The Iowa Butterfly Survey Network

The Iowa Butterfly Survey Network (IBSN) was established at Reiman Gardens in 2006 to educate Iowans about butterflies Logo of the Iowa Butterfly Survey Networkwhile at the same time encouraging people to take an active role in conservation.  IBSN conducts research using volunteer citizen scientists of all skill levels to collect data for yearly population surveys of butterfly species in Iowa. Volunteers are trained in survey techniques specifically developed for butterflies. Our ultimate goal is to have at least one survey site in each of our 99 Iowa counties.

Of the 120 species of butterflies believed to inhabit Iowa, more than one-fourth are listed as endangered, threatened, or “of special concern,” making their long-term survival questionable in the state.

IBSN uses both citizen scientists and conservation professionals to monitor and survey habitat areas for butterfly population numbers. ISBN data gives a baseline for researchers on existing populations and their range, identifies potential threats, identifies beneficial or potentially harmful land management practices, shows the effectiveness of habitat restoration efforts, and gives an annual snapshot of the health of all butterfly populations in Iowa.

IBSN 2020 Year-end Report

2020 marked the 15th year of the Iowa Butterfly Survey Network. Coordinators Anita Westphal and Nathan Brockman thank all who have volunteered many hours to help make this program a success.  Thank you for the great effort and your dedication!  This program would not be possible without our devoted and enthusiastic volunteers.

We had some significant challenges to overcome for the 2020 season between Covid-19 and then the derecho in August. It will be interesting to see how the storm devastation affects some of our sites over the next few years. Despite the challenges, we did increase the number of surveys and had some species recorded for the first time at some of our sites. Because of Covid-19, we could not have in-person training workshops and field day, but Nathan and I created a training video that can be used through our volunteer system to train new volunteers. I hope this will continue to be a valuable tool for us; it will allow us to train people who would not attend workshops because of driving distance, and we can collect data from parts of the state where we currently do not have active sites.

We also thank everyone who went above and beyond the minimum requirements of the program. This program was very helpful for me, especially this year; it gave me a purpose, something to look forward to, and an escape from being stuck inside at home when I couldn't do normal activities. Nathan and I continue to be excited by the growth of this program and our members' commitment to continue our mission of monitoring the health and numbers of our native butterfly populations and their conservation. 

2020 IBSN Sites

IBSN volunteers saw 66 of the 120 species of butterflies native to the state and 33,124 individual butterflies graph showing IBSN results by seasonduring the 2020 survey season. Our requirements for the IBSN program state that a minimum of six surveys should be conducted between June 1 and August 8.  IBSN members logged 639 surveys and put in 660.8 hours of field time throughout the 2020 season. Our first survey of the season was done on March 30, and surveys continued until November 8. Our earliest observations were red admirals, American ladies, painted ladies, and mourning cloaks seen in Story and Jefferson County.  The last sightings of butterflies were sulphurs in Dallas. Twenty-seven of 49 sites were surveyed before June 1 and 34 after the August 8 date; those volunteers observed 10,704 individuals; this was 32% of the total number recorded for the entire 2020 season. Depending on the weather conditions in any given year, butterflies can be seen as early as March and as late as November. If surveys start early or continue late into the season, you open up the opportunity to experience some unique observations.

Species recorded for the first time this year were byssus skipper, striped hairstreak, and zebra swallowtail. The species seen in higher than usual numbers were black swallowtail, eastern tiger swallowtail, hackberry emperor, pearl crescent, and silver-spotted skipper. We did have lower numbers after August 8, but we have to consider that we had some drought conditions in parts of the state and, of course, the derecho that caused significant damage to many habitats. Some of our sites will be significantly altered due to the loss of trees and may never be the same. Programs like IBSN will help provide information to determine how these natural disasters will affect the future populations of our native species and help landowners make decisions on how to proceed with their land management decisions.

Training workshops for 2021

IBSN training for new participants and refresher training for current participants will be announced at a later date. Information will be emailed and available on our website.  The date and location for a summer 2021 Field Day will be announced at a later date.

For more information about the IBSN or to volunteer, contact the IBSN Coordinators or visit their website.


IBSN Coordinators:

Anita Westphal, Reiman Gardens Butterfly Wing Assistant



Nathan Brockman, Reiman Gardens Butterfly Wing Curator


Small brown butterfly with silver lines called the striped hairsteak
Striped Hairstreak by Ryan Rasmussen

A small brown butterfly called the Byssus skipper
Byssus Skipper by Ryan Rasmussen

black and white striped butterfly called the zebra swallowtail
Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly by Nathan Brockman




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