New Discovery! Rare Taylor’s checkerspots eat rare golden paintbrush

by Tom Kaye — last modified Feb 22, 2013

Caterpillars (larvae) of Taylor’s checkerspot feeding on golden paintbrush (top) and English plantain (bottom).

IAE ecologists confirm that caterpillars of Taylor’s checkerspot feed on threatened golden paintbrush plants

On a chilly February afternoon ecologists from IAE visited the Beazell Memorial Forest in Benton County, Oregon. A restored prairie at this site is home to the rare Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, and golden paintbrush was planted there in a test plot. Recently, ecologists in this region have been evaluating the possibility that habitat restoration for this butterfly could include planting golden paintbrush, a federally listed threatened plant. Checkerspots feed on paintbrushes in Washington, but some populations of Taylor’s checkerspot, including those in Oregon, now feed on English plantain, a non-native weed. Can golden paintbrush serve as a host for this butterfly, and thus create opportunities to help both species at the same locations?

Previous work by researchers in Washington has shown that this butterfly will lay its eggs on golden paintbrush, and the caterpillars will eat the plant in captivity. But the missing piece of information so far has been whether the caterpillars eat the paintbrush in the wild, even when English plantain is also present.

At the Beazell site IAE ecologists confirmed that Taylor’s checkerspot larvae feed on golden paintbrush and English plantain. Crawling carefully on hands and knees to look for the caterpillars, ecologists located 15 larvae on the ground: 10 feeding on English plantain, 4 on golden paintbrush, and one cruising between plants. This information, though preliminary, is crucial evidence that the butterfly will eat golden paintbrush in the wild, suggesting that recovery of both rare species can be conducted at the same sites and leverage the limited funds for their conservation.