For more than a decade, naturalists like Sue Muller have been working to save Maryland’s official state insect, the endangered Baltimore checkerspot.
Muller, along with many naturalists and entomologists in the region, hope to restore the butterfly species that dawns the same colors as Maryland’s state flag.
Since the early 1990s, there has been a rapid decline of the butterflies in the area.
“Over a decade has been spent trying to save these butterflies,” said Muller, a Natural Resources Technician for the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks. “It’s not that simple.”
Butterflies like the Baltimore checkerspot seek one plant to lay its eggs on to feed blossoming caterpillars. The turtlehead, a native wildflower, is the chosen plant for this butterfly. In order to increase the Baltimore checkerspot species, more turtleheads must be planted and deer, which eat the turtleheads, must be monitored and managed.
“But it’s not that simple,” Muller said. “You don’t just plant the plants and butterflies appear.”
The decline of the butterfly species in the region is linked to the loss of wet meadows, a vital landscape for turtlehead growth. Other threats to the development of the butterflies include parasitic wasps, birds, flooding, pesticides and fungal infections, according to a Howard County publication.
Muller said that some groups are receiving grants for backyard projects and other preservation efforts. The Howard County Parks Department is set to open the Robinson Nature Center in the upcoming year, which Muller said might include a Baltimore checkerspot program. Other organizations in the area that have Baltimore checkerspot conservation programs include Black Hill Regional Park in Montgomery County and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.
For now, Muller said there are some colonies in Montgomery and Carroll counties that are home to some Baltimore checkerspots.
Naturalists like Muller are persistent in working to prolong the butterfly species that is historic to Maryland.