Endangered Oregon Butterfly Returns to the Wild With the Help of Women’s Prison Inmates

April 5, 2019 Updated: May 4, 2019

Inmates at Coffee Creek Women’s Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oregon, have been working in collaboration with the Oregon Zoo to bring the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly back from the brink of extinction. The project, supported by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Institute for Applied Ecology, has reared and released nearly 750 Taylor’s checkerspots back into the wild since the beginning of 2019.

The Oregon Zoo said inmates at Coffee Creek raised and cared for Taylor's checkerspot butterfly larvae over the past…

Posted by FOX 12 Oregon on Friday, March 29, 2019

The beautiful pollinator gets its name from the checkered color pattern on its wings, consisting of a delicate interplay of black, orange, and white. Wildlife Preservation Canada describes the species as “a keystone species,” as the butterflies act as an “environmental indicator for the health of the entire ecosystem.”

The Taylor’s checkerspot has been in crisis for two centuries, since agriculture and urban development ravaged 99 percent of its habitat in the inland prairies of the Pacific Northwest. As of 2009, Oregon Zoo informs, the species’ home turf was limited to 15 isolated sites across Washington, Oregon, and Canada.

Happy Earth Day from Oregon Zoo! Thank you for supporting our mission of inspiring the community to create a better…

Posted by Oregon Zoo on Friday, April 22, 2011

In the last week of March 2019, Coffee Creek inmates transferred 476 growing caterpillars back to the conservation biologists at USFWS. They were released into the western Oregon prairies, and an additional 246 will be released in the first week of April. The project’s inaugural caterpillar release in Oregon occurred in 2018 when 562 prison-reared caterpillars were successfully reintroduced into their natural habitat.

Describing the rearing and release program as “vital,” Oregon Zoo butterfly conservationist Ronda Naseth, who advises the program at Coffee Creek, lauded the collaborative project. “Bringing butterfly conservation work into a medium-security housing unit continues to be a rewarding process,” she said.

Over the past week at the Oregon Zoo, around 1,800 Taylor's checkerspot caterpillars woke from their winter dormancy and…

Posted by Oregon Zoo on Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Coffee Creek’s butterfly conservation lab launched in May of 2017. Zoo staff visited the prison and lent their expertise to workshops with the inmates, during which time the inmates were taught how to raise larvae. A year later, the project expanded to include lessons on caring for adult female Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies. The females are vital for their role in laying the thousands of eggs needed for the successful long-term reintroduction of the species.

“Inmates … are eager to share what they’ve learned with their loved ones,” Naseth shared. “That has the wonderful ripple effect of more and more people in our communities caring about the future of these butterflies.”

This is an endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly unfurling its wings for the first time (a 10-minute process reduced to 20 seconds through timelapse). We’re releasing 1,500 checkerspot caterpillars in Washington this week to help repopulate the species. Story: http://www.oregonzoo.org/news/2016/02/wakey-wakey-zoo-rouses-1500-caterpillars-trip-north

Posted by Oregon Zoo on Tuesday, February 23, 2016

But it’s not easy. The project has necessitated a wealth of expert attention and the commitment of a reliable team of inmates who have shown dedication to the cause.

One of the most complicated and time-consuming tasks within the project is feeding the larvae, which require almost constant sustenance. They won’t eat just anything, either: the perennial herb plantago is the only meal on the menu. A team of inmates has been specially dedicated to the maintenance of the 2,200 plantago plants that are needed to feed the insatiable larvae.

“We are exceptionally proud of the quality of larvae being released this year,” Naseth shared.

Wake up, butterflies

1,546 endangered Taylor's checkerspot larvae woke from their winter dormancy last week, and are on their way to butterflyhood 🐛

Posted by Oregon Zoo on Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Coffee Creek prison-reared caterpillars, once nurtured through their early stages of development, will become chrysalides in the wild before emerging as adult butterflies in the warmth of the spring. Oregon Zoo assures the public that “the rearing and breeding of butterflies is carefully managed to ensure the genetic health of the populations.”

Since 2004, Oregon Zoo has reared over 28,000 checkerspot larvae for intended release in the region.

The zoo is committed to the preservation of the Northwest’s myriad troubled species—with a motto that “conservation starts at home”—and is helping to ensure that the dark threat of extinction remains firmly in the shadows, where it belongs.