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Ridge Checkerspot -  Chris Carvalho/Lensjoy.com

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With a wing pattern that's reminiscent of a Van Gogh painting, the Ridge Checkerspot (Euphydryas editha) brings its bold colors to summer's mid-elevation meadows in the Columbia Gorge.  It frequents yellow hawksbeard flowers.  While this photograph shows the upperside wings, the underside has a delightful design as well with the colorful spots being much larger and hardly any black at all.  I took this photo on Silver Star Mountain, one of the prime locations for observing butterflies in the region.  Checkerspots are a widespread and varied genus; this particular species has an abundance of brick-red color on the wings that makes it one of my favorites.  There are several subspecies and it's hard to identify the exact one, but I believe this one is colonia, judging from the appearance and the location where I found it.  

This checkerspot is under study as an indicator species for negative impacts from climate change.  According to the lepidopterist Camille Parmesan (2), sudden cold snaps after warm weather spells in winter, called "false springs," can kill emerged adult populations fooled by the warmth and wipe out the species in an area.  Sudden cold spells at the end of the season can also kill the butterfly's larval stages.  Droughts can deplete the supply of food plants such as Collinsia (blue-eyed Mary) which is an early spring wildflower that lives for a very short time.  Climate effects can alter the timing of the plant's growth and the butterfly's reproduction, which must be synchronized for success.  If the plant isn't mature at the same time the butterfly's eggs hatch, the larvae are unable to feed.  

Sometimes butterflies can migrate to cooler areas in order to adapt to climate shifts, but in many cases this is impossible or detrimental.  Migrating upward in altitude subjects butterflies to decreased land area and harsher weather.  A storm can easily wipe out a population if it's concentrated in a small region.  Food plants may not have spread upslope, or they might face competition from established species.  For instance, plants from valley grassland that need sunshine to grow can't survive on forested slopes.  For the butterflies already living high up on mountains, there may be no more mountain above them to move to.  Migration to higher latitudes presents other problems.  In some situations there's nowhere to go but ocean.  Easy migration of butterflies or food plants becomes impossible with manmade barriers such as developed areas with few native plants, cities, or agricultural land.  If all of this makes you a bit worried, it should.  

When I moved to suburban Portland, Oregon from a more semirural area in California, I was surprised by how few butterflies there were around my new home compared to what I had grown up with.  This situation has become common all over the country, and perhaps worldwide as cities disrupt native vegetation that make up the food plants for butterflies and homeowners spread insecticides to control garden pests, unfortunately taking the butterflies along as an unintended consequence.  What can we do?  Encourage local governments to set aside more natural areas to provide habitat.  We don't need to pave over every square inch of land with homes.  Support incentives to preserve a portion of land in its natural state.  Even if you live in a densely populated area, you can reduce the use of pesticides and plant a few native plants.  Some research will be needed to find out what plants are best for butterflies in your area.  Entering "butterfly food plant list" into a web search engine along with your state, county, or city will likely provide information someone has compiled for your area.  For those in the Portland, Oregon area or the Columbia Gorge, here is a link to my list.  If some of the plants are what you'd consider weeds, don't panic.  Having a small area set aside for these plants won't create a problem.  The ideal of a perfectly manicured garden may seem attractive, but the reality is that it means death to many other beautiful creatures such as the Ridge Checkerspot that are more striking than most flowers.  

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Info:  Chromira digital print of Provia 100F 35mm chrome, Fuji Crystal Archive CD paper
 

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