30 Butterfly Species in Iowa

In this article, you’ll explore the colorful world of 30 butterfly species native to Iowa. Through each description, you’ll gain knowledge about their unique traits and fascinating facts.

It’s an informative journey designed for those curious about these delicate, fluttering creatures.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

The Red Admiral, scientifically known as Vanessa atalanta, is a common butterfly in Iowa.

red-admiral butterfly

  • Habitat: These butterflies enjoy living in moist environments including woods, marshes, yards, and parks.
  • Appearance: They have a distinct bold pattern of red bands and white spots on a black background.
  • Size: With a wingspan ranging from 1.75 to 3 inches (4.5 to 7.5 cm), they are medium-sized butterflies.
  • Diet: Red Admirals are known to feast on fermenting fruits, bird droppings, and sap apart from flower nectar.
  • Reproduction: Females will lay their eggs on the tips of host plant leaves, which then hatch in about a week.
  • Lifespan: The adult Red Admiral has an average lifespan of about two weeks.
  • Host Plants: Preferred host plants are nettles; specifically the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and the false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica).

Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

The Question Mark, scientifically known as Polygonia interrogationis, is a wonder in itself.

Question Mark butterfly

  • Habitat: This species is fairly adaptable, preferring open woods, city parks, and even vacant lots.
  • Appearance: Characterized by its unique angular wings, it boasts a bright orange, black-spotted pattern and a small marking that resembles a question mark.
  • Size: Grown adults balloon to 2.9 inches (7.4 cm) in wingspan.
  • Diet: Apart from feasting on rotting fruits, they feed on tree sap and enjoy puddling for minerals.
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs on preferred host plants where larvae will feed once hatched.
  • Lifespan: These butterflies are relatively long-lived, living up to 9 months in favorable conditions.
  • Host Plants: They favor hackberries and elms for laying eggs, but their larvae can feed on nettles as well.

Their unique features and adaptability certainly make the Question Mark butterfly a fascinating insect to observe.

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

Catching a glimpse of the stunning Spicebush Swallowtail in Iowa’s lush landscapes is indeed a sight to behold. Now, let’s dive into understanding more about this marvelous butterfly species.

Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: Primarily adorning the deciduous woodlands, this butterfly calls temperate regions home.
  • Appearance: Noted for its iridescent blue or green hindwings, it’s a dark butterfly with a dash of fantasy.
  • Size: It can span a sizable 3-4 inches (7.6-10.1 cm).
  • Diet: Adult species savor nectar from various flowers, while caterpillars munch on Spicebush leaves.
  • Reproduction: Females lay their eggs on the underside of host leaves; larvae emerge about four days later.
  • Lifespan: Adult butterflies can live up to 12 days, living most of their lifespan as caterpillars.
  • Host Plants: Its larvae host plants include Spicebush, Sassafras, and other Laurel family members. Brimming with beauty, the Spicebush Swallowtail adds its unique charm to the diverse ecosystem of Iowa.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

Let’s get to know the Common Buckeye. A creature so intricate, it may surprise you.

Common Buckeye butterfly

  • Habitat: These beauties are commonly found in sunny open areas with low vegetation and bare ground.
  • Appearance: This species stands out for its dark brown color and eyespots of various sizes on each wing.
  • Size: Adult Common Buckeyes showcase wingspans ranging from 1.5 to 2.7 inches (3.8 to 6.9 cm).
  • Diet: These butterflies enjoy nectar from various flowers including butterfly bush, aster, chickory, knapweed, and peppermint.
  • Reproduction: The females lay eggs singly on the buds or upper side of host plant leaves.
  • Lifespan: Common Buckeyes generally live for about a week to a month.
  • Host Plants: The caterpillars enjoy a variety of plants including snapdragon, false foxglove, plantain, and ruellia.

Elegant and peculiar, the Common Buckeye, is a cheerful addition to Iowa’s colorful expanse of prairie and grasslands.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

The Monarch, or Danaus plexippus, is one of the most recognizable butterfly species in Iowa.

Monarch Butterfly

Here’s a bit more about their distinct characteristics:

  • Habitat: Monarchs prefer open fields, meadows, and prairies filled with milkweeds.
  • Appearance: They have orange and black-patterned wings with a white-dotted edge.
  • Size: Monarchs are fairly large, with a wingspan of about 3.7-4.1 inches (9.4-10.4 cm).
  • Diet: Adult Monarchs feed primarily on the nectar of flowers, while larvae feed on milkweed.
  • Reproduction: Females lay their eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves, which hatch into caterpillars.
  • Lifespan: Their lifespan depends on their generation, ranging from weeks for early generations to up to 8 months for migratory generations.
  • Host Plants: Milkweed is the primary host plant for Monarch caterpillars as it’s their sole food source.

Next time you spot one of these majestic butterflies, you’ll know a whole lot more about them. They don’t just look good, they play a key role in our ecosystem.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, known scientifically as Papilio glaucus, is one of the most familiar and striking butterflies in Iowa.

eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: Predominantly seen in woodlands and along rivers, streams, and other water bodies.
  • Appearance: Distinguished by its bright yellow color with four black “tiger stripes” on each forewing. The males have yellow and black coloration while the females can be yellow or black, a phenomenon known as sexual dimorphism.
  • Size: With a wingspan ranging between 7.9 to 14 cm (3.1 to 5.5 inches), it stands as one of the larger species of butterflies in Iowa.
  • Diet: As caterpillars, they feed on the leaves of host plants; adult butterflies drink nectar from a wide range of flowering plants.
  • Reproduction: Females lay single green eggs on the host plant’s leaves. These eggs turn into caterpillars who metamorphose into butterflies.
  • Lifespan: The average lifespan of an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is around one month, depending on environmental conditions.
  • Host Plants: It uses various species of trees and shrubs as host plants, including wild cherry, tulip tree, and sweet bay.

This butterfly not only enchants with its appearance but contributes significantly to the pollination process, thus playing a vital role in the ecosystem.

White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis arthemis)

The White Admiral, a proud member of the Iowa butterfly population, deserves its place on this list.

White Admiral butterfly

  • Habitat: Inhabits the woodlands, often seen at tree line edges.
  • Appearance: Black upper wings with a band of white, and striking bands of blue and red on lower wings.
  • Size: Medium to large with a 2-4″ (5-10 cm) wingspan.
  • Diet: Consumes tree sap, decaying fruit, dung, and occasionally flower nectar.
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs in birch, aspen, poplar, and willow trees.
  • Lifespan: Adults live for about 2-3 weeks during the summer months.
  • Host Plants: Major host plants include birch, aspen, poplar, and willow trees.

The White Admiral is a beauty to behold, with its contrasting colors acting as a stunning lure to nature lovers. It has earned its place among the 30 butterfly species in Iowa.

Don’t miss your chance to spot it during your nature walk!

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

The Black Swallowtail, or Papilio polyxenes, is a fascinating species truly worth getting to know.

Black Swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: You will commonly see it fluttering across North America, especially in Iowa’s open fields and gardens.
  • Appearance: Overhead, it’s undeniably eye-catching with its black wings and yellow spots.
  • Size: The wings span around 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10.2 cm), falling on the larger end of the butterfly scale.
  • Diet: Nectar from various flowers quenches their thirst.
  • Reproduction: Females lay tiny, spherical eggs on host plants.
  • Lifespan: From egg to adult, their life lasts about 3-4 weeks. Within this span, they metamorphose from caterpillar to butterfly.
  • Host Plants: Parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, and fennel are some of their favorites.

Remember, whenever you’re out exploring Iowa’s great outdoors, keep an eye out for these black beauties. You’ll be in awe of their graceful flight and radiant colors.

Coral Hairstreak (Satyrium titus)

The Coral Hairstreak butterfly is an intriguing species with distinct characteristics and behaviors.

Coral Hairstreak butterfly

Let’s dive deeper and get to know more about it:

  • Habitat: Predominantly found in open spaces, including meadows, fields, orchards, and roadsides.
  • Appearance: Mainly dark brown on the upper side with a post-median line of red spots, making it identifiable.
  • Size: Typically range from 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 to 3.8 cm), a small-sized butterfly.
  • Diet: Adult Coral Hairstreaks rely on nectar from a variety of flowers, with favorites such as milkweeds and dogbane.
  • Reproduction: The females lay their eggs singly on the buds of their host plants.
  • Lifespan: Generally, adults live for about one month during the summer.
  • Host Plants: Coral Hairstreaks are particularly attracted to several types of plants, including the wild cherry, American plum, black chokeberry, and hawthorns.

The Coral Hairstreak is an appealing butterfly, full of fascinating traits and an integral part of Iowa’s rich biodiversity.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

The Gulf Fritillary, scientifically named Agraulis vanillae, is certainly a sight to behold. Now, let’s delve into its captivating specifics.

gulf fritillary

  • Habitat: Mainly found in the southern United States, but the natural adaptability of this butterfly species allows it to dwell throughout Iowa.
  • Appearance: You’d captivated at the sight of bright orange upper wings adorned with black markings, contrasted with white and cream spots on the underwings.
  • Size: This medium-sized butterfly measures from 2.4-3.5 inches (6-9 cm), making it quite noticeable.
  • Diet: Adult Gulf Fritillaries show a fondness for the nectar of various flowering plants.
  • Reproduction: The mating game begins in the spring and continues throughout the summer. Females lay their eggs on passionflower, the host plant of their choice.
  • Lifespan: Endearing yet fleeting, they typically live from approximately two to four weeks.
  • Host Plants: The Passionflower vines are the host plant for this striking butterfly species. The caterpillars feed off them, and butterflies frequent them for nectar.

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

Let’s dive in to learn about the Mourning Cloak butterfly.

Mourning Cloak butterfly

  • Habitat: Happily dwelling in hardwood forests, they can also adapt to suburban and city parks.
  • Appearance: Distinguished by its intricate cloak-like wings, marked with creamy edges and blue spots.
  • Size: Often larger than most, they spread out to 2-4 inches (5-10cm) wide.
  • Diet: Prefers to sip from tree sap, rotting fruit, or even animal waste rather than flowers.
  • Reproduction: Females lay clusters of eggs on the host plants. After two weeks, the caterpillars emerge.
  • Lifespan: Exceptionally long-lived as far as butterflies go, they can survive up to 11 months.
  • Host Plants: Favor willow, cottonwood, and elm trees as nursery for their offspring.

While its somber name hints at a melancholic character, the Mourning Cloak butterfly is truly a champion survivor, resiliently adapting to various man-made environments.

American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

The American Copper, scientifically known as Lycaena phlaeas, is a common presence in Iowa.

American Copper butterfly

Now, let’s dive into the details about this fascinating butterfly.

  • Habitat: They inhabit sunny, open areas. Usually, you can spot them in fields, parks, meadows, and suburban areas.
  • Appearance: The upper side of the wings is bright orange with dark spots. Undersides are gray with orange spots.
  • Size: The American Copper is a small butterfly, measures about 7/8 – 1 1/8 inch (22-28mm) in size.
  • Diet: The adults feed on flower nectar while the larvae munches on the sorrel and dock plants.
  • Reproduction: The lifecycle involves four stages – from egg to larvae (caterpillar), then to a pupa (chrysalis) and finally developing into an adult butterfly.
  • Lifespan: An average American Copper butterfly lives for about two weeks.
  • Host Plants: The larvae feed on plants like Sheep sorrel and Curled dock.

Thus, we see, in a brief snapshot, the lifestyle of an American Copper butterfly.

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

The Queen butterfly, known as Danaus gilippus, is a unique species that calls Iowa its home.

Queen Butterfly

Let’s discover more about this interesting butterfly:

  • Habitat: They prefer open, sunny areas such as meadows and gardens.
  • Appearance: The Queen butterfly boasts a rich, brown-orange color with black borders and veining patterns and is similar to the Monarch butterfly in appearance.
  • Size: A medium-size butterfly, with a wingspan of approximately 2.75-3.5 inches (7-8.9 cm).
  • Diet: They feed on the nectar from flowers such as milkweed, Spanish needles, and shepherd’s needle.
  • Reproduction: Mating takes place in the cooler hours of early morning or late evening. Females lay pale, cream-colored eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves.
  • Lifespan: Queens have a lifespan of about 2-6 weeks in the summer, while the autumn generation can live up to 7 months.
  • Host Plants: The larva consumes the leaves of milkweed plants, particularly the Curassavica and Asclepias varieties, offering this species a fascinating symbiosis with its surroundings.

Next time you’re on a walk in Iowa’s meadows, keep an eye out for this vibrant butterfly!

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

The Painted Lady, otherwise known as Vanessa cardui, boasts international fame as the most distributed butterfly.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Here’s all you need to know about this species:

  • Habitat: Enjoying versatility, they’re commonly found in sunny areas with open terrain, including meadows, gardens, and fields.
  • Appearance: Identifiable by their orange upper wings with black patterns. The underside is a brownish-gray with eyespot patterns.
  • Size: With a wingspan of about 2-3 inches (5-7.6 cm), they’re medium-sized.
  • Diet: As an adult, the Painted Lady feasts on nectar from a variety of flowers. Caterpillars prefer thistles and mallows.
  • Reproduction: Characterized by mass migrations. Being prolific breeders, females can lay hundreds of eggs on host plants.
  • Lifespan: Their life cycle is quite brief, around two to four weeks in total.
  • Host Plants: They use a wide range of host plants, but thistles, mallows, and legumes are their primary choices. This humble creature adds a dash of vibrancy to Iowa’s butterfly population.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

The Viceroy is a fascinating butterfly species. Nestled in your backyard or local parks, these creatures draw smiles from nature lovers in Iowa.


  • Habitat: You’ll find them near marshy areas or weeping willows.
  • Appearance: They show off an orange and black pattern that is very similar to a Monarch, but they have a black line across their hind wings.
  • Size: They are fairly medium-sized, with a wingspan reaching 2.5 to 3.3in (65 to 75mm).
  • Diet: Interestingly, as caterpillars, they feed on the leaves of willows and poplar trees. As adults, they get their nutrition from nectar and dung.
  • Reproduction: During mating season, females lay eggs singly on the leaves of host plants.
  • Lifespan: Typically, a Viceroy has a lifespan of about two weeks in the wild.
  • Host Plants: Willows, poplars, and fruit trees are some of their preferred host plants.

Discover this fascinating butterfly and immerse yourself in the colorful world of these flying jewels. Keep their habitat safe and respect their environment.

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

The American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) is a sight to behold with unique characteristics that distinguish it from other butterfly species.

American Lady butterfly

  • Habitat: Grassy open areas, meadows, and coastal dunes.
  • Appearance: Displaying a bright orange hue, with a black outline on the upper side of its wings. Beneath, their wings have a striking pattern of contrasting colors.
  • Size: The wingspan ranges from 1.75 to 2.6 inches (45 to 65 millimeters).
  • Diet: Mostly nectar from flowers, and as caterpillars, they feast on herbaceous plants, especially asters.
  • Reproduction: Females lay green eggs on the underside of host plant leaves.
  • Lifespan: Adults live for many weeks, and in the Southern part, there may be several generations each year.
  • Host Plants: They favor plants from the Asteraceae family, like ironweed, burdocks, and thistles.

Despite their delicate appearance, American Lady butterflies are resilient, fluttering across the landscape with grace and endurance.

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

The Great Purple Hairstreak is one of the many fascinating butterfly species you can spot in Iowa. Belonging to the Lycaenidae family, it’s visually captivating and biologically intriguing.

Great Purple Hairstreak, Atlides halesus corcorani

  • Habitat: They favor wooded or forest environments, often found near their food source, the Pipevine plant.
  • Appearance: This butterfly is easily recognized by its blue body, black wings with blue accents, and distinct red spots near the tail.
  • Size: They’re relatively small, with a wingspan of around 1.5-2 inches (3.8-5 cm).
  • Diet: The adults are fond of flower nectar, while the larvae prefer the leaves of the Pipevine plant.
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs on the leaves of the Pipevine. The resulting caterpillars feed on the plant’s leaves.
  • Lifespan: Like most butterflies, Great Purple Hairstreaks have a short lifespan of approximately one month.
  • Host Plants: The Pipevine (Aristolochia), serves as both a food source and a host plant. The alkaloids in the plant give these butterflies a bitter taste, deterring predators.

The Great Purple Hairstreak is a fantastic demonstration of the biological diversity found in Iowa’s butterfly species.

Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia)

The Regal Fritillary is a unique species of butterfly commonly spotted in Iowa. Although declining in many parts of its range, the Regal Fritillary has held on in the prairies of the Midwest.

Regal fritillary butterfly

  • Habitat: These butterflies are found in tallgrass prairies, where they nectar on a variety of wildflowers.
  • Appearance: The Regal Fritillary exhibits striking orange wings with black spots on the upper side and lighter undersides with a row of silver spots.
  • Size: With a wingspan of 2.8-4 inches (7-10 cm), it is one of the larger butterfly species.
  • Diet: The nectar of various flowers provides the prime nourishment.
  • Reproduction: Females deposit single eggs near host plants, which the caterpillars consume upon hatching.
  • Lifespan: Adult lifespan is about a month, while the entire life cycle spans a year.
  • Host Plants: The specific host plants include several species of violets, which the caterpillars devour in their larval stage.

Aphrodite Fritillary (Speyeria aphrodite)

The Aphrodite Fritillary is a truly fascinating species, and seeing one fluttering around is sure to brighten your day. They are a dazzler in the realm of butterflies.

Aphrodite Fritillary butterfly

  • Habitat: Prefers open woodlands, meadows, and fields.
  • Appearance: Distinguished by their orange-brown wings with black spots and a lighter stripe on the outer edge.
  • Size: Wingspan ranges from 2.2 to 3 inches (55.88 to 76.2 mm).
  • Diet: Adult butterflies feed on the nectar of flowers and thistles while caterpillars prefer to munch on violets.
  • Reproduction: A single egg is laid on or near the violet plants that the caterpillars feed upon.
  • Lifespan: Adult butterflies live for approximately one month.
  • Host Plants: The larvae are hosted by various species of violets.

So next time you see an Aphrodite Fritillary, appreciate the beauty and intricate life cycle of this lovely butterfly.

Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)

The Cabbage White is a species of butterfly that is prevalent across Iowa.

Cabbage White butterfly

  • Habitat: This species thrives in open spaces like gardens, fields, and roadsides.
  • Appearance: They’re mostly white with black tips on their wings and one or two spots in the middle of each forewing.
  • Size: These butterflies generally measure in at around 2 inches (5 cm) in width.
  • Diet: The larvae feed on a variety of plants, but their preferences lie in the Brassica family. Adults survive on nectar.
  • Reproduction: After mating, females lay pale yellow eggs on the underside of host plant leaves.
  • Lifespan: They often live around 2 weeks, although the pupa can survive winter and emerge as an adult in the spring.
  • Host Plants: Host plants include cabbage, cauliflower, radish, and other members of the Brassica genus.

The Cabbage White is generally considered a pest due to its larvae’s fondness for commercially grown cabbages and other related vegetables.

However, they’re an essential part of the food chain and contribute to the ecological balance.

Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)

The Zebra Swallowtail is a distinct member of the butterfly family you can easily spot in Iowa.

Zebra Swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: Zebra Swallowtails thrive in moist lowlands, near streams and woods.
  • Appearance: They flaunt bold black and white stripes, hence the name, with long sweeping tails.
  • Size: A medium-sized butterfly, its wingspan ranges between 2.75 – 4 inches (70 – 100 mm).
  • Diet: As adults, they primarily feed on nectar from a variety of flowers.
  • Reproduction: Females lay pale green eggs singly on leaves of host plants.
  • Lifespan: As butterflies, they live about 6 weeks, with larvae hibernating through winter.
  • Host Plants: Pawpaw trees serve as primary host plants for their caterpillars, which eat the leaves.

Surprisingly resilient, this butterfly species dons wings of striking beauty, making any encounter with it a memorable experience. Keep an eye out for these on your next nature walk!

Summer Azure (Celastrina neglecta)

Meet the Summer Azure, a delicate representative of the Lycaenidae family. It’s an enchanting sight appropriately named after the clear, blue summer sky.

Summer Azure (Celastrina neglecta)

  • Habitat: You’ll find this beauty widespread across North America, inhabiting open spaces, gardens, and forest edges.
  • Appearance: With a light blue topside and patterned underside, they’re easily identifiable. The males have vibrant blue wings, while females are lighter with dark borders.
  • Size: They are rather small, with a wingspan of 1-1.25 inches (2.54-3.17 cm).
  • Diet: Adults mainly feed on nectar from flowering plants, while the caterpillar stage feeds on the buds and flowers of host plants.
  • Reproduction: Females lay their eggs on host plants. The emerging larvae then feed on the flowers and buds of the host plant.
  • Lifespan: Adults typically live for a few weeks in the summer. In contrast, the eggs, larvae, and pupae overwinter, guaranteeing population continuity.
  • Host Plants: They show preference for flowering plants like dogbane, viburnum, and spiraea, ideal for reproduction.

This little butterfly is a joy to spot in the sunny Iowa summer!

Checkered white (Pontia protodice)

This delightfully delicate butterfly is commonly known as the Checkered White (Pontia protodice).

Checkered White butterfly

  • Habitat: Adaptable insects, they can thrive in a variety of environments.
  • Appearance: Females sport checkered black and white patterns, while males have lighter markings.
  • Size: This mid-sized butterfly has a wingspan ranging from 1.5 to 2.5 inches (3.8-6.35 cm).
  • Diet: As adults, they feed on nectar. Caterpillars munch on the leaves of host plants.
  • Reproduction: Females lay greenish eggs on host plants. The emerging caterpillar then feasts on these plants.
  • Lifespan: In the wild, they live for about 2-4 weeks.
  • Host Plants: They favor plants in the cabbage family, such as mustard and canola.

With its enchanting pattern and variable coloration, the Checkered White truly embodies the miraculous metamorphosis that makes butterflies so fascinating.

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)

The Giant Swallowtail is indeed a giant in the butterfly world.

giant swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: This species is prevalent in many wooded and urban areas, extending its warm-weather range northward each year.
  • Appearance: Known for its dazzling display of black and yellow stripes spread across its delicate wings, the Giant Swallowtail is immediately eye-catching.
  • Size: With a wingspan of 4-6.25 inches (10-16 cm), it’s not only one of the largest butterflies you’ll see in Iowa, but also in North America.
  • Diet: As an adult, this butterfly feeds on nectar from various plants such as Lantana and milkweed. It has a particular affinity for citrus.
  • Reproduction: Female butterflies lay eggs on the leaves of specific plant species. The larvae are known as “orange dogs” for their appearance and feeding habits.
  • Lifespan: In ideal conditions, these magnificent creatures can live up to a month.
  • Host Plants: Trees and shrubs in the citrus family are their primary sources of nourishment during the caterpillar stage.

Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele)

The Great Spangled Fritillary, or Speyeria cybele, is certainly a sight to behold in Iowa.

Great Spangled Fritillary

This unique butterfly species commands attention with its subtle beauty:

  • Habitat: It loves to inhabit meadows, fields, open woods, and even marshes.
  • Appearance: Its upper wings are orange with black spots, while the reverse features silver spots, resembling stars in the night sky.
  • Size: With an average wingspan of 2.5-3.5 inches (6.5–9cm), it’s one of the largest Fritillaries in North America.
  • Diet: The adult feeds on nectar from various flowers such as milkweed.
  • Reproduction: Typically lays eggs on or near violets so the caterpillars have immediate food source.
  • Lifespan: Typically has a lifespan of a couple of weeks, and overwinters as a caterpillar.
  • Host Plants: Violets are the preferred host plant, specifically the leaves which the caterpillars feast upon post-hatching.

Next time you’re in Iowa, this butterfly could be an enchanting sight to experience!

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

Meet the Pipevine Swallowtail, known formally as the ‘Battus philenor’. A versatile butterfly, it graces the various habitats spread across the state of Iowa.

Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: This species is usually found in moist woodland, fields, and gardens.
  • Appearance: The Pipevine Swallowtail flaunts iridescent blue and black wings. It’s easily distinguishable by its prominent hindwing tails.
  • Size: Adults span roughly 3 to 3.5 inches (7.6 to 8.9 cm) in wingspan.
  • Diet: Aside from the nectar that most butterflies feed on, caterpillars of this species munch happily on pipevine plants, giving this butterfly its common name.
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs on the underside of pipevine plants, where larvae will feed upon hatching.
  • Lifespan: Adults typically have a brief life of around one month.
  • Host Plants: The caterpillars consume leaves of the Aristolochia species (pipevines), which contains a toxin they use for defense against predators.

The Pipevine Swallowtail, another vibrant member of Iowa’s butterfly family, offers a prime example of adaptation at work.

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

The Gray Hairstreak, scientifically known as Strymon melinus, is a common species of butterfly you’ll stumble upon when you wander through the state of Iowa.

Gray Hairstreak butterfly

  • Habitat: These butterflies are extremely versatile and can adapt to a range of environments. They are found in every U.S state including Iowa, preferably in open, sunny areas like fields and gardens.
  • Appearance: Gray Hairstreaks live up to their name with their dazzling gray wings, marked with a row of delicate black spots, and accessorized with striking red-orange endpoints.
  • Size: An average Gray Hairstreak is quite small, with a wingspan around 1.25 inches (3.2 cm).
  • Diet: These butterflies feed on nectar from many different flower species, making them a gardener’s favorite.
  • Reproduction: The female lays eggs on the buds of the host plant. The caterpillars produce multiple generations each year.
  • Lifespan: Adult Gray Hairstreaks live for a few weeks only.
  • Host Plants: The caterpillars are not picky eaters. They eat a variety of plants including cotton, beans, and clover.

Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis)

The Red-spotted Purple is indeed a fascinating butterfly species.

Red-spotted Purple butterfly

  • Habitat: This species is found in a variety of habitats, including deciduous woods, meadows, and around water edges.
  • Appearance: They are easily identifiable with shiny blue-purple wings highlighted by prominent red spots.
  • Size: The wingspread reaches from 3.5 to 5 inches (9 to 13 centimeters).
  • Diet: Adults feed on a variety of fare, from tree sap and rotten fruit to animal dung or carrion.
  • Reproduction: Before laying eggs, females scout for their preferred host plants.
  • Lifespan: Like most butterflies, their life cycle is about 3 to 4 weeks from egg to adult.
  • Host Plants: Willows, cottonwoods, and poplars are among their favorites.

This wonderful species is a joy to observe and a welcome presence in various landscapes across Iowa. Its vibrant color and excited fluttering make it a focal point of the local fauna.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

The Variegated Fritillary is a fascinating butterfly species you might encounter in Iowa. Resilient and adaptable, this butterfly showcases an extraordinary survival instinct.

Variegated Fritillary butterfly

  • Habitat: They are not picky, and you can find them in open, sunny locations like meadows, fields, and pastures.
  • Appearance: Sporting a warm-toned, checkered pattern of orange, brown, and white, they are striking to look at.
  • Size: With a wingspan of 1.75-2.25 inches (4.4-5.7 cm), they are fairly medium-sized butterflies.
  • Diet: They dine on various nectar sources, showing a preference for thistles, milkweed, and ironweed.
  • Reproduction: Going through four generations in a year, these butterflies are efficient breeders.
  • Lifespan: Its life cycle from egg to butterfly lasts about a month.
  • Host Plants: Their caterpillars have a diverse appetite, munching on plants like passion vines, violets, and even flax.

The Variegated Fritillary is indeed a resilient and remarkable butterfly, well adapted to different living conditions, and an important pollinator that contributes significantly to the ecosystem.

Eastern Tailed-Blue (Cupido comyntas)

Let’s delve into the Eastern Tailed-Blue, also known as Cupido comyntas. This butterfly species is studied and cherished by nature enthusiasts and researchers alike.

Eastern Tailed Blue butterfly

  • Habitat: These butterflies frequent open areas including meadows, parks, and gardens.
  • Appearance: Its wings flaunt a beautiful blue color; females often possess a prominent gray margin.
  • Size: They are relatively small in size, with wingspans between 22 to 29 mm (0.87 to 1.14 inches).
  • Diet: Adult Tailed-Blues feed on legume flowers and aphid honeydew.
  • Reproduction: Females lay green eggs on the host plant which later hatch into caterpillars.
  • Lifespan: The lifespan spans from a few weeks to a month in optimum conditions.
  • Host Plants: The caterpillars specifically consume legumes such as clovers and peas.

Despite their small size, Eastern Tailed-Blues play a significant role in our ecosystem by acting as efficient pollinators. Truly, a marvel of nature worth protecting.


In summary, Iowa is home to a diverse array of butterfly species, each with its own unique characteristics and beauty.

Exploring and appreciating them offers both an engaging avocation and a way to contribute to their conservation.

Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts or experiences with these butterflies in the comments section below.

Butterflies   Updated: August 4, 2023
avatar Welcome to Insectic, a blog to learn about insects and bugs. I'm Richard, and I've created this website to share my experience, knowledge, and passion with others.

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