It’s wake-up time for Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars!

Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars took a break in summer and fall but they are now active and feeding in winter.  In Oregon, they are feeding mostly on English plantain.  At this time of year they are small creatures about ½-inch long with dark hairs and red spots.  The species was recently listed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as Endangered and only two populations remain in Oregon, both near Corvallis.

This butterfly typically lives as adults in April and May, and lays its eggs on English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and paintbrushes (Castilleja spp.).  Its eggs quickly hatch and the young caterpillars feed on their host plants for several weeks, then seek shelter from the summer heat underneath plants and debris, entering a sleep-like phase called diapause.  In winter, the caterpillars re-emerge and continue feeding.

Butterfly conservationists are ramping up efforts to protect and restore this butterfly throughout its range in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.  In Washington, for example, conservation efforts include habitat restoration and an innovative reintroduction program with caterpillars raised at the Oregon Zoo and in Washington State prisons.  Conservationists in Oregon are preparing to do the same, starting with a regional conservation plan and evaluations of various sites for their habitat quality and readiness for butterfly reintroduction.

Taylor's checkerspot post-diapause larva feeding on English plantain
Taylor's checkerspot caterpillar basking in the winter sun!

English plantain, a preferred food source for Taylor's checkerspot caterpillars (even though it's a non-native weed)
An English plantain leaf with a cluster of Taylor's checkerspot eggs laid in May

Castilleja levistecta Mima
Golden paintbrush, a Threatened species that is a potential host plant for Taylor's checkerspot
Harsh paintbrush, a host plant for Taylor's checkerspot at some sites in Washington

Want to learn more about conservation of Taylor’s checkerspot and another rare butterfly, Fender's blue?  Come spend mother’s day afternoon, Sunday, May 8, 2016 – 2-4 pm, in the beautiful Beazell Memorial Forest, prairies, and streamsides with staff from Benton County Natural Areas and Parks Department. Get access on a guided tour of the education center, remodeled into a gorgeous space using original materials from the 1800’s homestead barn. Then join in the afternoon walk to see and learn about the beautiful wildflowers, butterflies, birds, and other animals before enjoying your mother’s day dinner! 1 FREE digital family photo will be provided by a local photographer, and light refreshments will be available. Meet at Beazell Memorial Forest parking lot, 37309 Kings Valley Hwy (Hwy 223), approx. 5 miles north of Wren.  Please reserve your spot by contacting Adam Stebbins at [email protected], (541) 766-6085.

Adult Taylor's checkerspot nectaring on Balsamroot in a Washington prairie

Taylor's checkerspot butterfly, an endangered species in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia