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A Project of Woodland Park Zoo's Living Northwest


Butterflies of the Northwest


About the Project

Butterflies represent the beauty of nature. One such regional beauty is the Oregon silverspot butterfly, which requires quickly vanishing Northwest coastal grasslands to survive. In 1999, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service revised the silverspot recovery plan, starting a captive rearing and release program with the Oregon Zoo and Lewis and Clark College. Woodland Park Zoo joined the program just two years later. Those captive reared butterflies are released at Rock Creek and Cascade Head in Oregon, where wild violets, the butterfly’s essential food source, remain abundant.

The Nature Conservancy collaboratively works with the U.S. Forest Service to restore native butterfly habitat through small, controlled forest fires, hoping to re-establish early blue violets and return the butterfly to its historic range.

Both Woodland Park Zoo and Oregon Zoo are currently head starting the butterflies. Silverspots from Mount Hebo and Rock Creek are induced to lay eggs in the lab. These butterflies are captured near the end of their life cycle, having already bred and laid eggs in the field before being brought to either zoo. Every day, keepers feed the butterflies homemade nectar, a solution of sugar, water and egg whites on saturated cotton balls.

The eggs hatch and the young larvae are placed in specially designed containers, then put in a refrigerator for winter diapause. After dormancy, the butterfly larvae feed on western blue violet leaves. Soon after, they pupate and are large enough for return to the wild to eclose as adult butterflies in renewal of their reproductive cycles.


Conservation Action

Drink a Beer, Save a Butterfly

Winner of the World Beer Cup 2014 Silver Medal for English-style Indian Pale Ale!

Every year the field staff celebrates another successful release in Oregon with dinner at the Pelican Pub and Brewery. In 2012, the brewery surprised the recovery team with the launch of the Silverspot IPA, a beer inspired by the butterfly conservation efforts at the Cascade Head preserve, just a few miles away, and visible from the brewery’s front door. A portion of the sales of this IPA go directly to the conservation efforts for the butterfly, and the label content tells the story of the recovery project. To add to the silver theme, the Silverspot IPA has received silver medals in the English-style Indian Pale Ale category at two of the most presitigious beer competitions, the World Beer Cup (2014) and the Great American Beer Festival (2012). 

Look for Silverspot IPA at select retail locations, including:


Ravenna Whole Foods

Brouwers Café – Fremont

Last Drop Bottle Shop - 15th Ave NE

QFC – Holman Rd

PCC Natural Markets - NE 65th & 40th (View Ridge)

Chucks 85th Market - 85th and 8th

Metropolitan Market - Sandpoint

Salehs Deli – 85th & 24th Ave NW (Ballard)

University Wine – Sandpoint

Kens Market – 6th & McGraw – Queen Anne

QFC – University Village

Whole Foods Queen Anne – 15th Ave W

Trinity Market – U District

Pear Deli – Belltown

Wine World Warehouse – Wallingford 

New Town Market – on western

Bottleworks – N. 45th St. – Wallingford

Westlake Specialty Market – 7th – Downtown

PCC Natural Markets – Greenlake

Thomas Market and Deli – Thomas St

PCC Market – Fremont

King of the Hill – Capitol Hill


About Oregon Silverspot Butterflies

The Oregon silverspot butterfly (Speyeria zerene hippolyta) was once found on coastal grasslands along the Pacific Ocean, from northern California to southern Washington. Forest succession, invasive weeds and grasses, and land development have greatly reduced butterfly habitat, and by 1980, scientists discovered that the butterfly had vanished from 11 localities. In 1980 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the Oregon silverspot to the list of threatened species, and in 1982, assembled a recovery team to conduct habitat restoration, in an effort to try and bring the butterfly back from the brink.

In the Field

Several natural and manmade factors challenge the survival of the silverspot butterfly: 

  • Exotic invasive plants like Scotch broom crowding out native food sources.
  • Land development of coastal property for homes, buildings, parks, off-road use and grazing by livestock.
  • Catastrophic weather conditions wiping out an entire year’s new population.
  • Roads through butterfly habitat causing highway mortality.
  • Pesticides
  • Forest succession

Most factors (except weather) are controllable. In order to ensure the survival of the threatened silverspot, it will require a concentrated effort to preserve their habitat.


At the Zoo

Population augmentation is a complicated process.  Woodland Park Zoo participates directly by raising silverspot larvae in zoo facilities for release into the wild. In September of 2011, the females that were brought into the lab laid an unprecedented number of eggs resulting in an extraordinary number of larvae.  These larvae were overwintered and reared in 2012, with an extraordinary 1,233 surviving to pupation. Those pupae were transferred to the Oregon coast where they were released back into the wild. 


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