Our representatives in Augusta finally got around to doing something worthwhile this session: establishing an official state butterfly. The idea came from a classroom of fifth graders in Old Orchard Beach, who debated the options, picked a winner, and worked with Rep. Lori Gramlich (D-Old Orchard Beach) to guide the bill through the appropriate channels and onto the desk of Governor Mills. Her signature made it official: Maine’s state butterfly is the Pink-edged Sulphur.
This lovely yellow butterfly joins a lengthy list of other official Maine wildlife, including the state animal (moose), state berry (wild blueberry), state bird (chickadee), state crustacean (American lobster), state fish (landlocked salmon), state flower (white pine cone and tassel), state herb (wintergreen), state insect (honeybee) and state tree (white pine).
There’s a lot of great Maine wildlife that aren’t yet honored on our official list. Here are some of my suggested additions.
Official Marine Arthropod: The Atlantic horseshoe crab. Horseshoe crabs aren’t closely related to crabs, did you know that? (They aren’t used as horseshoes either.) Rather they’re like a kind of marine spider, in the subphylum Chelicerata that also includes scorpions, mites and other arthropods. They’re pretty creepy-looking, but not as creepy as sea spiders, their main competition for this honor, so I think the horseshoe crab should take it.
Official Marine Mammal: The harbor seal. I feel like the harbor seal is the marine equivalent of our state bird, the black-capped chickadee: they’re easy to see when you’re in the right place and they’re cute as hell. Plus, the famously-friendly harbor seal in Rockland, Andre, is already honored with a statue. Let’s make it official.
State Wildflower: Pink lady’s slipper. Listen, let’s be serious here: the “white pine cone and tassel” is a garbage state flower. Come on now. White pines are lovely trees and all, but no Mainer has ever said “Ah, beautiful! The white pine cones and tassels are blooming! Quick, let us collect some and enliven our hearth with an arranged bouquet of these pointy wooden grenades! Breathe deep the cone-y aroma!” What are we doing? There are a million better flowers — actual flower-y flowers — to choose from. I’d go with the pink lady’s slipper, an orchid that makes you feel like you’ve won the lottery when you find one in the woods and will never fall onto your head from a great height.
Official Annoying Insect: The brown-tail moth. This honestly would be the most contentious of the bunch. I’d love to be in the Committee room while representatives from all over the state debated the relative annoyingness of black flies, mosquitoes, midges, and horseflies. I am firmly in the brown-tail moth camp, though, whose caterpillars are an itchy pest across southern Maine. For me, it’s personal: last month I put on a bathing suit that had been left outside to dry and, unbeknownst to me until I pulled up all over my most personal areas, became a home for several caterpillars. Whether or not Maine acts, this one’s official in my heart.
Nick Lund of Cumberland is outreach and network manager at Maine Audubon. He has written about nature for the National Audubon Society, Down East, National Parks Magazine, The Washington Post, and others. He can be found online at TheBirdist.com and on Twitter @TheBirdist.