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Taylor's checkerspot butterfly

Destruction of its native grassland habitat in Washington spells trouble for survival of Taylor's checkerspot butterfly, as well as other butterfly species dependent of the native wildflowers of these areas.

Pollinator of the prairie

Taylor's checkerspot butterfly. Photo: Dana RossBefore its current dramatic decline, the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly was documented at more than seventy sites in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon where it is a keystone insect of woodland prairies of the Northwest. Conservation Northwest is today advocating for protection of the shrinking prairie habitat needed to support the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly and other rare butterflies.

Tiny treasure

The Taylor’s checkerspot is a colorful checkered butterfly with a wingspan less than 2.25 inches. Its wings are primarily black and orange with bands of white cells. Taylor’s checkerspot populations are declining quickly in the Northwest, where it traditionally lived in coastal and inland grasslands on southern Vancouver Island and surrounding islands in British Columbia and the San Juan Island archipelago, as well as in open prairies on post-glacial gravelly outwash and balds in Washington’s Puget Trough and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. One place where checkerspot are still found is the oak-woodland prairie in the southern Puget Sound where a "Cross-Base Highway" is poised to tear up the prairie.

Prairie indicator

Taylor's checkerspot in the Northwest is in jeopardy and is in need of protection. A recent study concluded that there are only 14 remaining sites where more than 50 individuals can be found.

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, there were once an estimated quarter-million acres of prairie in western Washington. That number is in several thousand acres today. Native grasslands are vulnerable to agricultural and urban development, tree encroachment, and invasive plant expansion. Butterflies themselves are highly susceptible to increases in pesticide use, recreation, and farm grazing.

Because the Taylor’s checkerspot is so sensitive to changes in its habitat, its presence is an indicator of the health of the entire ecosystem, This does not bode well for other species that rely on prairie grasslands. If no protection is garnered it is likely that the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly will disappear and that an entire ecosystem might follow a similar destiny.

All is not lost

Conservation Northwest, in collaboration with The Xerces Society and others, has advocated for the protection of the critical habitat needed to support the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly and other rare butterflies, including the mardon skipper and the island marble. Together we have filed for protection of these species under the Endangered Species Act. Through these actions we hope that the Taylor’s checkerspot and its native prairie habitat will be maintained for generations to come.

More on Taylors checkerspot from the Seattle Times
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