A butterfly once thought to be extinct in Canada is making a comeback, with 88 hatched this spring at the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove.
Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly was thought to be gone from Canada, and endangered throughout North America.
A population was found on Denman Island in 2005.
Wildlife Preservation Canada and the B.C. Ministry of the Environment established a breeding program, first with just 18 eggs collected on Denman Island.
The successful program saw almost 300 caterpillars and more than 50 adult butterflies released into the wild in 2015.
Based on this success, the team wanted to scale up the breeding operation to accelerate the species’ recovery. “The volunteers did a heroic job getting it started,” said Randal Heide, executive director of Wildlife Preservation Canada, “but they were also overwhelmed at times. Everyone agreed that to do it right over the long term, we needed a bigger facility and more access to professional staff. We came up with several possible alternatives, but our first call was to the [Greater Vancouver] Zoo, which is already partnering with us in two other endangered species breeding programs. And they didn’t hesitate to say yes.”
“We are always looking for worthwhile projects that we can contribute our services and facility to support the conservation efforts and to create awareness for endangered species,” said Jody Henderson, marketing and communication manager for the zoo.
Earlier this spring, almost 1,300 caterpillars, a fourfold increase over 2015, were released into the carefully enhanced butterfly habitat on Denman Island. Meanwhile, another 100 or so were moved to the zoo to serve as the next generation of breeders. The 88 adults which emerged will enjoy a naturally brief but happy existence, sipping on nectar while doing what adult butterflies are meant to do in specially-designed, predator-proof “love shacks” on the zoo grounds. The result will be several hundreds of eggs to restart the cycle.
“Raising butterflies is more complex than you might think,” said Menita Prasad, animal care manager at the zoo, “It’s as much an exercise in gardening as it is animal husbandry. In many species, the preferred nectar sources for adults are different from the host plants for the caterpillars. So you need access to a safe, fresh supply of different kinds of plants – and lots of them. You’d be amazed how much those tiny caterpillars can eat.”
Each day at 2 p.m. visitors to the zoo will have an opportunity at the Conservation Chat to learn a little bit about the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly and to see some stage of their life cycle.