QUINO CHECKERSPOT BUTTERFLY (Euphydryas editha quino)


Quino Checkerspot Butterfly © Peter Bryant

The plight of the Quino Checkerspot Butterfly has been described by a biologist as "four engines out and about ten seconds to impact." The Quino Checkerspot once was one of the most common butterflies in Southern California. At the turn of the century, millions could be seen each year in a swath extending from the Santa Monica Mountains south into Baja California, and east to the desert. As recently as the 1950s, this butterfly still occurred on every coastal bluff, inland mesa top and lower mountain slope in coastal Southern California and northern Baja.

The Quino Checkerspot Butterfly has short, rounded wings, with a wingspan of 1.5 inches. The top side of the wings is a complex checkered pattern with vibrant colors of orange, black and cream, while the bottom side is dominated by orange and cream. This butterfly generally flies slowly, close to the ground, with a meandering flight pattern, and tends to avoid flying over objects taller than six to eight feet. Males, and sometimes females, are observed frequently on hilltops and ridgelines. These butterflies may spend several years in a dormant period, briefly breaking and re-entering dormancy repeatedly before reaching maturity, depending largely on rain patterns.


Close-up of Quino Checkerspot Butterfly © Peter Bryant

The Quino Checkerspot Butterfly may occupy a variety of habitat types, including grasslands, coastal sage scrub, chamise chaparral, red shank chaparral, juniper woodland, and semi-desert scrub that support native species of plantain, the primary larval host plant. They also can be found at the lower edge of chaparral, in desert canyons and in canyon washes. Mating and peak adult activity generally occurs in March and April, when the female lays her eggs at the base of the host plant. Larvae later feed upon the leaves and when the plants become desiccated, they seek shelter among leaf litter until the following winter. Fall and winter rains spark the germination of the host plant, which also causes the larvae to come out of dormancy.

Historically, this butterfly was distributed throughout the coastal slopes of Southern California, from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, and San Bernardino Counties, southward to northern Baja California, Mexico. The historic distribution included the westernmost slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains, the Los Angeles plain, and the Transverse Ranges to the edge of the upper Anza-Borrego desert, and south to El Rosario in Baja California, Mexico.

Urban and suburban sprawl, habitat fragmentation, livestock grazing, and pesticide spraying have reduced the species to just eight areas in southwestern Riverside and southern San Diego counties, and four in Baja. Of these, all but three populations contained fewer than five individual butterflies in 2000. Currently, the butterfly is known from high inland elevations such as Dictionary Hill, Otay Lakes, and San Miguel Mountain in San Diego County, and the Gavilan Hills in Riverside County. It has not been seen in Orange, Los Angeles, or coastal San Diego Counties for nearly 30 years, and it is extirpated from San Bernardino County as well. Wildfires in Southern California in 2003 burned 19 percent of the critical habitat and 27 percent of the known occurrences of the Quino Checkerspot Butterfly.


Quino Checkerspot Butterfly © Peter Bryant

The Quino Checkerspot Butterfly is threatened by elimination, fragmentation and degradation of habitat caused by development, increases in fire frequency, unauthorized trash dumping, distribution and abundance of exotic plants, impacts from off-road vehicles, and over-collection. On National Forest Service lands the species is threatened by displacement of larval host plants and adult nectar sources, spread of invasive plants, livestock grazing, predation by exotic invertebrates, off-road vehicle activity, and fire management practices. No known Quino Checkerspot habitat complexes are permanently protected. Although some habitat is under public ownership, this species continues to decline throughout its range. Public lands with potentially suitable or restorable habitat are critical to the survival of the species.

The Quino Checkerspot Butterfly was listed federally as an endangered species in 1997 in response to a petition and lawsuit by the Center. As a result of another Center lawsuit, critical habitat was designated in 2002. A recovery plan for the species was published in 2003.

Center Actions to Protect the Quino Checkerspot Butterfly:

• In July 2006 the Center and a coalition of conservation groups appealed the Forest Service’s approval of flawed land management plans for four Southern California national forests, which would allow harm to numerous listed species, including the Quino Checkerspot.

• In February 2004 the Center released a report analyzing the potential effects of the October 2003 Southern California wildfires on listed species, including the Quino Checkerspot Butterfly. The report called for federal, state, and local agencies to conduct supplemental environmental review of projects that may impact these species because baseline conditions have changed as a result of the fires.

• In April 2002 the Center led a group of environmental organizations, scientists and technical experts in presenting a visionary plan for management of Southern California's four national forests that would enhance protections for listed species, including the Quino Checkerspot Butterfly, on the Los Padres National Forest.

• In April 2002, as a result of a Center lawsuit, the Fish and Wildlife Service designated 171,605 acres of critical habitat in Riverside and San Diego Counties for the species.

• In February 2001, due to a settlement agreement with the Center, the Service proposed designation of 301,010 acres of critical habitat for the species.

• In March 2000 the Center reached a landmark legal agreement with the Forest Service to protect more than 50 endangered species in Southern California's four national forests, including the Quino Checkerspot Butterfly. The Forest Service was required to amend forest management plans to address endangered species protections and to remove livestock from several sensitive areas.

• In June 1999, the Center filed suit challenging the Service’s “not prudent” finding for critical habitat.

• In 1997, in response to a lawsuit by the Center, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Quino Checkerspot Butterfly as an endangered species but refused to designate critical habitat for the species.

January 15, 2007
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