamilton, SPP Butterfly Program Coordinator

Butterfly technician Elizabeth Louie worked with the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (TCB) program at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) for more than two years.  She is now one of the few butterfly husbandry experts in the world.  During her time at Mission Creek she made many significant contributions to the program.  She streamlined data collection procedures and created an immaculately organized system for tracking daily activities and progress.  She always found creative solutions to problems when resources and communication with outside expertise was limited.  Lastly, as a senior butterfly technician she ensured high quality butterfly care and effectively trained and inspired incoming technicians.  The program will benefit from her good work for years to come.  Liz will be missed, but we are so happy for her and wish her the best in all that she pursues in life.

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Liz Louie records data on pupae and butterfly weights.

The following is a blog written by Elizabeth Louie, now out of prison in work release:

It has been 26 months and three seasons, with two Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) bosses and three Department of Corrections (DOC) bosses, releasing approximately 8,000 caterpillars and 250 butterflies to the wild. I have come to the end of an amazing journey. As I leave Mission Creek and the TCB program, I want to say THANK YOU for the experience.

It seems appropriate that I’m leaving just as the caterpillars are going into diapause. All the hard work caring for larvae, pupae and eclosing butterflies, conducting breeding and collecting eggs is now done. It’s now a transition period. A period of rest before the cycle begins again, similar to the stage I’m in now. Work release, a time of transition and preparation for my final release into the community.

Liz Louie explains the details of butterfly husbandry to the University of Denver’s Institute for Human – Animal Connection.  Photo by Judith Gerren

Liz Louie explains the details of butterfly husbandry to the University of Denver’s Institute for Human – Animal Connection. Photo by Judith Gerren

A writer from Sierra Magazine recently asked what I thought about the irony of having a butterfly program in prison; the contrast between the delicate, fragile butterfly and the “harshness” of prison life. For me, butterflies are very resilient animals. Their primary habitat was an artillery range, the aftermath of fire and destruction. Metaphorically, the butterfly symbolizes re-birth, new life and beginnings. So with that said, Mission Creek (prison) makes a lot of sense for a surrogate habitat.

Liz is demonstrating how we care for postdiapause larvae.  We keep them in bins with paper bags ("mima mounds") to climb on after they wake up from their winter slumber. Photo by Jody Becker-Green

Liz is demonstrating how we care for postdiapause larvae. We keep them in bins with paper bags (“mima mounds”) to climb on after they wake up from their winter slumber. Photo by Jody Becker-Green

In fact, there are other parallels between the butterflies and prison life. The larvae will sometimes go into second diapause (D2) if they feel conditions are not right. Maybe there’s not enough food, so the larvae will go back to sleep. Similar to D2 larvae, women come in and out of prison. They may not have gotten what they needed from prison the first time, or they lack outside support to help them be successful. But for me personally, at my age, its good to know that the final stage is a butterfly. It means the most beautiful stage of my life is yet to come. All the other stages have been in preparation for that final one.

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Liz Louie shows inmate Samantha Turner how to remove a new pupae from a “mima mound”. This is a very delicate process.

This will be a time in my life that I won’t soon forget. The people I’ve met and the women I’ve worked with, I take away something from each of them. I’ve learned a lot about myself, both the good, and the things I need to change. I have a greater appreciation for the simple things in life. I walk away a stronger person and look forward to whatever life holds.

Inmate Liz Louie feeds a Taylor’s checkerspot honey water from a Q-tip. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele

Inmate Liz Louie feeds a Taylor’s checkerspot honey water from a Q-tip. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele.

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