Deer in Spring Landscape

Protecting Maryland’s State Insect:

Introducing the Baltimore Checkerspot Recovery Team

The Baltimore checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton Drury) was named Maryland’s State Insect in 1973. At the time, it occupied multiple sites in over 15 counties, and was considered a relatively common species. Over the last few decades, however, the number of sites from which it was historically known has declined considerably. Its distribution is currently limited to 11 sites within 7 counties, and it is included on the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ list of Rare, Threatened and Endangered Animals. While the exact reasons for this decline are not completely understood, they certainly include habitat loss and degradation, deer browse of the caterpillar host plant, and succession of open wetlands to forest or dense shrublands. Other perceived threats include climate change, and a vulnerability to extirpation from fragmentation and isolation effects resulting in inbreeding depression and reduced population viability.

Baltimore Checkerspots by Scott Smith (Left) and Pat Durkin (right)

Baltimore Checkerspots by Scott Smith (Left) and Pat Durkin (right)

The Baltimore checkerspot is one of the most well-known insects in the state, inspiring many local organizations and individuals to take an interest in the conservation of this butterfly. Most of these efforts started as small, localized, independent operations, which in most cases, limited their success. For this reason, the Maryland Natural Heritage Program, working with local lepidopterists, made an attempt to gather all of the interested parties together to develop a reasonable, scientifically-sound, collaborative conservation strategy to help protect the species. In January 2012, the Baltimore Checkerspot Recovery Team (BCRT) of Maryland was formed, comprising federal, state and county agency representatives, university professors, local schools, and nature and education center staff. During the course of that first year, the BCRT met three times and drafted a conservation and management plan with the goal of protecting the Baltimore checkerspot in Maryland through habitat conservation and enhancement and by bolstering the population through captive rearing and release programs. Many of these efforts are already underway.