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Butterflies + beer = wildlife conservation

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

This is a conservation story about butterflies and beer.

An Oregon silverspot butterfly lands on a beer bottle. It’ll all make sense by the end of the story, I promise.
 Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Where to start? How about we take it back to biology class. Remember learning about generalists and specialists? Humans are the ultimate generalist—we’ll live in just about any habitat and eat just about any food.

Then there are the specialists, like koalas and their eucalyptus-only diet. For specialists, survival depends on that one thing they specialize in. That one thing goes away, and they’re in big trouble.

Oregon silverspot butterfly at Cascade Head in Oregon. Photo by Rachel Gray/Woodland Park Zoo.

That’s what’s happening to the Oregon silverspot butterfly, a native of the Pacific Northwest and a specialist dependent on the early blue violet plant for survival. This threatened species once lived in Washington but has since been wiped from the state, and now only five wild populations remain in Oregon and California.

Growing violets at Oregon Zoo’s greenhouse for hungry, hungry caterpillars. Oregon Zoo is a major partner in these conservation efforts. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The Oregon silverspot butterfly needs the early blue violet, a low-growing native wildflower, to survive. Silverspots lay their eggs near violet plants, and growing caterpillars rely on the violet as their sole source of food on their path toward becoming a butterfly. But now the early blue violet is disappearing from our native landscapes.

Forest meets meadow meets ocean at the beautiful Cascade Head preserve in Oregon.
Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Why are the violets disappearing? The primary threats are forest succession and invasive weeds taking over. Invasive species are a major issue in wildlife conservation—they are one of the leading threats to biodiversity worldwide. When non-native species are introduced to habitats, they can spread quickly, often going unchecked because they have no native predators. They take over scarce resources and outcompete native flora and fauna, profoundly changing our local living landscapes. That’s what’s happening to silverspot habitat right now, with invasive scotch broom and non-native grasses taking over and choking out early blue violet plants.

An Oregon silverspot butterfly shows off its wings. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

To save this butterfly, we need to save its habitat from invasives. Get those violets flourishing again and we’ll get the butterflies flourishing again. And if we get the butterflies flourishing again, we get the habitat flourishing again, since butterflies are such essential pollinators. It’s all connected.

We raise silverspot caterpillars in a behind the scenes lab at the zoo as part of conservation efforts. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Woodland Park Zoo is a partner in a conservation project—a project that just won a national conservation award!—that’s setting out to restore silverspot habitat and repopulate these butterflies in the Pacific Northwest. Our partners are restoring and protecting coastal meadow habitat, such as the Cascade Head preserve in Oregon, hard at work pulling, weeding, cutting and replanting to get rid of invasives

Then we help with the repopulating by head starting silverspots at our zoo. We collect eggs, hatch and raise them at the zoo until they are caterpillars, and then release the caterpillars to protected areas to help build up the wild populations.

Zoo staff hike out to release caterpillars at Cascade Head. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

While we raise the caterpillars, you can raise something else for the cause—your glass! (Yay, I finally got to the beer part of the story!)

See, now it makes sense. Label artwork courtesy of Pelican Pub & Brewery.

Oregon’s Pelican Pub & Brewery has just launched the Silverspot IPA, a delicious beer inspired by the butterfly conservation efforts at the Cascade Head preserve in Oregon, located just outside the brewery’s front door. A portion of the sales of this IPA goes directly to the conservation effort and helps make our work possible and the work of our terrific partners on this project, including United States Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, Oregon Zoo, and Lewis and Clark College.

Silverspot IPA rolls off the assembly line. Photo courtesy of Pelican Pub & Brewery.

Silverspot IPA is available at Pelican Pub’s Oregon location and in select retailers in the Seattle area, including select QFC, PCC and Metropolitan Market locations.

Please drink responsibly and make sure you say cheers to butterflies and conservation!

Want to do even more for native wildlife? Keep your eyes on our Backyard Habitat class offerings to learn more about gardening with native plants to help control the spread of invasives in our local landscapes.


Thanks for that updated info, a fantastic service for everyone. More power to you!
Unknown said…
I know one year is too soon to tell but how successful do you think this has this been so far?
It's been a great year for this project! The beer is available across Seattle now and we'll even be serving it up at our Brew at the Zoo event again this October (

It's a small effort with modest distribution, but it's been drawing big attention, winning two awards: 2013 bronze medal in the Australian International Beer award and 2012 silver medal in the English-style IPA category at the Great American Beer Festival.