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The Endangered Quino Checkerspot Butterfly Finds Sanctuary in Western Riverside County

May 12, 2022 | MSHCP, Species

Butterflies are known to represent beauty, hope, love, and even the concept of “life is short.” For the MSHCP, one particular subspecies of the Edith checkerspot butterfly represents hope – the federally endangered and MSHCP Covered Species, the Quino checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha quino). 

Named after its complex pattern of black, cream, and orange spots on its wings, the Quino checkerspot butterfly is sparsely distributed in the MSHCP Plan Area. This rare subspecies is also only known to occur in San Diego County and northern Baja California in Mexico. 

While these butterflies are considered “sedentary” and are usually flying close to the ground, conservation efforts have taken flight. Through a partnership with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, a $15,000 grant was awarded to the RCA last year to help evaluate Quino Checkerspot Butterfly host plants. The grant funds will be used to study soil types that can better cultivate host plants for this endangered species. The species lays eggs at the base of host native wildflowers such as dwarf plantain, white snapdragon, and woolly plantain.

Quino checkerspot butterflies are found in vernal pools, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, grasslands, and other open-canopied habitats. Adults engage in “hilltopping,” where they gather on hilltops, ridgelines, and other prominent landforms, sometimes at high elevations. The adult portion of its life cycle usually lasts one generation per year with an adult flight period from February through May. 

The MSHCP objective is to conserve at least 67,493 acres in western Riverside County in Lake Mathews/Estelle Mountain, Hartford Springs, Warm Springs Creek, Johnson Ranch, Lake Skinner, Oak Mountain, Wilson Valley, Sage, and Silverado/Tule Peak.  

The Clinton Keith Road extension in Murrieta, completed in 2017, also includes a wildlife crossing. The highway overpass with protective fencing provides safe page for the low-flying endangered butterfly as well as other wildlife species. 

A recovery program was initiated to reintroduce the species in the San Diego Wildlife Refuge with the help of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. A similar interest has been shown to reintroduce the Quino checkerspot butterfly to the Lake Mathews area.