Baltimore Checkerspot Butterflies

Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly Conservation Project

Mona Miller has worked on the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly conservation project in 2006.
Article by Hannah Trott

On June 11, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens released seven Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies into the wild during a ceremonial release.  During the next week, over 80 butterflies were released after 7 PM, as advised by USDA/APHIS, Senior Entomologist, Wayne Wehling, so that they could settle into the area and not bolt.

Butterfly enthusiast and Washington Area Butterfly Club member Mona Miller helped raise and release the butterflies.  She was happy to see a crowd of at least 20 people come to the ceremonial butterfly release.  “People got to see how beautiful this tiny little butterfly is,” Miller said.

Adults and children enjoyed the release of the butterflies, but it was the children who became the most involved.  “The kids helped to do the release,” Miller said.  “One of the Checkerspots landed on one of the little girls arms and she was so excited,” Miller added.

The number of Baltimore Checkerspots and many other insects has dropped in recent years due to loss of habitat.  “I’ve lived here since 1983, and I’ve never seen one here,” Miller said.

The turtlehead plant, or Chelone glabra is a host plant where they build their web nests, but it is also a plant that deer like to snack on.  To prevent the Checkerspot’s habitat areas from diminishing, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens has planted hundreds of native turtlehead around the park.  There has also been a deer fence built around the perimeter of the gardens in previous year to prevent damage to the garden from deer.

In 2000, 20 species of butterflies were identified at the park, but with conservation efforts by the park that has now grown to 46 in 2005.   According to Miller, “you have to continue creating habitat,” to keep the butterflies alive, and that is what Meadowlark Botanical Gardens and the Washington Area Butterfly club are trying to do.

The black butterflies with orange and white spots experience a delicate life cycle.  In late June to early August the female Checkerspots lay their eggs on the underside of leaves on the turtlehead plant.  After hatching, the tiny caterpillars make their way to the top of the turtlehead, spinning protective webs around the leaves they plan on eating.  During the winter, they travel to the bottom of the plant and spend the winter rolled in leaves.  The following spring the caterpillars emerge, finish their larvae stage, pupate, and then become butterflies, and their life cycle is complete.  The life cycle takes time, but after the caterpillars turn into butterflies, the butterflies only have two to three weeks to fly before they die.

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens and Mona Miller hope the butterflies will survive in the gardens, but after spotting a Baltimore Oriole in the sky Miller joked with those who had attended the ceremony saying, “I think the Baltimore Oriole ate the Baltimore Butterfly.”

More information about the Washington Area Butterfly Club.

Mona Miller is a member of the Washington Area Butterfly Club and former member of Association for Butterflies:  Conservation, Research, Farming and Gardening.

This conservation project at Meadowlark is being sponsored partially by the Association for Butterflies.

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Caitlin Becker gets a close-up look at one of the butterflies at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna.  The park is working to release Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies into the wild.
(Photo courtesy Karen Becker Photography)