PORTLAND, Maine — A species of butterfly has been rediscovered in Maine 75 years after it was last reported seen in the state.
The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department set out last summer to confirm whether the spicebush swallowtail lived in Maine. Maine is at the northern end of the butterfly’s range, and the only documented Maine sighting was in 1934, said wildlife biologist Phillip deMaynadier.
The effort paid off in September when deMaynadier found several occupied swallowtail nests in hardwood swamps in Berwick and Wells. The finding proves that the butterfly breeds in Maine, he said.
“This is now officially one of the largest, most colorful butterflies in the state, and somehow it slipped under our radar screen for the past 75 years,” deMaynadier said.
About 120 butterfly species are native to Maine, but biologists have long wondered about the spicebush swallowtail. The butterfly, which is black with white and orange spots, lives in the eastern U.S. from northern New England to Florida.
To verify the butterfly’s status in the state, deMaynadier and a zoologist trudged through the hardwood forests and swamps of southern Maine in July in search of the butterfly’s cocoons, but without luck. On a return visit in September, deMaynadier came across several spicebush swallowtail caterpillars.
Sightings of the spicebush swallowtail also are rare in neighboring New Hampshire, deMaynadier said.
For his research, he contacted a University of New Hampshire biologist who told him the last confirmed spotting in New Hampshire was in 1980.