It all started with a simple question posed by two fifth graders from Old Orchard Beach.

“We are writing to you today because other states have state butterflies, why not us?” they asked.

Oscar Stanton and Tate Graham were wrapping up a unit on ecosystems last fall at Loranger Memorial School when they posed the question in a letter to their state representative, Lori Gramlich. In the months that followed, the boys and their class got an in-depth lesson on civics and how bills become law when Gramlich submitted an official proposal to designate the Pink-edged Sulphur as Maine’s state butterfly.

That bill, LD 239, was passed by both the House and Senate and signed into law this month by Gov. Janet Mills. And that means the Pink-edged Sulphur joins the list of official Maine things, including the state bird (chickadee), state insect (honeybee), state flower (white pinecone and tassel), state animal (moose) and state dessert (blueberry pie).

Graham said he and Stanton, both 11, originally suggested the state butterfly be the endangered Hessel’s Hairstreak, which they learned about during a trip to the Saco Heath Preserve. The Hessel’s Hairstreak is found only in four locations – all in York County.

Gramlich’s bill originally went along with their suggestion, but it was amended after Commissioner Judy Camuso and wildlife biologist Phillip deMaynadier of the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife visited the boys’ class and suggested other butterflies that might be a better fit to represent the state.


“They said (the Hessel’s Hairstreak) wouldn’t be good because it’s endangered and people could poach them,” Stanton said.

That’s when they learned about the Pink-edged Sulphur, which was chosen in a vote by the entire fifth grade.

The Legislature recently passed a bill recognizing the Pink-edged Sulphur as Maine’s state butterfly. Photo by Mike Reese

The Pink-edged Sulphur has a 2-inch wingspan, yellow wings and legs, and bright pink antennae and outline along its wings. During spring and summer, it is widespread across the state, where it can be found in fields, woods or bogs.

They prefer to lay their eggs on the leaves of Maine’s state fruit, blueberry plants. Although the primary food source for the caterpillars is blueberry leaves, it does not cause a problem for blueberry growers, according to Charlene Donahue, a retired entomologist and founding member of the Maine Entomological Society who testified in support of the bill.

When the bill was considered by the State and Local Government Committee in April, Stanton and Graham went to Augusta to testify. They were a bit nervous – and Graham didn’t like wearing dress-up clothes – but were prepared with their pitch about the importance of the Pink-edged Sulphur as a pollinator.

“It might not be the largest or most popular butterfly, but it has the most connections to Maine,” they said.


After they testified, committee members asked them questions, some of which they couldn’t answer. But they were encouraged that no one opposed the bill and that experts were on hand to back up their cause.

“With approximately 120 species statewide, butterflies are a colorful and conspicuous component of Maine’s wildlife diversity,” deMaynadier said in testimony supporting the bill. “They also play important ecological roles, both as pollinators and as prey to larger species, from dragonflies to birds.”

Sen. Donna Bailey, D-Saco, whose district includes Old Orchard Beach, said promoting the Pink-edged Sulphur as the state butterfly can raise awareness for and generate public interest in protecting and celebrating butterflies.

“Without butterflies, we would hear less birdsong in our Maine spring and summers, and self-seeding grasses and weeds might replace our fields and meadows that were once abundant with colorful wildflowers,” Bailey said in her testimony.

Gramlich, a Democrat, told committee members the letter from Stanton and Graham stood out to her among all the correspondence she received.

“To see such an engaged group of students was really something,” she said. “These kids had an idea that we were able to bring to the Legislature with the notion that this could actually become a law.”


Gramlich said committee members were “tickled pink” to have the two fifth graders testify and answer questions. The committee decided to hold the work session right then and there, then voted unanimously in favor of it. Afterward, the committee asked for a group photo with the students.

“These 10-year-olds in very short order are going to be voting and making decisions,” Gramlich said. “I’m looking forward to having these kids be engaged and involved in government and know that their voice makes a difference and matters.”

Laura Seaver, who teaches fifth grade, said the state butterfly project was a perfect segue from the unit on ecosystems to the next on civics and government. All of the students in her class benefited from watching the process, she said.

“It will plant a seed for them of what you can do as a citizen,” she said. “It’s a great way of getting them started thinking about how this works.”

Graham and Stanton say seeing their proposal adopted into law is a pretty good feeling.

“I feel famous,” Stanton said.

They’re already thinking about possibly suggesting another bill to require annual mental health checkups, an idea that came out of a conversation with another teacher.

“Every person should get a mental checkup, just like you get regular doctor checkups,” Graham said. “If you check them, you’ll know they’re not well and you can help them.”

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