08 Jul A Trip to Saddle Mountain
Hey there! This past week I got the amazing opportunity to get involved with releasing larvae of the Oregon silver spot butterfly up on Saddle Mountain. Let’s walk through the event together…
A Little About the Mission ✿
Saddle Mountain is one of the tallest mountains along the Oregon coast, with a summit 3,290 feet up. The mountainside is home to lush old-growth forests and wildflower meadows where birds, small mammals, and insects reside. The species our team was sent to release is the Oregon silverspot butterfly, an endangered butterfly species that relies almost exclusively on violet plants. The larvae were cared for in a lab and could grow away from predators, but now have to be released to grow into butterflies in the wild. The mountain’s wildflower meadows are perfect for the larvae because there’s plenty of sunshine, space, and violet plants on the summit.
✿ heading up the summit
After a two-hour drive, we arrived at the natural area of Saddle Mountain at about eight in the morning. It turns out we weren’t the only group there- folks from the Oregon Zoo, Americorps, the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife, and even insect biologists. After a quick meeting about safety protocols, all twenty-some of us divided up the larvae boxes and began the hike. The forest was luscious and thick with red alder, Douglas fir, sword fern, Oregon grape, and salmonberries. As we went up, the landscape became drier, rockier, and sparser. Our hike spiked to a 60-degree incline until it leveled out just enough for a picnic table to sit at and recover. This was a challenging hike. Luckily we hiked up before the summer heat hit. Otherwise, we would have had to deal with dehydration and rough terrain. The trail was rocky and steep, meaning we had to rely on chicken wire grates placed on the ground for traction. We hiked for about two hours with several breaks to get water or catch our breath. However, the views are gorgeous, and the forest understory is equally beautiful.
releasing larvae ✿
After a snack break, we gathered around the picnic table and had another meeting. We discussed how to safely handle the larvae and identify the violets they will be placed on. The caterpillars could be picked up by either a plastic spoon or a pair of forceps and gently placed on each plant. Another pointer was regarding how to identify violet plants. They are found close to the ground in partial shade surrounding the other mountainside shrubs and flowers off the trail. The leaves are heart-shaped, bright green, and have tiny little serrations along their edges. The most defining characteristic is the cup shape in the middle of the plant, where we placed the caterpillars. The caterpillars are dark brown, with little spikes along their black, and are approximately the length of an eyelash. They weren’t too squeamish, but we still had to coax them on the spoon and onto the violets. After releasing 90 little buggers, we had lunch and descended the mountain. While going down didn’t require nearly as much cardio as the hike up, it was crucial to watch our step so we didn’t slide or fall. Finally, after reaching the bottom, we took pictures with the crew and drove home.