Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Rearing Program

The Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (Euphydrayas editha taylori) is a beautifully adorned butterfly, checkered with orange, white, and black spots. Once abundant in the grassland prairies of the Willamette Valley, Puget Sound, and south Vancouver Island, its populations have dramatically declined since 2001 and are now only found in scattered sites within their native range. The butterfly was federally listed as endangered in 2013.

A captive rearing program first established at the Oregon Zoo has made tremendous progress toward reestablishing Taylor’s checkerspot populations. In 2011, Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) built a second facility to breed and rear this species. Funding came from Joint Base Lewis-McChord and US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Federally-listed Endangered Taylor's checkerspot butterfly rests on a State-listed Endangered golden paintbrush, both at the rearing facility in Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele.

Federally-listed Endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly rests on a state-listed endangered golden paintbrush, both at the rearing facility in Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele.

With the guidance of Biologist Mary Linders of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Zoo, SPP has collaborated with corrections staff and inmates to nearly double rearing capacity for the species. We release Taylor’s checkerspots onto south Puget Sound prairie restoration sites, including Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Glacial Heritage Preserve. The prison-based program releases 2,500 butterflies into the wild each year. As of March of 2015, the total number of Taylor’s checkerspots released from both rearing facilities exceeded 17,000!

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Mary Linders of Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife restores Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars (larvae) to their native prairie habitat. Photo by Dennis Aubrey.

The butterfly lab at MCCCW is commonly called the "greenhouse." It was built in 2011 with funding support from Joint Base Lewis-McChord and US Fish and Wildlife Service. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele.

The butterfly lab at MCCCW is commonly called the “greenhouse.” It was built in 2011 with funding support from Joint Base Lewis-McChord and US Fish and Wildlife Service. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele.

The program is housed in a small, purpose-built greenhouse with UV transmitting glass that provides the butterflies with appropriate light for key metabolic activities. SPP’s program coordinator is an Evergreen graduate student who receives training from the Oregon Zoo endangered butterfly lab. In turn, the coordinator guides and teaches three to four inmate-technicians. MCCCW is pleased to host the program. The prison’s staff give invaluable support: they helped build the greenhouse, contribute to maintaining and improving the facility, and provide day to day supervision of the technicians.

The butterfly technicians work meticulously year-round  to successfully rear and breed the butterflies. They feed and care for the butterflies, track and maintain genetic lineages and pairings, observe exacting hygeine protocol, collect detailed data on all life stages, and enter data into an Access database. While the caterpillar larvae sleep through the fall and early winter (diapause), the technicians compile data, update rearing protocols, and write season’s-end reports.

Butterfly technicians also participate in scientific research. One project considered oviposition preference, helping to determine which native host plants Taylor’s checkerspot prefers for egg laying. Results revealed endangered golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) to be most favorable, a plant species that no longer overlaps with the butterfly in the wild, but may have been a historical host…and could be again in the future!

Inmate Liz Louie feeds a Taylor’s checkerspot honey water from a Q-tip. The butterflies were once widespread throughout this region.

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

The Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program has proven to be therapeutic for many of the technicians involved. Liz Louie worked with the butterflies for more than two years, and likened her time at MCCCW to the life-cycle of a butterfly:

Metaphorically, the butterfly symbolizes re-birth, new life and beginnings…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, it’s 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.

Inmate technician Samantha Turner has expressed similar thoughts:

Being a part of the Sustainability in Prisons Project’s Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program has given me a huge opportunity to make an impact in a major positive way. I’m learning so much in this program and all the while my life is comparable to the cycle of these butterflies’ lives. I’m shedding my old skin to morph into a new person.

Butterfly technicians work with program coordinator Seth Dorman during the spring wakeup in 2016. Photo by SPP butterfly technician.

Butterfly technicians work with program coordinator Seth Dorman during the spring wakeup in 2016. Photo by SPP butterfly technician.

Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women butterfly technicians. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton.

BLOGS ON THE TAYLOR’S CHECKERSPOT BUTTERFLY

Tales of Transformation (2016)

Mission Creek Checkerspot Spotlight (2016)

The Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program Releases Another Butterfly (2015)

Flight of the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterflies (2015)

Impact! (2015)

The Butterflies Get Their Own Computer (2014)

Another Successful Rearing Season for the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterflies at Mission Creek (2013)

Butterflies from MCCCW Released with the Help of Attorney General’s Office Attorneys (2013)

High Diapause Survival and a Successful Release for the Butterfly Program at MCCCW (2013)

Butterfly Techs at Mission Creek Help with Evergreen Environmental Observation Network (2012)

Celebrating a Successful Inaugural Season for the Butterfly Program at Mission Creek (2012)

SPP Butterfly Internship Experience (2012)

SPP Launches New Conservation Program at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (2011)