Trampling Threatens Helliwell’s Endangered Caterpillars, By Chris N. Junck

checkerspot caterpillars

Life for endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly caterpillars is a risky endeavour. If the caterpillars manage to find safe places in the fall to overwinter in their dormant (diapause) larvae form, they emerge in February or early March and need to quickly find enough nutritious plants to eat. In Helliwell Provincial Park, they’ll search for speedwell, plantain, harsh paintbrush, blue-eyed Mary, or a few other suitable species. Hopefully, they won’t encounter severe weather, predators or parasites before they emerge as adult butterflies in late April to mid-May.

The odds aren’t in their favour, so this critically at-risk species needs help from humans to survive. Nearly 800 Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars reared under the care of Wildlife Preservation Canada staff, in collaboration with the Vancouver Zoo, were released in Helliwell Provincial Park last March. In follow-up surveys there were 74 confirmed sightings of Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies over 20 days, but some of those individuals may have been tallied more than once. There may have been more adults in the area than those that were counted, but the number of caterpillars that became adult butterflies was likely low.

Although there are several natural causes of butterfly mortality, there are things that people can do to help increase their chances for survival, such as planting pollinator friendly gardens and watching where they step. According to BC Parks conservation specialist Erica McClaren, “Trampling is one of the greatest threats to the caterpillars and their food plants.” Park visitors and their pets can help reduce this risk by staying on the marked meadow trails delineated by ropes and restoration area signs. Erica also emphasizes that park regulations stipulate that dogs must be on a leash and bikes aren’t allowed in Helliwell. She also encourages the public to report Taylor’s checkerspot sightings to, or by using the free iNaturalist app ( 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.

If all goes well, the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project Team will release more caterpillars into Helliwell Provincial Park this March. The recovery initiative also includes extensive habitat restoration in the park, such as selective tree and invasive plant removal, and adding native plants and seeds. Although focused on Taylor’s checkerspot, several other rare coastal bluff ecosystem species will benefit from this project including dun skipper butterflies and about a dozen other range-restricted butterflies, western bumble bee, many native plants, bats, western screech-owl and numerous other birds.

The Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project Team includes representatives from BC Parks, Denman Conservancy Association, Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team, Mosaic Forests, Wildlife Preservation Canada, Greater Vancouver Zoo, consultants, and others. There has also been a lot of local assistance from Helliwell Park neighbours in High Salal Ranch Strata, volunteers, Conservancy Hornby Island, the Hornby Island Natural History Centre, and Hornby Island Provincial Parks Committee.

The recovery project has benefited from funding generated by the BC Parks License Plate Program, the Environment Canada Habitat Stewardship Fund and the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation.

Background InformationTaylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly (Euphydryas editha taylori)

Also known as Edith’s Checkerspot.• Historical range was Hornby Island, southeastern Vancouver Island, Puget Trough and to the Willamette Valley in Oregon

In BC, they were once abundant at 10 sites in the Greater Victoria Area, one site each near Mill Bay and Comox, and sites on Hornby Island (including Helliwell Provincial Park).

  • They were thought to have been extirpated (became locally extinct) from Canada by 2000 when no Taylor’s Checkerspots could be found in their last known sites on Hornby Island despite intensive searches. However, new populations were discovered on Denman Island in 2005 and near Campbell River in 2018.It is federally listed as Endangered (COSEWIC, SARA Schedule 1), and is on the BC Red list of at-risk species.
  • Taylor’s Checkerspot butterflies need open sunny meadows where they can find suitable host plants (food for larvae and nectar producing flowers for adults), such as Woolly Sunflower, Common Camas, Small-flowered Blue-eyed Mary, Wild Strawberry, Sea Blush, and Yarrow.
  • Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation are major factors in the species’ decline. For example, the meadows along the coastal bluffs in Helliwell Provincial Park became less suitable for butterflies due to invasions of non-native plants and encroaching forests.
  • Habitat enhancement work (weeding, selective limbing +/or removal of conifers, re-planting and seeding with native species) has been ongoing in Helliwell Provincial Park for several years.

The Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project
The Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project is an initiative of the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team’s Invertebrates at Risk Recovery Implementation Group. It is a collaborative effort to restore Taylor’s Checkerspot populations in British Columbia through habitat enhancement, captive butterfly rearing and release, monitoring, public outreach, and other activities.

Team Members

  • Jennifer Heron (Chair), BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, Vancouver, BC
  • Erika Bland & Andrew Fyson, Denman Island Conservancy Association, Denman Island, BC
  • Deborah Bishop, Denman Island, BC
  • Menita Prasad, Greater Vancouver Zoo, Aldergrove, BC
  • Eric Gross & Kella Sadler, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Delta, BC
  • Crispin Guppy, Entomologist, Whitehorse, YT
  • Molly Hudson, Mosaic Forests, Nanaimo, BC
  • Chris Junck, Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team, Victoria, BC
  • Nicole Kroeker, Parks Canada Agency, Victoria, BC
  • Suzie Lavallee, University of British Columbia Faculty of Forestry, Vancouver, BC
  • Patrick Lilley, Private Consultant, North Vancouver, BC
  • Erica McClaren, BC Parks, Black Creek, BC Kristen Miskelly, Saanich Native Plants, Victoria, BC
  • Derek Moore, Area Supervisor Von Donop Area, BC Parks, Black Creek, BC
  • Nick Page, Raincoast Applied Ecology, Vancouver, BC
  • Jessica Steiner, Andrea Gielens, Maja Hampson & Genevieve Rowe, Wildlife Preservation Canada, Toronto & Guelph, ON
  • Bonnie Zand, BC Conservation Foundation Fanny Bay, BC

BC Conservation Foundation
BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy
BC Parks
BC Parks License Plate Fund
Denman Conservancy Association
Environment Canada Habitat Stewardship Fund
Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team
Greater Vancouver ZooHabitat Conservation Trust Foundation
Hornby Island Community School Hornby Island Natural History Centre
Mosaic ForestsUniversity of British Columbia
Wildlife Preservation Canada

For more information about the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project, visit:

Or contact:Project Lead/GOERT Invertebrates at Risk RIG ChairJennifer HeronInvertebrate Conservation SpecialistBC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change StrategyOffice:

Public Outreach Coordinator Chris JunckMobile/text: * More photos available by request

BC ParksErica McClarenConservation SpecialistOffice: