Again this year the Iowa general assembly is considering a House and Senate joint resolution (HJR2) to name the regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia) as the state butterfly of Iowa. This is the last chance for this resolution. If it does not make it to the floor this year for a vote, it will be dropped.
Iowa is one of only four states which does not have an official state insect or butterfly. 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.
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 fritillaries rely on Iowa prairies as their habitat.
- 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). Each fall females have to lay their eggs in tall grass prairies. Unfortunately for the females, their host plant, bird’s foot violet and prairie violet, die back to the ground. So, not only do the female Regal Fritillary have to dive bomb into, then crawl their way through the dried fall tall grass and then crawl their way to the ground. They also have to use chemical volatiles left from where the plant died back from to 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 first instar (time in between molts) caterpillars eat their egg. They will eat nothing else until the following spring. This means 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, this is also unique as most species of butterflies go through five instars (time in between molts) 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 joint resolution can be found on the Iowa Legislature website.
If you are interested in seeing the regal fritillary be the official state butterfly of Iowa, please contact your Iowa Senator and House Representative. CLICK HERE to find your representatives' contact information.
As you are planning your gardens for this spring, consider planting a few extra plants to help support our native insects. There is even a 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.