Did you know that Iowa is one of only four states that do not have an official state insect or butterfly? Perhaps you already know that Iowa has a state tree (oak), flower (wild rose), bird (eastern goldfinch) and rock (geode), which was the last to be designated 48 years ago. With just these four state symbols Iowa has the lowest number of official state symbols of any of the 50 states.
Iowa’s 86th general assembly is currently considering a House and Senate joint resolution (HJR2) to name the regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia) as the state butterfly of Iowa. So what makes the regal fritillary a good candidate to be the state butterfly of Iowa?
- Regal fritillary has not been used by another state so it would be unique to Iowa.
- Regal fritillary is an Iowa native species which can be found state wide.
- Regal fritillary represents the prairie heritage of Iowa.
- Regal fritillary is a large identifiable butterfly and it doesn’t hurt that it is beautiful.
- While the population is considered fairly stable in the state currently the regal fritillary’s conservation status in Iowa is listed as a species of concern, so it has some conservation need.
- Iowa sits in the heart of the regal fritillary’s current distribution range.
- Regal fritillary has a wonderful educational lifecycle story.
The regal fritillary has only one generation a year (univoltine). In the fall the females lay their eggs in tall grass prairies. Unfortunately for the females, the caterpillar food plants, bird’s foot violet and prairie violet, die back to the ground in late summer. The female butterflies have to dive bomb and crawl their way through tall grasses to reach the ground. There, using chemical volatiles from where the hos plant died, they lay their eggs as close as possible to where the violets will emerge the following spring.
The eggs hatch in late fall and the new, tiny caterpillars consumer their egg shell and then eat nothing more until the following spring. The caterpillars have to survive an Iowa winter folded up in the leaf litter on the ground, having only eaten their egg shell and nothing else until the following spring when the violets finally come up out of the ground. That is one tough caterpillar.
In early spring, the caterpillar eats the violet leaves and goes through six instars (stages in between molts). Most butterfly caterpillars go through only five instars before pupating. Adults emerge in early summer; males and females fly around for several weeks and eventually mate.
After mating, the females tend to go into a summer diapause which helps them survive often the hottest and driest part of the summer, until fall when they will begin laying their eggs and the process starts all over again.
The Iowa’s State Butterfly joint resolution can be found on the Iowa Legislature website.
If you are interested in supporting the regal fritillary as the official state butterfly of Iowa, please contact your Iowa Senator and House Representative.
As you are planning your gardens for this spring, consider planting a few extra plants to help support our native insects. There is fun new program in Iowa you can participate in with the addition of nectar and host plants to your garden. "Plant.Grow.Fly" is a state-wide effort to increase the amount of habitat suitable for our native butterflies, insects and pollinators, more information on PGF and how to participate can be found at their website https://www.blankparkzoo.com/conservation/plantgrowfly/.