Meet the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly and the Bird Conservation Focal Species that Share its Grassland Habitat

By eBird Northwest Team April 19, 2019

Taylor’s checkerspot by Ted Thomas, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Species: Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha taylori)

Status in the Northwest:

  • Washington: state-endangered, federally-endangered
  • Oregon: federally-endangered
  • State Wildlife Action Plans for Washington and Oregon also identify the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

Habitat: Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies require low-elevation short-stature grasslands and grassy oak woodlands where food plants for larvae and nectar resources for adults are available. Preferred larval host plants include members of the Scrophulariaceae (snapdragon) and Plantaginaceae (plantain) families. Females select sites for egg-laying based on habitat conditions and availability of host plants.

Conservation Issues: Habitat loss, mainly due to conversion of grasslands to agriculture and urban development, encroachment of trees and shrubs due to fire suppression, and the spread of invasive species have all played major roles in the decline of this species. Other threats include pesticide use, recreational activities, severe weather events, a fungal pathogen infecting the host plant English plantain, and issues of small population size.

Range: This endemic Pacific Northwest butterfly was once found in over 80 grassland sites in the western lowlands of the Cascade Mountains from Vancouver Island in British Columbia to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Today, Taylor’s checkerspot is restricted to one population in British Columbia, eight populations in the state of Washington, and two populations in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Current U.S. range map provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

View the interactive range map here.

Oregon-Washington Partners in Flight Focal Species for Grasslands and Savannas: Regional bird conservation plans identify suites of focal species that serve as indicators, representing a variety of conditions needed to recover and sustain diverse ecosystems and associated wildlife. The focal species for grassland habitats represent different habitat conditions, such as height of dominant grasses with a variety of needs for bare ground, wet prairies, scattered shrubs, area of open habitat, and more.

Table 1. Priority habitat features and associated focal bird species for conservation in grassland habitats in the Westside Lowlands and Valleys Landbird Conservation Planning Region1

1Altman, B. 2000. Conservation Strategy for Landbirds in Lowlands and Valleys of Western Oregon and Washington. Oregon-Washington Partners in Flight, American Bird Conservancy.

Like the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, many birds depend on grassland habitats for survival and successful reproduction. In the Oregon-Washington Partners in Flight conservation strategy for grasslands, Western Meadowlark is used as a focal species to help determine desired habitat conditions for a variety of grassland species. Western Meadowlark populations have declined by 42% since 1970 throughout their range; since grasslands are among the most imperiled habitat types in the western United States, many other grassland species have seen similar declines.

Multiple agencies and nongovernmental organizations are working together throughout the Pacific Northwest to help with recovery efforts for the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. These include captive-rearing and reintroduction programs, conservation education and outreach, and interagency coordination to manage lands and reduce threats to occupied Taylor’s checkerspot sites. Research continues to improve our understanding of this species’ current and historical range, genetics, and habitat requirements and will help to inform future management decisions.

Additional Resources:

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Periodic Status Review for Taylor’s Checkerspot

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Taylor’s checkerspot page in Environmental Conservation Online System (ECOS)

Xerces Society Taylor’s checkerspot species page

Read more about grassland habitats, the threats they face, and the species that live there on the eBird Northwest Habitat Page.