Mixing students, butterflies and flowers together in Helliwell is magical

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Mixing students, butterflies and flowers together in Helliwell is magical

By Chris Junck, Tayor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project, with contributions from Pascale Archibald, Stephanie Govier and Neil Wilson

Take 19 excited students near the end of the school term; place them in a meadow of delicate wildflowers in Helliwell Provincial Park; add endangered Taylor’s checkerspot and propertius duskywing butterflies and other insects; mix well and let them simmer for two hours. Does this seem like a recipe for an ecological disaster or potential chaos? Apparently not when they are well-prepared Hornby Island Community School students on a field trip to Helliwell that was carefully planned and managed. The students were guided by their teacher, Garret Holt, BC Parks conservation specialist Stephanie Govier, and butterfly technician Pascale Archibald. Hornby Island Natural History Centre stewards Bill Hamilton and Neil Wilson, Community School staffer Jala Klone, and park ranger Sam Rae Harriss were on hand to provide additional information and field trip support.

Stephanie Govier and Pascale Archibald outlined the coastal bluff meadow habitat restoration efforts in Helliwell Park over the last several years. Neil Wilson spoke about the contributions of students from the school during that time, which involved the planting of thousands of native butterfly host and food plants, which had been propagated by stewards of the Hornby Island Natural History Centre. Taylor’s checkerspot lifecycle stages were reviewed before students were handed laminated information sheets, surveys, pencils and clipboards and then sent to observe insects. Quite a few species were caught with nets by adults and placed in containers to study for a moment before being safely released. 

“It impressed me how careful everyone was to not injure the bugs and by how much care was taken to stay on the trails to avoid trampling,” said Neil Wilson.  

In the catch were several species of bees, flies, beetles and butterflies, including a propertius duskywing and a Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly – one of many spotted by the team of citizen scientists. The two-hour lesson also focused on meadow plants important for pollinators. 

The field trip was part of ongoing efforts to increase awareness about the importance of pollinator insects. It also highlighted the collaborative work by BC Parks and the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project Team to re-establish a viable population of the endangered species in Helliwell Park.

Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies vanished from Hornby Island in the mid-1990s. After several years of habitat restoration work and annual releases of Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly caterpillars in Helliwell Park, the project team finally received encouraging news this spring. In March, butterfly technicians Pascale Archibald and Kihan Yoon-Henderson found more than 230 Taylor’s checkerspot larvae that successfully overwintered in the park to continue their lifecycle.

At the end of March, the team released another 100 Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly caterpillars in Helliwell Park near St. John’s Point, and 340 larvae for the first time on Flora Islet. The caterpillars were raised at the Greater Vancouver Zoo by Wildlife Preservation Canada staff Andrea Gielens.

Pascale Archibald recently conducted follow-up surveys of adult Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies and their offspring in Helliwell Park. More than 130 individual butterflies were observed on 14 survey days between May 9th and 29th. She also found 88 clusters of larvae between June 8th and 13th. “There are definitely more out there though as I didn’t manage to search the entire meadow area,” said Archibald.

While these are very hopeful signs for Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly recovery in Helliwell Park, their future is not assured. The caterpillars are tiny, delicate and vulnerable. Trampling by park visitors, dogs and bicycles are a key threat to the larvae and the plants they need to survive. 

Helliwell’s visitors can increase the caterpillars’ chance of survival by adhering to park rules. “Dogs must be on a leash according to provincial park regulations, and bikes aren’t allowed in this park,” said Stephanie Govier. Please walk carefully and watch out for caterpillars. Stay on the trails that are delineated by ropes and restoration area signs. If you visit Flora Islet, stay on the shore, and avoid the fragile meadows. This will reduce the possibility of stepping on a caterpillar or their host plants.

Don’t move or pick up Taylor’s checkerspots. Instead, report sightings to Taylors.Checkerspot@gov.bc.ca, or by using the free iNaturalist app (www.inaturalist.org). It is an easy-to-use species identification tool that enables citizen scientists to record and contribute important species data for projects around the globe.  

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. Several local volunteers from Conservancy Hornby Island, the Hornby Island Natural History Centre, the Hornby Island Provincial Parks Committee, and others also contributed to the success of this project.

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 Environment and Climate Change Strategy (Ecosystems Branch), 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, B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, BC Parks, Denman Conservancy Association, Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team, Greater Vancouver Zoo, Mosaic Forest Management, Wildlife Preservation Canada, and others. 

Learn more about the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly: 

https: //goert.ca/activities/taylors-checkerspot/ 

and 

https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/plants-animals-ecosystems/species-ecosystems-at-risk/implementation/conservation-projects-partnerships/taylors-checkerspot

Hornby Island Community School field trip to Helliwell Park, May 2024. Photo by Bill Hamilton
Students with information sheets and field survey forms. Photo by Bill Hamilton.
Several Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies and other insects were observed. Photo by Bill Hamilton.
Photo by Stephanie Govier
In June, Pascale also located 88 webs containing hundreds of Taylor’s checkerspot larvae. It’s proof that the butterflies are producing offspring, which is a hopeful sign that the reintroduction project is succeeding. Photo by Pascale Archibald.
More than 130 Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies were found during surveys in May. Photo by Pascale Archibald.
Photo by Pascale Archibald.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Background Information

Taylor’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 B.C., 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 led by Jennifer Heron of the B.C. Ministry of Water, Land, and Resource Stewardship and is guided by 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), B.C. Ministry of Water, Land, and Resource Stewardship, Vancouver, B.C. 

Erika Bland and Andrew Fyson, Denman Island Conservancy Association, Denman Island, B.C. 

Deborah Bishop, Denman Island, B.C. 

Menita Prasad, Greater Vancouver Zoo, Aldergrove, B.C.

Eric Gross and Ross Vennesland, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Delta, B.C. 

Crispin Guppy, Entomologist, Whitehorse, Y.T. 

Molly Hudson and David Vey, Mosaic Forest Management, Nanaimo, B.C.

Chris Junck, Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team and B.C. Conservation Foundation, Victoria, B.C.

Suzie Lavallee, University of British Columbia Faculty of Forestry, Vancouver, B.C. 

Patrick Lilley, Private Consultant, North Vancouver, B.C. 

Erica McClaren and Stephanie Govier, BC Parks, Black Creek, B.C. 

Kristen Miskelly, Satinflower Nurseries, Victoria, B.C. 

Derek Moore, Area Supervisor Von Donop Area, BC Parks, Black Creek, B.C. 

Nick Page, Raincoast Applied Ecology, Vancouver, B.C. 

Hazel Wheeler and Andrea Gielens, Wildlife Preservation Canada, Guelph, ON. 

Bonnie Zand, B.C. Conservation Foundation, Fanny Bay, B.C.

Supporters 

B.C. Conservation Foundation

B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy

B.C. Ministry of Water, Land, and Resource Stewardship

BC Parks

BC Parks License Plate Fund

Conservancy Hornby Island

Denman Conservancy Association

Environment Canada Habitat Stewardship Fund

Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team

Greater Vancouver Zoo

Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation

Hornby Island Community School 

Hornby Island Co-op

Hornby Island Natural History Centre

Hornby Island Provincial Parks Committee

Mosaic Forest Management

Sea Breeze Lodge

University of British Columbia

Wildlife Preservation Canada

For more information about the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project, visit: www.goert.ca/activities/taylors-checkerspot/

Or contact:

Project Lead/GOERT Invertebrates at Risk RIG Chair

Jennifer Heron

Provincial Invertebrate Conservation Specialist

B.C. Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship 

Office: 778-572-2273

Jennifer.Heron@gov.bc.ca

Public Outreach Coordinator 

Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project Team

Chris Junck

chris_junck@hotmail.com    

* More photos available by request

BC Parks

Stephanie Govier

Conservation Specialist

BC Parks

Office:778-974-2781

Stephanie.Govier@gov.bc.ca

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