Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program

The Butterfly Program

With the guidance of Biologist Mary Linders of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Zoo, SPP partners (Evergreen and WA Corrections) rear and release federally-endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies.

A technician passes an adult butterfly to Evergreen’s Allison Anderson. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The Oregon Zoo established the first rearing program. In 2011, partners built the second facility at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW), doubling program capacity. Funding came from Joint Base Lewis-McChord and US Fish and Wildlife Service. Partners release most butterflies as caterpillars; they place each one directly on food plants in south Salish Sea restoration sites, including Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Glacial Heritage Preserve. 

The program’s butterfly technicians work year-round to successfully rear and breed the butterflies, allowing for the release of more than 20,000 caterpillar and adult butterflies since 2011. Technicians feed and care for butterflies at every life stage, track and maintain genetic lineages and pairings, observe exacting hygiene protocol, and manage detailed data. While the caterpillar larvae sleep through the fall and early winter, technicians update rearing protocols, assist in reporting and planning, and seminar on topics in ecological science.

Moments after release, an adult Taylor’s
checkerspot butterfly rests on a flower. Photo by Keegan Curry.

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.

The program is housed in two purpose-built greenhouses. SPP’s program coordinator is an Evergreen graduate student who receives guidance from the Oregon Zoo and WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. In turn, the coordinator teaches and supports five to six incarcerated technicians. Mission Creek Corrections Center hosts the program and prison leadership and staff give invaluable support and provide day to day program supervision.

Secretary Steve Sinclair talks with butterfly technician Anh Tu Nguyen about her work. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

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!

The Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program has proven transformative for some technicians. 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.

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


Learning so much from MES & SPP (2020)

When crisis inspires greater teamwork (2020)

Susan Christopher reflects on her experience raising endangered butterflies in prison (2018)

Celebrating another flight season for butterfly technicians (2018)

Mission Creek butterfly technicians visit Taylor’s checkerspot habitat (2018)

Checking in with Checkerspots (2018)

Butterfly conservation takes flight in Oregon prison (2017)

Celebrating another flight season for butterfly technicians (2017)

Taylor’s checkerspot wake up and release (2017)

Excellent Student and Teacher (2017)

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)