More Food for the Very Hungry Caterpillars at MCCCW

 

SPP student-staff and butterfly technicians at MCCCW install four new raise beds to grow Plantago, food for the butterfly larvae.

SPP student-staff and butterfly technicians at MCCCW install four new raise beds to grow plantain, a common weed preferred by the endangered butterfly as food in their larval life-stage. Photo by Seth Dorman.

A refreshing, overcast morning at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) made for great weather to build four new raised beds for the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program. We will grow plantain (Plantago) in these beds to increase the amount of food for the caterpillars (larvae) at the facility. SPP’s nursery crew—including Carl Elliott, Allie Denzler, and Ricky Johnson— joined the butterfly team on the project.

Lindsey Hamilton, Taylor's Checkerspot Program Coordinator, and butterfly technician Eva Ortiz unload a wheelbarrow full of soil.

Lindsey Hamilton, Taylor’s Checkerspot Program Coordinator, and butterfly technician Eva Ortiz unload a wheelbarrow full of soil. Photo by Seth Dorman.

 

Butterfly technician Michelle Dittamore and SPP nursery coordinator Allie Denzler install support brackets. in a corner. Photo by Seth Dorman.

Butterfly technician Michelle Dittamore and SPP nursery coordinator Allie Denzler install support brackets. in a corner. Photo by Seth Dorman.

The Taylor’s Checkerspot larvae require Plantago leaves for foraging, and then as adult they can use the plants as a place to lay their eggs. In recent years, the larvae have prospered; the hard-working technicians dutifully supply each larva with an appropriate serving of food. The larvae will eat as much as they can in the fall to grow and store up enough energy to survive the cold, winter months of dormancy (diapause). When the hungry larvae wake-up in mid-February, they require an ample food each day to  become a pupa (pupate). Some Februarys, the Plantago plants have not yet had favorable weather conditions for sprouting new, plentiful leaves. Consequently, the food the larvae desperately need to complete their life cycle is scarce. Some years, technicians are forced to pick from scattered Plantago around the perimeter of the facility.

By adding the new raised beds, we hope to have a more dependable supply for larvae to metamorphose into beautifully checkered adults. With the bed additions, we hope to grow at least 3,500 plantain plants. This means each of the 3,500 larvae reared in a season will have their own individual plantain plant! We plan to add cold frames for each raised bed, which will boost plantain production in late winter. Bountiful food resources for the butterfly larvae are beneficial in the warmer months of the season if some food recourses become contaminated or reduced due to pests and disease.

DSC01276

SPP’s nursery crew and butterfly team shovel soil to be placed in new raise beds. Photo by Seth Dorman.

DSC01295

After some heavy lifting of soil with shovels, the maintenance crew at MCCCW shows SPP their bulldozing skills. Photo by Seth Dorman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.