Baltimore Checkerspot Recovery Team

Conservation: A Focus on the Maryland Piedmont

The Baltimore checkerspot has a conservation status rank of S2, indicating that it is imperiled in Maryland because of rarity (typically 6 to 20 estimated occurrences or few remaining individuals or acres in the state) or because of factors making it vulnerable to extirpation (Maryland Natural Heritage Program [NHP] 2010). Species with this rank are actively tracked by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife and Heritage Service, Natural Heritage Program. The Baltimore Checkerspot Recovery Team (BCRT) of Maryland has identified a number of conservation goals geared toward protecting the Baltimore checkerspot in Maryland, including:

  1. maintaining and monitoring current colonies;
  2. locating wetland sites that could potentially support new colonies;
  3. increasing management efforts to restore and enhance wetland habitats;
  4. initiating a captive breeding and release program;
  5. conducting scientific research and monitoring.

These goals can be found with more detailed information in the Baltimore Checkerspot Management Plan.

While habitat maintenance and population monitoring will include all Maryland populations, wetland restoration, captive rearing, and introduction efforts will initially be limited to the Piedmont Region. This is the region where Baltimore checkerspots have experienced the greatest declines, and where populations are separated by considerable differences and significant dispersal barriers (large cities and towns, major highways, etc). In addition, climate models indicate that only the most northern stretches of the Maryland Piedmont will continue to provide suitable climatic conditions in the coming decades (see Threats page). For these reasons, actions will focus on increasing connectivity amongst the remaining Baltimore checkerspot colonies in the Piedmont by creating corridors of suitable wetlands that allow the species to move into the northern stretches of the Piedmont Region and eventually, into northern states. The BCRT has already initiated several habitat restoration projects in the hopes of establishing new turtlehead wetlands that could eventually support Baltimore checkerspot colonies. This will help ensure the availability of multiple, sustainable habitat patches. Concurrent with habitat restoration and monitoring efforts, the BCRT will attempt to monitor and research unknown aspects of the Baltimore checkerspot’s life history and habitat requirements, as well as expand captive breeding initiatives.

Example of Baltimore checkerspot habitat by Jen Frye
Example of Baltimore checkerspot habitat by Jen Frye

Who is Part of the BCRT?

The BCRT is made up of a network of individuals across county, regional, state, and national organizations and agencies. DNR is partnering with individuals from the following organizations and agencies:

  • Anita C. Leight Estuary Center
  • Black Hill Regional Park
  • Carroll County Public Schools
  • Cromwell Valley Park
  • Eden Mill Nature Center
  • Fountain Rock Park & Nature Center
  • Harford Glen Environmental Education Center
  • Little Bennett Regional Park
  • MA & PA Trail
  • Maryland Entomological Society
  • Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission
  • Robert E. Lee Park
  • Robinson Nature Center
  • Rocky Gap State Park
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • University of Colorado, CU Museum and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • Washington Area Butterfly Club
  • Washington Sanitary Sewer Commission
  • Working Towards Sustainable Populations

    The BCRT is concerned not only with the maintenance of existing Baltimore checkerspot sites, but also in restoring and enhancing wetland habitat for future butterfly introductions. Habitat restoration activities and introduction activities will be limited to a relatively small area of the state, primarily in the Maryland Piedmont. These projects do not encompass the entire historic range of the Baltimore checkerspot because many former sites are likely unsuitable now given the changes in habitat and in climate conditions. There is an apparent trend in the distribution of Baltimore checkerspot that shows the species persisting in the northern tiers of the state and in western Maryland. When wetland restoration projects are undertaken, they are concentrated in regions of the state where checkerspots already occur, with the goal of linking different populations to one another on a northward trend. More interaction between butterflies from different colonies may help alleviate certain threats, including inbreeding.

    Baltimore Checkerspot caterpillar
    Baltimore checkerspot caterpillar

    One Note of Concern:

    While many people support the conservation of the Baltimore checkerspot, you should not attempt to raise checkerspots on your own. Baltimore checkerspots have very specific habitat requirements and a complex life cycle. Rearing the larvae requires a tremendous commitment in time and resources that you may not be prepared to undertake on your own. In addition, most people lack the training and proper habitat conditions needed to successfully rear Baltimore checkerspots. Never collect caterpillars from the wild, as this will diminish the number of already fragile butterfly colonies that exist and will cause more harm than good. Many times even when an area looks like it will provide good habitat for butterflies, it may lack the proper soil, vegetation, or nectar and host plant resources. Without these resources the butterflies cannot survive. Click here to learn about ways you can help the Baltimore Checkerspot.