Checkerspot Butterfly: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

The Checkerspot butterfly is a fascinating species that has captured the attention of nature enthusiasts and conservationists alike. Known for their striking patterns and vibrant colors, these captivating insects are a beautiful sight to behold. There are multiple subspecies of Checkerspot butterflies, such as Taylor’s Checkerspot and the Baltimore Checkerspot, each displaying unique features.

Taylor’s Checkerspot, for instance, has a wingspan of around 5.7 centimeters and displays a checkered pattern of orange, black, and cream colors on its wings source. On the other hand, the Baltimore Checkerspot is the official insect of Maryland and has a wingspan of roughly 2.5 inches source. Both these subspecies belong to the family Nymphalidae, also known as brushfooted butterflies. Their reduced front legs give the appearance of having four legs instead of six.

Checkerspot butterflies face many challenges, including loss of habitat and decline in population numbers, particularly for the Taylor’s Checkerspot subspecies source. Conservation efforts are in place to help protect and preserve these butterflies and their natural habitats. In learning about the Checkerspot butterfly, we can understand the importance of these incredible creatures and their role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

Checkerspot Butterfly Species and Identification

Gorgone Checkerspot

The Gorgone Checkerspot is a butterfly with a distinctive pattern of black, red, and white markings. The species is generally found in the central United States.

  • Color: Black, red, and white
  • Habitat: Prairies, meadows, and open woodlands

Bay Checkerspot

The Bay Checkerspot is a colorful butterfly with black, red, and white markings on its wings. This species is native to the San Francisco Bay area.

  • Color: Black, red, and white
  • Habitat: Coastal grasslands and open meadows

Taylor’s Checkerspot

Taylor’s Checkerspot is a Pacific Northwest endemic butterfly with a combination of black, orange, and white markings on its wings.

  • Color: Black, orange, and white
  • Habitat: Native prairies of western Washington, Oregon, and southwest British Columbia

Baltimore Checkerspot

The Baltimore Checkerspot is a striking butterfly with black, orange, and white markings. It’s named after the bold colors of Lord Baltimore’s coat of arms.

  • Color: Black, orange, and white
  • Habitat: Wet meadows, marshes, and stream edges

Silvery Checkerspot

The Silvery Checkerspot is a butterfly with orange, black, and white markings on its wings. This species is found in the eastern United States.

  • Color: Orange, black, and white
  • Habitat: Open, sunny areas such as fields, meadows, and roadsides

Comparison Table

Species Colors Habitat
Gorgone Checkerspot Black, red, and white Prairies, meadows, and open woodlands
Bay Checkerspot Black, red, and white Coastal grasslands and open meadows
Taylor’s Checkerspot Black, orange, and white Native prairies of western Washington, Oregon, and southwest British Columbia
Baltimore Checkerspot Black, orange, and white Wet meadows, marshes, and stream edges
Silvery Checkerspot Orange, black, and white Open, sunny areas such as fields, meadows, and roadsides

Habitats and Distribution

North America

The Checkerspot butterfly is found in various regions of North America, inhabiting grasslands and prairies.

  • Habitat: Grasslands and prairies
  • Regions: Pacific Northwest, East Coast, and Southwest

Oregon

In Oregon, the Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly is found primarily in native prairies of the Pacific Northwest region 1.

  • Limited to 2 populations
  • Endemic to Pacific Northwest

Washington

Similarly, Washington is home to a small scattering of Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly populations 2.

  • Restricted to 8 populations
  • Dependent on prairie and grassland habitats

British Columbia

Only a single population of the Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly currently exists in British Columbia 2.

  • One known population
  • Pacific Northwest endemic

East Coast

On the East Coast, the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly is the state insect of Maryland 3.

  • State insect of Maryland
  • Black and orange wingspan of 2.5 inches

Southwest

No specific information about Checkerspot butterflies was found for the Southwest region.

Comparison Table

Region Species Populations Habitat
Oregon Taylor’s Checkerspot 2 Prairie and grassland
Washington Taylor’s Checkerspot 8 Prairie and grassland
British Columbia Taylor’s Checkerspot 1 Prairie and grassland
East Coast Baltimore Checkerspot N/A Grassland and wetland
Southwest N/A N/A N/A

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Eggs

The Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly begins its life as an egg. Female butterflies lay their eggs on a leaf, either singly or in clusters 1.

Caterpillars

Upon hatching, the Checkerspot caterpillars, also known as larvae, come out. These caterpillars have a primary function: to eat and grow 2. Some characteristics of Checkerspot caterpillars include:

  • Munching on leaves from host plants
  • Going through multiple growth stages, called instars

Chrysalis

After growing throughout their larval stage, the Checkerspot caterpillars transition into the pupal stage. During this time, they form a protective casing around themselves known as a chrysalis 3. Inside the chrysalis:

  • The caterpillar body transforms
  • New body structures develop

Adult Butterfly

Once metamorphosis is complete, the adult Checkerspot butterfly emerges from the chrysalis 4. The adult butterfly has a wingspan of about 2.25 inches and a life span of approximately 30 days 5. Adult butterflies have several key features:

  • Notable wing patterns
  • Mating and reproducing during their peak flight period

Comparison of Checkerspot Butterfly Life Stages:

Life Stage Main Characteristics Duration
Egg Laid by females on host plant varies
Caterpillar Eating and growing varies
Chrysalis Metamorphosing varies
Adult Butterfly Mating, reproducing, and flying ~30 days

Diet and Host Plants

Nectar Plants

Checkerspot butterflies depend on nectar plants as their primary food source. Nectar plants provide energy to adult butterflies, enabling them to fly, mate, and lay eggs. Some favorite nectar plants for checkerspot butterflies include:

  • Castilleja hispida
  • Plantains
  • Sea blush

It’s essential to include native plants in a butterfly garden to support the checkerspot species. For better results, use a variety of native plants to attract a diverse range of butterflies.

Host Plants

In addition to nectar plants, host plants play a crucial role in checkerspot butterfly reproduction. Adult females tend to lay their eggs on host plants that provide food for the emerging caterpillars. Examples of host plants for checkerspot butterfly larvae include:

  • Penstemon
  • Orthocarpus
  • Collinsia

Pros of using native plants:

  • Attract local butterfly species
  • Support the life cycle of butterflies

Cons of using native plants:

  • May not be readily available

Comparison table of Nectar plants and Host plants:

Nectar Plants Host Plants
Provide energy source Support larvae development
Attract adult butterflies Essential for reproduction
Examples: Castilleja hispida, Plantains, Sea blush Examples: Penstemon, Orthocarpus, Collinsia

In conclusion, to support the checkerspot butterfly species, it is crucial to incorporate both nectar and host plants in a garden. Native plants are particularly important, as they help sustain the butterfly’s life cycle and ensure their survival.

Conservation and Threats

Endangered Species

The Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly is endemic to the Pacific Northwest and currently listed as an endangered species. It now only survives at a small handful of sites due to habitat loss and other threats.

Key Features of Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly:

  • Endemic to the Pacific Northwest
  • Endangered species
  • Restricted to a small number of sites

Habitat Loss

Habitat loss has played a significant role in the decline of checkerspot butterflies. For instance, the decline of Taylor’s checkerspot is primarily due to the loss of native prairies in the Pacific Northwest.

Examples of habitat loss:

  • Native prairie loss in the Pacific Northwest
  • Urban development encroaching on habitats

Climate Change

Climate change can also pose a threat to checkerspot butterflies by altering their habitat and endangering their survival. For example, changes in temperature and precipitation patterns can affect the distribution and abundance of their host plants, putting the species at risk.

Comparison Table of Threats to Checkerspot Butterflies

Threat Checkerspot Butterfly Example Impact
Endangered Taylor’s checkerspot Few populations remain
Habitat Loss Native prairie loss Decline in suitable habitats
Climate Change Altered precipitation Changes in host plant distribution

Physical Characteristics and Appearance

Wings and Patterns

  • Wings: Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly has medium-sized wings, with a wingspan ranging from 1½ – 2 inches (3.5 – 5.1 cm) 1.
  • Patterns: The wings display a checkerboard pattern that consists of squares, dots, and stripes, creating a visually striking appearance.

Color and Variation

  • Black base: The checkerspot butterfly has a predominantly black base color on its wings.
  • Yellowish-orange: The squares, dots, and stripes in the pattern showcase a vibrant mix of yellowish-orange shades.
  • Variation: Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly’s coloration can vary, depending on subspecies 2.

Sexual Dimorphism

  • Males and females of this species exhibit similar coloration and patterns, making it difficult to distinguish between the two at a glance.

In summary, the checkerspot butterfly exhibits a unique combination of colors and patterns on its wings, which contribute to its distinctive appearance.

Checkerspot Butterfly in Culture and Gardens

State Insect

The Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly holds a special place in culture, as it is the official state insect of Maryland. It was designated as such in 1973, highlighting its importance and beauty.

Gardening for Checkerspots

Many people admire checkerspot butterflies and want to attract them to their gardens. Here are some tips for creating a checkerspot-friendly garden:

  • Plant native host plants: Checkerspot caterpillars rely on specific host plants for food. Planting these in your garden can attract checkerspots.
  • Provide nectar sources: Adult checkerspot butterflies feed on nectar from flowers. Plant a variety of nectar-rich flowers to cater to their needs.
  • Create shelter: Butterflies need shelter from predators and adverse weather. Provide some shrubs and tall grasses where they can take cover.

Some key features of checkerspot butterflies include:

  • Wingspan: Medium-sized, with a wingspan of approximately 2.25 to 2.5 inches.
  • Lifespan: Short, with adult butterflies only living for a few weeks.
  • Coloration: Vibrant, checkered patterns in orange, white, and black.

In summary, checkerspot butterflies are a charming and important part of culture and gardens. Providing the right environment can attract these beautiful insects to your outdoor space, while also supporting their populations.

Footnotes

  1. Taylor’s Checkerspot – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2 3

  2. Taylor’s checkerspot | Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife 2 3 4

  3. Rare, Threatened and Endangered Animal Fact Sheets 2

  4. https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2022/08/Butterfly-Life-Cycle.pdf

  5. https://www.fws.gov/species/taylors-checkerspot-euphydryas-editha-taylori

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Variable Checkerspot Caterpillars

 

Subject: What’s that Caterpillar?
Location: Mariposa area in Sierra Foothills, CA
April 3, 2017 9:09 am
Hello,
We were romping around our property in the Central Sierra Foothills this past weekend and observed a A LOT of these caterpillars, predominantly on Penstemons, but not exclusively. What are they? Thanks
Signature: Kestrel

Variable Checkerspot Caterpillars

Dear Kestrel,
We quickly identified your Caterpillars as Variable Checkerspot Caterpillars in the subspecies 
Euphydryas chalcedona–a sierra thanks to this BugGuide image.  The Variable Checkerspot is a wide ranging and as its name indicates, variable species, with several subspecies.  There seems to be some question on BugGuide if this is a species, or a subspecies, and we would not rule out that it might be a hybrid, but this information is provided:  “High elevations in Sierra Nevada of California.  Remarks I have difficulty with the idea that this is a subspecies of E. chalcedona and not of E. anicia. It occurs in close proximaty to, and even in the same places as dark, more ‘typical’ E. chalcedona, yet is different. However, all the books and listings I can find place it under this species. The rational for this placement is the structure of the male genitalia. This is an overall orange butterfly that is found in the Sierra Nevada of California and a bit into mountains of adjacent Nevada.  A similar situation exists northward in the Cascades, where similarly orange-colored populations are also placed in E. chalcedona (or E. colon) based on details of genitalia.  [comment by David J. Ferguson 11-27-08].”

Variable Checkerspot Caterpillar

Letter 2 – Arachne Checkerspot

 

I am stumped
I photographed this butterfly in a grass field near the edge of a lake. I live in Grand Junction Colorado and have seen many very similar to this one, but i am still unable to identify it. Can you help?

Luckily, some time back we bought Jeffrey Glassberg’s book Butterflies Through Binoculars the West, and we were able to identify this lovely Arachne Checkerspot, Poladryas arachne. It is found in mountain meadows and arid grasslands and is most often spotted in the morning. There are two broods through most of the range, the epicenter being where Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado come together. Adults fly from late April to June, with a second brood flying in September. We are thrilled to add this new species to our archives, and thought fondly of Patrick while doing the posting.

Letter 3 – Chalcedon Checkerspot Caterpillar

 

Chalcedon Checkerspot caterpillar
Hi Lisa Anne and Daniel.
On 4/30 I found three of these caterpillars dining on Wyoming Kittentails west of Casper, WY. After our subsequent 6″ of global warming melted, I located 15 yesterday. Hopefully a chrysalid photo will ensue. Peace, Love and Jerry Garcia,
Dwaine

Hi Dwaine,
Thanks for keeping us up on current Wyoming Lepidoptera. The inclusion of the penny is a nice indication of scale. The Chalcedon Checkerspot represents a new caterpillar species for our site.

Letter 4 – Chalcedon Checkerspot Chrysalis and Adult

 

Chalcedon Checkerspot chrysalid & adults
Hi Lisa Anne and Daniel: I saw many of these checkerspot adults today near Casper, WY. Hope you enjoy! Peace,
Dwaine

Hi Dwaine,
As always, we appreciate your excellent photographs. These Chalcedon Checkerspots are stunning.

Letter 5 – Checker-Spot in Santa Monica Mountains

 

Subject:  Spreading Wings on a Warm Spring Day
Geographic location of the bug:  Mulholland Gate, California
Date: 04/24/2021
Time: 10:40 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman :  Dear Bugman,
While hiking in the Santa Monica mountains, I spotted this winged beauty. April 24, 2021
I also spotted two other winged creatures on flowers, there were several in the area and strangely didn’t seem to be alive.
How you want your letter signed :  Melanie on the Irish Chain

Chalcedon Checkerspot

Dear Melanie,
We immediately recognized your lovely butterfly as one of the Checker-Spots and turning to Charles Hogue’s
Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, we identified your individual as a Chalcedon Checker-Spot, Euphydryas chaldecona, and Hogue specifies:  “Though rarely seen in the basin’s flatlands, this species may be quite abundant in the surrounding foothills, visiting flowers in the spring and early summer” and later of the preferred caterpillar food plants “locally they are particularly fond of Sticky Monkey Flower (Diplacus longiflorus), a common native shrub of the coastal sage plant community.”  It is pictured on Butterflies and Moths of North America and on BugGuide and well as here on BugGuide where it it is recognized as a subspecies, Euphydryas chalcedona chalcedona, and where it states on the BugGuide info page that the range is:  “Primarily relatively near the Pacific Coast, west of desert areas, in areas of broken terrain, from northern British Columbia to northern Baja California Norte. Inland in mountains of eastern Oregon and Washington, across northern Idaho and just into extreme western Montana. Also inland in desert mountains across the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts of southern California and Nevada into southern Arizona and perhaps northwestern Sonora.”  It may have appeared “not alive” because it was seen earlier in the day and it had not yet warmed enough so that it might fly.  We cannot conclusinvely identify your images of the Solitary Bee and Wasp.

Letter 6 – Checkerspot

 

Subject:  checkerspot or frittilary
Location:  Helena National Forest, Montana
August 8, 2017 5:10 PM
There was also another butterfly from the same place and date I haven’t had the time to ID either, though it looks like checkerspot or frittilary. Attached, just for fun.
Signature: Tina Toth

Checkerspot

Hi again Tina,
We have created a new posting with the image of the Checkerspot you attached to your response to our identification of the Weidemeyer’s Admiral.  We believe it is in the genus
Chlosyne, but there are so many similar species, we do not feel confident with a definite species identification.  We gladly welcome any assistance our readership can provide.

Thank you! It’s fun reading your posts and seeing bugs from all over the world!

 

Letter 7 – Checkerspot Butterfly

 

Checkerspot
Hi there! I searched through your website today to see if I could identify this little butterfly that decided to take a rest on my sunflowers yesterday. I believe it is a checkerspot. Thanks,
Kim Budai
San Jose, CA

Hi Kim,
We agree that this is a Checkerspot in the genus Euphydryas, but we cannot conclusively identify the species.

Letter 8 – Hoffman's Checkerspots

 

Subject: Butterfly Identification
Location: Shasta County
July 26, 2012 9:40 pm
We saw these new butterflies at our annual camping location, Twin Lakes near the Shasta-Trinity County border in Northern California. We’ve camped there for ten years and this is the first time we’ve seen this type. Can you tell us their name?
Signature: Keefer Clan

Hoffman’s Checkerspots

Dear Keefer Clan,
We believe we have correctly identified your butterflies as Hoffman’s Checkerspots,
Chlosyne hoffmanni, thanks to the postings that have been submitted to BugGuide.  According to Jeffrey Glassberg in Butterflies Through Binoculars The West, the Hoffman’s Checkerspot is found from British Columbia to California in “openings in mountain coniferous forests.”  Nina has posted this comment to another image on BugGuide:  “It has a VERY restricted range in California, Oregon and Washington –it’s native to coniferous forrests, mostly in the Cascades.”  We are curious why the butterflies have gathered on what appears to be a clod of earth.  Perhaps they are drinking moisture from the damp earth.  There is a similar grouping in a photo posted to BugGuide where the butterflies are taking moisture near a mountain stream.  This activity is frequently called puddling or mud puddling.  Your photo is stunning.

Letter 9 – Mating Theona Checkerspots

 

Subject: Bug Love – Theona Checkerspots – New to you!
Location: San Antonio, TX
July 23, 2012 6:07 pm
Hi, Daniel, I shot these with my cell phone camera, so I had to doctor them up a bit to make them usable. I did not find any shots of this particular checkerspot on your site, so I thought I’d send these in for the Bug love area. I tried to self-identify using the Texas Butterflies Photo Gallery, and I came up with Chlosyne theona, the Theona Checkerspot. It’s a pretty awesome page, hope I got it right! Cheers, and thanks for all you do!
Signature: Melvis & Laugh

Mating Theona Checkerspots

Hi Melvis & Laugh,
We believe your identification of these mating Theona Checkerspots is correct.  BugGuide has no information on the species.
Jeffrey Glassberg’s book, Butterflies Through Binoculars The West lists the Theone Checkerspot as Thessalia theona and states they are “extremely variable, even within the same population.”

Mating Theona Checkerspots

Letter 10 – Theona Checkerspot

 

Subject: Possibly a Crescent or Checkerspot Butterfly
Location: Coryell County, central Texas
March 17, 2013 9:06 pm
Hello, I’m stumped on this one. This beautiful butterfly may be a crescent or checkered butterfly, but I’ve been unable to find a close match on Bug Guide or the web. Perhaps it’s a Pearl Crescent, Phaon Crecscent, or Checkerspot, but I just don’t know. I wish the images were clearer; I had the camera on a ”new” setting and it didn’t work well. Thank you for all of your help. Same plant as usual, lately, perhaps a native Corn Salad; it has tiny flowers, 3-4 mm across.) Gorgeous weather, sunshine and in the seventies.
Signature: Ellen

Theona Checkerspot
Theona Checkerspot

Subject: Same butterfly inquiry, update: Theona Checkespot?
Location: Coryell County, central Texas
March 17, 2013 10:04 pm
Aha! Is this our pretty friend? I sent an inquiry about a butterfly an hour ago, and I just found the Theona Checkerspot butterfly on a ”Butterflies of Dallas, Texas” website and checked it with Bug Guide. http://bugguide.net/index.php?q=search&keys=theona+checkerspot&search=Search
I really enjoy your website, thank you so much!
Signature: Ellen

Theona Checkerspot
Theona Checkerspot

Hi Ellen,
We agree that this is a Theona Checkerspot,
Chlosyne theona, and we can’t tell you how appreciative we are that you wrote back once you had the identification.  We also want to commend you on getting views of both the upper wings and the underside.  That is quite a feat with elusive butterflies that often have drastically different markings on the dorsal and ventral surfaces.

Theona Checkerspot
Theona Checkerspot

Letter 11 – Unknown Checkerspot

 

Butterfly
Location:  Logan, Utah
October 5, 2010 9:25 pm
Hi, I took these pictures of a butterfly I saw in Blacksmith fork canyon, Logan UT. could you tell me what kind it is? Thanks.
Signature:  Ford

Unknown Checkerspot

Hi Ford,
Your slightly tattered and worn butterfly is a Checkerspot in the genus
Chlosyne, a genus well represented on BugGuide by Patches and Checkerspots.  Of the species represented on BugGuide, your butterfly most closely resembles the highly variable Northern Checkerspot, Chlosyne palla, which has a species page on BugGuide.  Our wonderful guide book, Butterflies Through Binoculars The West by Jeffrey Glassberg, also pictures a species known as the Rockslide Checkerspot, Chlosyne whitneyi, that is found in Utah and which looks even more like your specimen.  Pictures of mounted specimens on the Butterflies and Skippers of North America website evidence variation.  The live individuals on the Butterflies of America website are all from California, and the Rockslide Checkerspot has such isolated populations that there is probably much variation from location to location.  We do not feel comfortable taking your identification to the species level.  Perhaps a lepidopterist will assist us.

Letter 12 – Variable Checkerspot

 

Las Trampas Regional Wilderness CA
Location: Las Trampas Regional Wilderness San Ramon CA
May 29, 2011 11:10 am
Greetings!
Yesterday afternoon on a lovely hike at Las Trampas Regional Wilderness in San Ramon CA we happened upon a beautiful butterfly perched atop a thistle.
I’ve combed my Laws Field guide and did several searches onilne with no luck. Any guidance you can provide is greatly appreciated!
I took two photos one of the top and I found another on the other side of the trail where I was able to photograph the underside. Thank you!!!
Signature: Cheers! Andie

Variable Checkerspot

Dear Andie,
Your photographs arrived at a very interesting time.  Just yesterday we did a powerpoint slide presentation of Southern California insects at the Theodore Payne Foundation, and there were some gaps in the species represented in our images.  We had no photos of Checkerspots from California, and we believe your photo represents a Variable Checkerspot,
Euphydryas chalcedona.  We used Jeffrey Glassberg’s book, Butterflies Through Binoculars, The West (see Amazon) for the identification, and we strongly recommend it as a choice book for people who want to identify butterflies in western North America.  As the common name implies, there is variability in the coloration and markings.  Most individuals have three bright orange patches on the leading surface of the forewings, which your individual lacks.  There is a matching photo in Glassberg’s book that is listed as being from San Mateo County.  Your sighting was in nearby Contra Costa County.  In your individual and in the one illustrated in the book, the bright orange patches are black.  This is undoubtedly a regional variation.  Since this information is not available online to our knowledge, we are going to quote liberally from Glassberg’s book:  “Extremely variable.  Varies from primarily red-orange above, to primarily black, to very white and everything in between.  … Many, but ot all, populations of Variable Checkerspots have at least some white spots on the abdomen, set off-center.  … Many, but not all populations of Variable Checkerspots have luminous yellow antennal cluts, with little if any black at their base.  … Habitat:  Many open situations, including mountain meadows, desert canyons and high elevation barrens.  Abundance:  C-A.  March-May in southern California.  , southeastern Arizona – southwestern New Mexico (hermosa);  mainly May-July elsewhere.  Food:  Beardtongues, Indian Paintbrushes, snowberries (colon) , and others.”  You may view BugGuide for additional images of the Variable Checkerspot.  Thank you for supplying our archive with your excellent images of an underrepresented species.

Variable Checkerspot

Hi Daniel,
Thank you so much for your quick reply and for the information provided as well as the BugGuide website (which is now bookmarked). I’m super excited to have managed a photograph of such an underrepresented species! What luck! My husband is the one with the phenomenal sighting and I am ever grateful to my recent mother’s day present “Big Betty” and her amazing zoom lens!
I’m so happy to supply your archive! I clicked the link for your FB page as well so I’ll be happy to post there too. Yay nature!!!
All the best,
Andie

Dear Andie,
Your enthusiasm is positively infectious.

 

Letter 13 – Variable Checkerspots: Leucistic and Normal

 

Subject:  Leucistic butterfly
Geographic location of the bug:  8 miles SW of Casper, WY
Date: 06/21/2019
Time: 10:46 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Daniel, I thought this leucistic Variable Checkerspot butterfly I photographed 6/14/19 might interest your readers.  I’m including typically marked checkerspots for comparison.
Cheers,
How you want your letter signed:  Dwaine

Leucistic Variable Checkerspot

Dear Dwaine,
We needed to research the term “leucistic” before we could address your submission, and we learned on Merriam Webster that leucanism is “an abnormal condition of reduced pigmentation affecting various animals (such as birds, mammals, and reptiles) that is marked by overall pale color or patches of reduced coloring and is caused by a genetic mutation which inhibits melanin and other pigments from being deposited in feathers, hair, or skin.”  In continuing our research, we found there are no examples of leucistic Variable Checkerspots on BugGuide, nor is there any mention in Jeffrey Glassberg’s Butterflies Through Binoculars The West.  We are thrilled that you have allowed us to publish your images, and also thanks for including an image documenting the normal variations of the Variable Checkerspot,
Euphydryas chalcedona.

Leucistic Variable Checkerspot

You are very welcome, and I have the greatest respect for what you do.

Variable Checkerspots

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Variable Checkerspot Caterpillars

 

Subject: What’s that Caterpillar?
Location: Mariposa area in Sierra Foothills, CA
April 3, 2017 9:09 am
Hello,
We were romping around our property in the Central Sierra Foothills this past weekend and observed a A LOT of these caterpillars, predominantly on Penstemons, but not exclusively. What are they? Thanks
Signature: Kestrel

Variable Checkerspot Caterpillars

Dear Kestrel,
We quickly identified your Caterpillars as Variable Checkerspot Caterpillars in the subspecies 
Euphydryas chalcedona–a sierra thanks to this BugGuide image.  The Variable Checkerspot is a wide ranging and as its name indicates, variable species, with several subspecies.  There seems to be some question on BugGuide if this is a species, or a subspecies, and we would not rule out that it might be a hybrid, but this information is provided:  “High elevations in Sierra Nevada of California.  Remarks I have difficulty with the idea that this is a subspecies of E. chalcedona and not of E. anicia. It occurs in close proximaty to, and even in the same places as dark, more ‘typical’ E. chalcedona, yet is different. However, all the books and listings I can find place it under this species. The rational for this placement is the structure of the male genitalia. This is an overall orange butterfly that is found in the Sierra Nevada of California and a bit into mountains of adjacent Nevada.  A similar situation exists northward in the Cascades, where similarly orange-colored populations are also placed in E. chalcedona (or E. colon) based on details of genitalia.  [comment by David J. Ferguson 11-27-08].”

Variable Checkerspot Caterpillar

Letter 2 – Arachne Checkerspot

 

I am stumped
I photographed this butterfly in a grass field near the edge of a lake. I live in Grand Junction Colorado and have seen many very similar to this one, but i am still unable to identify it. Can you help?

Luckily, some time back we bought Jeffrey Glassberg’s book Butterflies Through Binoculars the West, and we were able to identify this lovely Arachne Checkerspot, Poladryas arachne. It is found in mountain meadows and arid grasslands and is most often spotted in the morning. There are two broods through most of the range, the epicenter being where Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado come together. Adults fly from late April to June, with a second brood flying in September. We are thrilled to add this new species to our archives, and thought fondly of Patrick while doing the posting.

Letter 3 – Chalcedon Checkerspot Caterpillar

 

Chalcedon Checkerspot caterpillar
Hi Lisa Anne and Daniel.
On 4/30 I found three of these caterpillars dining on Wyoming Kittentails west of Casper, WY. After our subsequent 6″ of global warming melted, I located 15 yesterday. Hopefully a chrysalid photo will ensue. Peace, Love and Jerry Garcia,
Dwaine

Hi Dwaine,
Thanks for keeping us up on current Wyoming Lepidoptera. The inclusion of the penny is a nice indication of scale. The Chalcedon Checkerspot represents a new caterpillar species for our site.

Letter 4 – Chalcedon Checkerspot Chrysalis and Adult

 

Chalcedon Checkerspot chrysalid & adults
Hi Lisa Anne and Daniel: I saw many of these checkerspot adults today near Casper, WY. Hope you enjoy! Peace,
Dwaine

Hi Dwaine,
As always, we appreciate your excellent photographs. These Chalcedon Checkerspots are stunning.

Letter 5 – Checker-Spot in Santa Monica Mountains

 

Subject:  Spreading Wings on a Warm Spring Day
Geographic location of the bug:  Mulholland Gate, California
Date: 04/24/2021
Time: 10:40 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman :  Dear Bugman,
While hiking in the Santa Monica mountains, I spotted this winged beauty. April 24, 2021
I also spotted two other winged creatures on flowers, there were several in the area and strangely didn’t seem to be alive.
How you want your letter signed :  Melanie on the Irish Chain

Chalcedon Checkerspot

Dear Melanie,
We immediately recognized your lovely butterfly as one of the Checker-Spots and turning to Charles Hogue’s
Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, we identified your individual as a Chalcedon Checker-Spot, Euphydryas chaldecona, and Hogue specifies:  “Though rarely seen in the basin’s flatlands, this species may be quite abundant in the surrounding foothills, visiting flowers in the spring and early summer” and later of the preferred caterpillar food plants “locally they are particularly fond of Sticky Monkey Flower (Diplacus longiflorus), a common native shrub of the coastal sage plant community.”  It is pictured on Butterflies and Moths of North America and on BugGuide and well as here on BugGuide where it it is recognized as a subspecies, Euphydryas chalcedona chalcedona, and where it states on the BugGuide info page that the range is:  “Primarily relatively near the Pacific Coast, west of desert areas, in areas of broken terrain, from northern British Columbia to northern Baja California Norte. Inland in mountains of eastern Oregon and Washington, across northern Idaho and just into extreme western Montana. Also inland in desert mountains across the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts of southern California and Nevada into southern Arizona and perhaps northwestern Sonora.”  It may have appeared “not alive” because it was seen earlier in the day and it had not yet warmed enough so that it might fly.  We cannot conclusinvely identify your images of the Solitary Bee and Wasp.

Letter 6 – Checkerspot

 

Subject:  checkerspot or frittilary
Location:  Helena National Forest, Montana
August 8, 2017 5:10 PM
There was also another butterfly from the same place and date I haven’t had the time to ID either, though it looks like checkerspot or frittilary. Attached, just for fun.
Signature: Tina Toth

Checkerspot

Hi again Tina,
We have created a new posting with the image of the Checkerspot you attached to your response to our identification of the Weidemeyer’s Admiral.  We believe it is in the genus
Chlosyne, but there are so many similar species, we do not feel confident with a definite species identification.  We gladly welcome any assistance our readership can provide.

Thank you! It’s fun reading your posts and seeing bugs from all over the world!

 

Letter 7 – Checkerspot Butterfly

 

Checkerspot
Hi there! I searched through your website today to see if I could identify this little butterfly that decided to take a rest on my sunflowers yesterday. I believe it is a checkerspot. Thanks,
Kim Budai
San Jose, CA

Hi Kim,
We agree that this is a Checkerspot in the genus Euphydryas, but we cannot conclusively identify the species.

Letter 8 – Hoffman's Checkerspots

 

Subject: Butterfly Identification
Location: Shasta County
July 26, 2012 9:40 pm
We saw these new butterflies at our annual camping location, Twin Lakes near the Shasta-Trinity County border in Northern California. We’ve camped there for ten years and this is the first time we’ve seen this type. Can you tell us their name?
Signature: Keefer Clan

Hoffman’s Checkerspots

Dear Keefer Clan,
We believe we have correctly identified your butterflies as Hoffman’s Checkerspots,
Chlosyne hoffmanni, thanks to the postings that have been submitted to BugGuide.  According to Jeffrey Glassberg in Butterflies Through Binoculars The West, the Hoffman’s Checkerspot is found from British Columbia to California in “openings in mountain coniferous forests.”  Nina has posted this comment to another image on BugGuide:  “It has a VERY restricted range in California, Oregon and Washington –it’s native to coniferous forrests, mostly in the Cascades.”  We are curious why the butterflies have gathered on what appears to be a clod of earth.  Perhaps they are drinking moisture from the damp earth.  There is a similar grouping in a photo posted to BugGuide where the butterflies are taking moisture near a mountain stream.  This activity is frequently called puddling or mud puddling.  Your photo is stunning.

Letter 9 – Mating Theona Checkerspots

 

Subject: Bug Love – Theona Checkerspots – New to you!
Location: San Antonio, TX
July 23, 2012 6:07 pm
Hi, Daniel, I shot these with my cell phone camera, so I had to doctor them up a bit to make them usable. I did not find any shots of this particular checkerspot on your site, so I thought I’d send these in for the Bug love area. I tried to self-identify using the Texas Butterflies Photo Gallery, and I came up with Chlosyne theona, the Theona Checkerspot. It’s a pretty awesome page, hope I got it right! Cheers, and thanks for all you do!
Signature: Melvis & Laugh

Mating Theona Checkerspots

Hi Melvis & Laugh,
We believe your identification of these mating Theona Checkerspots is correct.  BugGuide has no information on the species.
Jeffrey Glassberg’s book, Butterflies Through Binoculars The West lists the Theone Checkerspot as Thessalia theona and states they are “extremely variable, even within the same population.”

Mating Theona Checkerspots

Letter 10 – Theona Checkerspot

 

Subject: Possibly a Crescent or Checkerspot Butterfly
Location: Coryell County, central Texas
March 17, 2013 9:06 pm
Hello, I’m stumped on this one. This beautiful butterfly may be a crescent or checkered butterfly, but I’ve been unable to find a close match on Bug Guide or the web. Perhaps it’s a Pearl Crescent, Phaon Crecscent, or Checkerspot, but I just don’t know. I wish the images were clearer; I had the camera on a ”new” setting and it didn’t work well. Thank you for all of your help. Same plant as usual, lately, perhaps a native Corn Salad; it has tiny flowers, 3-4 mm across.) Gorgeous weather, sunshine and in the seventies.
Signature: Ellen

Theona Checkerspot
Theona Checkerspot

Subject: Same butterfly inquiry, update: Theona Checkespot?
Location: Coryell County, central Texas
March 17, 2013 10:04 pm
Aha! Is this our pretty friend? I sent an inquiry about a butterfly an hour ago, and I just found the Theona Checkerspot butterfly on a ”Butterflies of Dallas, Texas” website and checked it with Bug Guide. http://bugguide.net/index.php?q=search&keys=theona+checkerspot&search=Search
I really enjoy your website, thank you so much!
Signature: Ellen

Theona Checkerspot
Theona Checkerspot

Hi Ellen,
We agree that this is a Theona Checkerspot,
Chlosyne theona, and we can’t tell you how appreciative we are that you wrote back once you had the identification.  We also want to commend you on getting views of both the upper wings and the underside.  That is quite a feat with elusive butterflies that often have drastically different markings on the dorsal and ventral surfaces.

Theona Checkerspot
Theona Checkerspot

Letter 11 – Unknown Checkerspot

 

Butterfly
Location:  Logan, Utah
October 5, 2010 9:25 pm
Hi, I took these pictures of a butterfly I saw in Blacksmith fork canyon, Logan UT. could you tell me what kind it is? Thanks.
Signature:  Ford

Unknown Checkerspot

Hi Ford,
Your slightly tattered and worn butterfly is a Checkerspot in the genus
Chlosyne, a genus well represented on BugGuide by Patches and Checkerspots.  Of the species represented on BugGuide, your butterfly most closely resembles the highly variable Northern Checkerspot, Chlosyne palla, which has a species page on BugGuide.  Our wonderful guide book, Butterflies Through Binoculars The West by Jeffrey Glassberg, also pictures a species known as the Rockslide Checkerspot, Chlosyne whitneyi, that is found in Utah and which looks even more like your specimen.  Pictures of mounted specimens on the Butterflies and Skippers of North America website evidence variation.  The live individuals on the Butterflies of America website are all from California, and the Rockslide Checkerspot has such isolated populations that there is probably much variation from location to location.  We do not feel comfortable taking your identification to the species level.  Perhaps a lepidopterist will assist us.

Letter 12 – Variable Checkerspot

 

Las Trampas Regional Wilderness CA
Location: Las Trampas Regional Wilderness San Ramon CA
May 29, 2011 11:10 am
Greetings!
Yesterday afternoon on a lovely hike at Las Trampas Regional Wilderness in San Ramon CA we happened upon a beautiful butterfly perched atop a thistle.
I’ve combed my Laws Field guide and did several searches onilne with no luck. Any guidance you can provide is greatly appreciated!
I took two photos one of the top and I found another on the other side of the trail where I was able to photograph the underside. Thank you!!!
Signature: Cheers! Andie

Variable Checkerspot

Dear Andie,
Your photographs arrived at a very interesting time.  Just yesterday we did a powerpoint slide presentation of Southern California insects at the Theodore Payne Foundation, and there were some gaps in the species represented in our images.  We had no photos of Checkerspots from California, and we believe your photo represents a Variable Checkerspot,
Euphydryas chalcedona.  We used Jeffrey Glassberg’s book, Butterflies Through Binoculars, The West (see Amazon) for the identification, and we strongly recommend it as a choice book for people who want to identify butterflies in western North America.  As the common name implies, there is variability in the coloration and markings.  Most individuals have three bright orange patches on the leading surface of the forewings, which your individual lacks.  There is a matching photo in Glassberg’s book that is listed as being from San Mateo County.  Your sighting was in nearby Contra Costa County.  In your individual and in the one illustrated in the book, the bright orange patches are black.  This is undoubtedly a regional variation.  Since this information is not available online to our knowledge, we are going to quote liberally from Glassberg’s book:  “Extremely variable.  Varies from primarily red-orange above, to primarily black, to very white and everything in between.  … Many, but ot all, populations of Variable Checkerspots have at least some white spots on the abdomen, set off-center.  … Many, but not all populations of Variable Checkerspots have luminous yellow antennal cluts, with little if any black at their base.  … Habitat:  Many open situations, including mountain meadows, desert canyons and high elevation barrens.  Abundance:  C-A.  March-May in southern California.  , southeastern Arizona – southwestern New Mexico (hermosa);  mainly May-July elsewhere.  Food:  Beardtongues, Indian Paintbrushes, snowberries (colon) , and others.”  You may view BugGuide for additional images of the Variable Checkerspot.  Thank you for supplying our archive with your excellent images of an underrepresented species.

Variable Checkerspot

Hi Daniel,
Thank you so much for your quick reply and for the information provided as well as the BugGuide website (which is now bookmarked). I’m super excited to have managed a photograph of such an underrepresented species! What luck! My husband is the one with the phenomenal sighting and I am ever grateful to my recent mother’s day present “Big Betty” and her amazing zoom lens!
I’m so happy to supply your archive! I clicked the link for your FB page as well so I’ll be happy to post there too. Yay nature!!!
All the best,
Andie

Dear Andie,
Your enthusiasm is positively infectious.

 

Letter 13 – Variable Checkerspots: Leucistic and Normal

 

Subject:  Leucistic butterfly
Geographic location of the bug:  8 miles SW of Casper, WY
Date: 06/21/2019
Time: 10:46 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Daniel, I thought this leucistic Variable Checkerspot butterfly I photographed 6/14/19 might interest your readers.  I’m including typically marked checkerspots for comparison.
Cheers,
How you want your letter signed:  Dwaine

Leucistic Variable Checkerspot

Dear Dwaine,
We needed to research the term “leucistic” before we could address your submission, and we learned on Merriam Webster that leucanism is “an abnormal condition of reduced pigmentation affecting various animals (such as birds, mammals, and reptiles) that is marked by overall pale color or patches of reduced coloring and is caused by a genetic mutation which inhibits melanin and other pigments from being deposited in feathers, hair, or skin.”  In continuing our research, we found there are no examples of leucistic Variable Checkerspots on BugGuide, nor is there any mention in Jeffrey Glassberg’s Butterflies Through Binoculars The West.  We are thrilled that you have allowed us to publish your images, and also thanks for including an image documenting the normal variations of the Variable Checkerspot,
Euphydryas chalcedona.

Leucistic Variable Checkerspot

You are very welcome, and I have the greatest respect for what you do.

Variable Checkerspots

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts

4 thoughts on “Checkerspot Butterfly: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell”

  1. After checking my quick-reference Butterflies of Central Texas, my Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies, and my Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies, I think that your “unknown Checkerspot” is probably a Vesta Crescent. P.S. Love the pix of your Theona Checkerspot. The little piece of white flower just sets it off!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment/correction. We don’t have the time to double check it right not. We are not infallible and we always appreciate the diligence of our readership.

      Reply
  2. I need help in identifying a Catapillar that is on my butterfly bush. I have photos if you would like to correspond with me through email. I live in Northern California.

    Thank you!

    Reply
  3. I need help in identifying a Catapillar that is on my butterfly bush. I have photos if you would like to correspond with me through email. I live in Northern California.

    Thank you!

    Reply

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