Maryland's Wildlife Species - Butterflies of Maryland
Did you know the Maryland State Insect is the Baltimore Checkerspot? The natural beauty of butterflies makes them attractive to people of all sorts. Butterflies can be found gliding across Maryland in woods, fields, yards and gardens. In addition to their aesthetic appeal, butterflies are important pollinators as well as sensitive indicators for environmental health. This online guide is designed to help you learn about common butterflies and skippers found throughout Maryland as well as ways to attract them to your yard. Maryland has over 150 species of butterflies and skippers. The “Butterflies of Maryland: A Biological Summary and Checklist” has general occurrence and state ranges for Maryland butterfly species. In addition, you may also want to view our quick picture reference guide to Common Maryland Butterflies and Skippers.
Our butterflies range in size from the large, showy Giant Swallowtail to the tiny and easily overlooked Eastern Tailed-Blue. Some are relatively camouflaged to blend into their surroundings, like the Tawny Emperor, while others are brilliantly colored to warn potential predators of their poisonous taste, like the Monarch.
Many butterflies live relatively short lives as adults of only a month or less. The remainder of the year is spent during the other three stages of their life cycle: egg, caterpillar, and pupa (inside the chrysalis). While they are adults their primary goal is to mate and begin a new generation before dying; however, we usually see them as they visit our flowers for nectar or the wet sand along our driveways and roadsides for minerals and moisture. Some butterflies prefer the moisture in rotting fruit or in animal scat.
Like other types of wildlife, some butterflies are considered habitat generalists and are found in a wide variety of places, while others are habitat specialists and are confined to very specialized conditions, never straying very far from areas with a certain type of plant on which the caterpillar feeds. For example, the Palamedes Swallowtail caterpillar only feeds on the rare Red Bay and this southern plant only occurs as far north as the swamps on the lower Eastern Shore in Worcester and Somerset Counties. This specialization is one of the main reasons why some species are much more rare and vulnerable to local extirpation than other species.
Just as bird watching has become a popular recreational activity, butterfly watching and gardening for butterflies is a fast-growing outdoors pastime. The key to enjoying the study of butterflies is to learn about the timing of their life cycle to know what time of the year the adults are present, about their various habitat preferences, and about the plant hosts that they need to survive. To help you get started, the “Butterflies of Maryland: A Biological Summary and Checklist” has much of this information compiled in one document.
For additional information on butterflies, then please visit the following sites:
- Butterflies and Moths of North America
- Butterflies and Skippers of Ohio field guide (PDF)
- Children’s Butterfly Site
- Maryland Biodiversity Initiative (checklists of MD species)
- Monarch Watch (citizen science campaign)
- North American Butterfly Association
- Washington Area Butterfly Club
For more information, please contact:
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Wildlife and Heritage Service
Tawes State Office Building, E-1
Annapolis MD 21401
Toll-free in Maryland: 1-877-620-8DNR
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