A team of wildlife biologists released more than 1,700 larvae of the endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly into the wild in southern San Diego County in an effort to reverse a decline in the species’ numbers, the San Diego Zoo announced Tuesday.
Biologists from the zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Conservation Biology Institute of Encinitas attached 34 pods filled with larvae to vegetation on Monday in the San Diego Wildlife Refuge, which extends from Jamul to communities in Spring Valley and eastern Chula Vista. The pods protect them from predators until their development is complete.
This was the second round of captive-rearing and release efforts for the butterfly species, which is native to California and Northern Baja California. Last year, increased rainfall provided an opportunity for the successful emerging of the endangered butterflies on the refuge, which encouraged the biologists to do another release.
“Last year, we had a high count of 36 individual butterflies, representing the minimum number of adults present,” said John Martin, wildlife biologist for the refuge. “We hope for the same success at this new site, further augmenting the population of beautiful butterflies.”
The Quino checkerspot was once among the most commonly seen butterflies in Southern California, ranging along the coast — from just south of Ventura County to the inland valleys south of the Tehachapi Mountains and into northern Baja California.
In recent years, the species has experienced a drastic decline in numbers, primarily due to loss of its habitat from increased urban development. Zoo officials said climate change, drought, invasive plants and fire pose additional threats.
The larvae — each about the size of a pea or smaller — were propagated in the zoo’s Butterfly Conservation Lab, where entomologists cared for eggs, larvae and adults as part of a breeding program. The USFW is funding the lab in order to move the species from “endangered” to “threatened” on the endangered species list.
Zoo officials said that if all goes well, the released Quino checkerspot larvae should complete their development into adult butterflies from late February to early April, where they will feed on nectar plants, such as owl’s clover and native sunflower species, and reproduce for the next generation.
— City News Service
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