Adventurous flyer “Amelia” at Frazer Preserve | Photo: Susan Vernon

For the last several years, the only place in the world where the Island Marble Butterfly was known to live was in a few small patches on the seaside prairie at American Camp, near the southern end of San Juan Island.

That changed in late May, when a lone Island Marble was seen flitting among yellow field mustard blooms in one of several habitat patches that San Juan Preservation Trust staff and volunteers have been cultivating since 2015 on the County Land Bank’s Frazer Homestead Preserve, near American Camp.

“It was so exciting to see our work paying off,” says SJPT Stewardship Manager Kathleen Foley, who leads the Island Marble Habitat Expansion project. “This was exactly what we’ve been hoping and working towards for four years.” Kathleen nicknamed the butterfly Amelia, after another adventurous female flyer.

“Amelia’s” appearance at one of SJPT’s habitat plots was significant: It was the first confirmed sighting of an Island Marble outside of American Camp in years. Even better, though, she stayed and laid eggs! Most of the 18 eggs hatched into caterpillars. After maturing, they will form a chrysalis and, if all goes well, emerge as butterflies next spring—a hopeful step for this exceedingly rare insect, which has been proposed for federal listing as an endangered species.

“These exciting developments speak to the integrity of the initial design of the Preservation Trust’s habitat patches,” says Susan Vernon, a San Juan Island naturalist who has been deeply involved in Island Marble conservation efforts since they began more than 15 years ago. “Creating the conditions that encourage this butterfly to repopulate historic breeding areas has been hard work, but it seems like ‘Amelia’ found just what she was looking for.”