An orange and black butterfly flits by.
Many people immediately think “monarch,” but there are actually quite a number of orange and black butterflies in Iowa and throughout the United States.
Three butterflies in the Iowa Great Lakes area that often get confused with the monarch butterfly are the painted lady, viceroy and red admiral. So let’s take a look at how to tell some of these common butterflies apart!
Monarch (Danaus plexippus)
The monarch butterfly is perhaps the poster child for butterflies. It is easily spotted because of its large, bright orange wings with black lines. It also has a thick black band on the edge of its wings with white spots.
In Iowa, the monarch butterfly is usually sighted July-September, with numbers slowly increasing until peak migration time about the first week of September. During this point, monarch butterflies may gather in great numbers on trees or other wind-protected areas to roost before continuing the journey south to overwinter in Mexico.
Its host plant is milkweed, so it will lay all eggs on milkweed, and its caterpillars only eat milkweed. As an adult, it will forage for nectar on a variety of native prairie flowers.
Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)
The viceroy looks closest to the monarch butterfly because it is a mimic of the monarch. It also has rusty-orange wings with black veins, however, it has a black line on its hind wing that the monarch does not have. It also has a crossband on its forewing — the top wing — that has white spots, which the monarch does not have.
It can be seen mid-May through October with peaks in August. Its larvae will consume willows and aspens.
Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)
Although also orange and black, the painted lady has quite a different pattern from a monarch butterfly. As the wings approach the body, they become almost a dusty brown, and the lower wings have a mottled appearance. They are also similar to the American lady butterfly but have blue-centered eyespots on the lower hind wing. American lady butterflies have two large eyespots on the hind wing.
Painted lady butterflies can be seen early April through mid-November, with the peak in July and August. They larvae often eat thistle species, but more than 100 host plants have been recorded worldwide. The painted lady is one of the most largely distributed butterflies in the world and has been found on all continents except Australia and Antactica.
Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
The red admiral has more black than the other butterflies listed. It has a black upper forewing with a bright, diagonal red band that sometimes appears orange. It also has a red marginal band on its hindwing — the bottom wing. The lower hindwing — the underside or bottom of the lower wing — is mottled brown, black and tan.
The red admiral is a breeding resident of Iowa, and its larvae eats nettles.
Size is also a great way to tell other brush-footed butterflies apart from the monarch butterfly. The monarch butterfly is quite large in comparison to the others, with a wingspan of 9-10 cm. The viceroy has a wingspan of 6.7-7.5 cm. The painted lady is even smaller with a 5.1-5.5 cm wingspan, and the red admiral is the smallest yet with a 4.5-5.5 cm wingspan.
You can also see in the graphics the differences in patterns.
Although all four butterflies are in the Nymphalidae family of brush-footed butterflies, each is different in its own way.
Almost 70 species of butterflies have been seen in Dickinson County, Iowa, and the time of year can be told from which ones are most active. In fact, you can tell when spring is making its appearance by which butterflies are hatching after overwintering in the chrysalis state or from spots further south. The mourning…Read More
1. The painted lady isn’t picky. Unlike many butterflies that have certain host plants that they lay eggs on and that caterpillars eat — the monarch butterfly host plant is milkweed — the painted lady has been noted to have more than 100 host plants. Caterpillars will eat thistles, hollyhocks and legumes. It is sometimes…Read More
You see a black-and-orange butterfly flitting around, but it looks too small to be a monarch butterfly. This butterfly has very similar markings, except for the black line across its hindwing. What could it be? It’s a viceroy! 1. Viceroys are mimics. Viceroy butterflies mimic monarch butterflies, and it was long thought that was because…Read More
We’ve noticed a lot of red admirals lately. They might not be as big or as flashy as monarchs, but these little orangish-red and black butterflies are really neat. Here are 10 things that make red admiral butterflies (Vanessa atalanta) unique: 1. They like stinging nettle. We’ve all reached down to pull a weed and…Read More
The line of symmetry is the imaginary line that divides something into two exactly equal and opposite parts. These two parts mirror each other; you can fold the figure in half and the two parts match exactly. Take a look at a monarch butterfly. Notice how the wings are identical but opposite; they are an…Read More
It’s not any surprise that we love butterflies at the Dickinson County Nature Center. We also love butterfly crafts! This coffee filter butterfly is one that we made at the 2018 Bee & Butterfly Festival. It’s simple, but kids really love the colorful creations they can make. Plus, you can glue them to a magnet…Read More
My fingers are stained orange like I just ate a bag of Cheetos. At least that’s what naturalist Ashley Hansen said when she looked at me. But it was for a good cause. See, I just spent 10 minutes coloring an empty toilet paper tube orange to make a super fun Christmas tree ornament! All…Read More