Releasing Caterpillars of Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterflies

On March 9, members of the Hornby Island Natural History Centre, Conservancy Hornby Island, Hornby Island Provincial Parks Committee, Comox First Nation and local volunteers joined personnel from BC Parks, BC Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change Science Section, BC Conservation Foundation, Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team and several biologists to release caterpillars of Taylor’s Checkerspot butterflies.

This is part of a multi-year project to restore habitat including providing essential host and nectar plants through propagation and planting out twice per year. Since 2016 many thousands of native plants have been planted by project staff and local volunteers, including enthusiastic Hornby Island Community School learners and staff.

Helliwell Park visitors should be on the lookout for the tiny black one inch caterpillars on the trails through the Park’s bluffs. The week of March 7, 5000 of them, raised in captivity for release in the Garry Oak meadows,  will hopefully become a self-sustainable  population of adult Checkerspots which once flourished there. Park degradation and forest encroachment has resulted in the loss of many species of insects and wildflowers that once thrived on the bluffs and are remembered by islanders. This is the third year of larval releases and the numbers have increased exponentially from 800 in 2020, to 1300 in 2021 and now 5000. The biologists responsible for rearing the larvae through many phases of development called instars have been on a learning curve with ever-improving results.

Checkerspots are an extremely rare endangered species which has been Red-listed by the Canadian government. Once common in coastal Garry Oak ecosystems from Hornby Island to Oregon, First Nations people referred to the butterflies as Whulge, meaning a connection with the land, and it also is their name for the Salish Sea. Salish people successfully managed coastal ecosystems for millennia until colonialism arrived in force in the 1800’s with little understanding of the delicate balance in nature.

If you visit Helliwell this spring or any time, please do your bit to help the restoration project by staying on marked trails and keeping dogs leashed. If you are on the bluffs in April, watch for the caterpillars, and in May watch for the beautiful adults flitting about. Take a photo with GPS and a timestamp if possible and send it to project manager Jennifer Heron at: Jennifer.Heron@gov.bc.ca. Any information will be helpful and much appreciated.

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