By CLOCA Conservation Area Trail Steward (CATS) volunteer, Erica Plivelic
The Euphydryas phaeton, more commonly known as the Baltimore Checkerspot, is a beautiful butterfly that can be found throughout the southeast region of Canada and the eastern US. It can be identified by its black wings, which have orange dots on the outer edge and white dots as you move inwards (towards the body).
The Baltimore Checkerspot is a North American butterfly of the family Nymphalidae. It has been the official state insect of the U.S. State of Maryland since 1973. The Baltimore Checkerspot was named for the first Lord Baltimore due to its similarity of colours in the family crest. Despite the species status as Maryland state insect, the population in Maryland has faced significant decline and is currently listed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources as "rare, threatened, and endangered" animal list.
Just like any other butterfly, the Baltimore Checkerspot undergoes metamorphosis. Its journey begins in late summer when the eggs are laid. An adult Baltimore Checkerspot will choose to lay its eggs on a flowering turtlehead plant. When the eggs are first laid they are yellow, but after approximately 20 days they will darken to a red colour. After 20 days pass by, the eggs will hatch into larvae.
Baltimore checkerspot larvae can be identified by their black bodies with orange stripes and prickly-looking projections. They will nest in the fall, typically from August until October. At the first signs of winter they will hibernate, huddling themselves into the safety of the natural debris on the ground. Here they will stay asleep until spring arrives and then they will wake up to rely on their host plants (ash and honeysuckle) to live and grow. Next, the pupa forms. The Baltimore Checkerspot pupa shares many colours with the larva. It has black and orange spots, with a white base. The adult butterfly will emerge from the pupa in June and stay in this stage until October, when the cycle starts all over again. A new butterfly lays anywhere from 100-700 eggs and they will go through the stages of metamorphosis. However, only a few out of these hundreds will survive to reach adulthood.
This butterfly loves to feed on flowering plants such as milkweed, wild rose, and viburnum. Similarly to many other butterflies, it will sip the nectar from the flowers and use the sugars as a
food source. If you are looking to attract a Baltimore Checkerspot to your garden, try
incorporating some of these flowering plants! Not only will they attract butterflies, but they will be sure to bring in some compliments from friends and family on their colorful flowers.
The Baltimore Checkerspot relies on wetlands for its habitat (predominantly marshes and damp meadows). One of the main threats that this butterfly faces is habitat loss. Wetland areas like these are very important because not only are they home to our butterflies, but they also support biodiversity of other flora and fauna, control flooding and filter the water. When we look at why we need to protect wetlands the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, wetlands like this are considered threatened because they are quickly declining. Predators are another threat that Baltimore Checkerspots face. This butterfly’s main predators are birds and wasps. To defend
itself against predators, the Baltimore Checkerspot will show its colourful wings, which indicate to the predator that it is poisonous.
Be sure to keep an eye out for Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies this summer as they start to eclose (emerge from the pupa) in the first weeks of June. Consider planting their favourite
flowers in your garden and doing your part to protect their wetland habitat.
Erica Plivelic is one of our Conservation Area Trail Steward volunteers (CATS) at Lynde Shores Conservation Area who, unfortunately, had to hang up her work gloves and bird seed kits this spring due to COVID-19. We have paused the program, but look forward to a time when we can get our volunteers back out into our Conservation Areas, helping to make nature a more enjoyable experience for our visitors. In the meantime, Erica asked us if there was something she could do to keep learning and helping to protect the environment and contribute to her beloved Lynde Creek watershed. You see, Erica is not one to sit around and wait for direction; she is a very independent and self-motivated individual, as we found out through our CATS intake program and training last fall. Before COVID-19 kept her at home, you might have found Erica mucking out horse stalls and facilitating riders at a couple of local riding facilities, or facilitating students and summer campers in experiencing nature at the Duffin’s Creek Outdoor Education Centre as part of her co-op placement, or perhaps in the field in Lynde Creek learning how to sample water quality using the Ontario Stream Assessment Protocol through an environmental program at her high school. Erica, not one to sit idle during these strange times, voluntarily took the time to write an article for our blog posts on a local summer butterfly species as part of our Butterflies 101 series. Not only did she nail the article, it shows our audience that contributions, no matter what size, make us all a little more connected to each other, and to the natural world around us. We will be sending some more ideas for Erica to build up her writing and research skills, as she spends the balance of June wrapping up her final year of high school, maintaining her honours standing and then heading to the University of Guelph in the fall to study (you guessed it) Environmental Science.
On behalf of our team here at CLOCA, thank you so much for a great article Erica and we look forward to future contributions. Do you know a budding environmental student who also might want to be published in our blog? Send us an email and we will help guide them to a future blogging opportunity.