Tracking Taylor’s checkerspots in Helliwell
By Chris Junck, Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project Team
Another 1,476 endangered Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars were safely moved to the coastal bluff meadows in Helliwell Provincial Park on March 22nd and 29th. This follows previous releases of 800 Taylor’s checkerspot larvae in 2020, 1,300 in 2021, and more than 5,000 last year. The larvae were raised by Wildlife Preservation Canada staff at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. This year, they were released by members of the Taylor’s Checkerspot Recovery Project Team, and additional representatives from BC Parks, BC Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, Conservancy Hornby Island, Hornby Island Natural History Centre, Hornby Island Provincial Parks Committee, and Mosaic Forest Management.
Neil Wilson of the Hornby Island Natural History Centre recently reported that he saw three adult checkerspots on May 3rd. “One actually bounced off my leg!”, said Neil. He added, “The weather is much more ideal for them this year I suppose, as last year my first sighting was on May 19th.”
That’s exciting and encouraging news for the Taylor’s Checkerspot Recovery Project Team, as they conduct butterfly surveys in May. “We never know if any of the larvae will survive to adulthood”, said Jennifer Heron, Chair of the project team and invertebrate conservation specialist for the BC Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship. The caterpillars face many threats including predation, parasites, and severe weather. Heron said that “trampling is a key hazard for caterpillars and their food plants and flowers that are nectar sources for adult butterflies.”
Helliwell’s visitors can increase the chance of survival for Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies by complying with park rules. Dogs must be on a leash and bikes aren’t allowed in this park. Stay on the trails that are delineated by ropes and restoration area signs.
The only other known sub-populations of Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies in Canada are near Campbell River and on Denman Island. It’s possible that there may be other sub-populations that haven’t been discovered. Please report butterfly sightings to Taylors.Checkerspot@gov.bc.ca, or by using the free iNaturalist app (www.inaturalist.org). It’s an easy-to-use species identification tool that enables citizen scientists to record and contribute important species data for projects around the globe.
The Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly recovery initiative in Helliwell Provincial Park required extensive habitat restoration, such as selective tree and invasive plant removal, and adding native plants and seeds. Although focused on Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, several other at-risk and uncommon coastal bluff species benefit from this project, such as dun skipper butterflies and about a dozen other range-restricted butterflies, bats, western bumble bee, western screech-owl, and numerous other birds and plants.
BC Parks and the project team thank the Cowichan Tribes, Halalt, Homalco, K’ómoks, Lake Cowichan, Lyackson, Penelakut, Qualicum, Snaw’Naw’As, Stz’uminus, Tla’amin, We Wai Kai, and We Wai Kum First Nations for allowing us to restore ecosystems in their traditional territories. There has also been a lot of local assistance for the project from Helliwell Park neighbours in High Salal Ranch Strata, volunteers, Conservancy Hornby Island, the Hornby Island Natural History Centre, Hornby Island Community School, and Hornby Island Provincial Parks Committee.
The recovery project has benefited from funding and in-kind contributions from the BC Parks Licence Plate Program, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Environment Canada Habitat Stewardship Fund and the B.C. Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, and others.
The Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project Team includes biological consultants and representatives from the B.C. Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, BC Parks, Denman Conservancy Association, Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team, Greater Vancouver Zoo, Mosaic Forest Management, Wildlife Preservation Canada, and others.