More than 70 species of butterflies have been spotted in Dickinson County.

And yet, the order Lepidoptera is made up of about 90 percent moths.

So between butterflies and moths, there is a lot of fluttering action going on around us.

(Learn the difference between butterflies and moths.)

During the first Pollinator Education Series program, naturalist Ashley Hansen discussed many of Iowa's native butterflies and moths.

For the next couple of weeks, we will break down different native butterflies and moths you might see as the seasons change and spring and summer approach.

Skippers

The family Hesperiidae has 42 species in Iowa, 25 of which are found in Dickinson County. They tend to act like butterflies but look like moths with short, thick bodies.

Photo of a Peck's Skipper

Peck's skipper

The Peck's skipper is one of Iowa's most abundant skippers that is seen all summer, from May-October. They like open areas and are often seen along creeks and permanent pastures eating nectar from red clover, thistles, blue vervain, common milkweed, swamp milkweed, dogbane and New Jersey tea.

Their caterpillars feed on rice cut-grass, bluegrass and panic grass.

Photo of a silver-spotted skipper

Silver-spotted skipper

The silver-spotted skipper is often seen May through mid-July at blue, red, pink, purple and cream-colored blooms. It almost never visits yellow flowers. It loves everlasting pea, common milkweed, red clover, buttonbush, blazing star and the dreaded thistle.

Silver-spotted skipper caterpillars eat foliage of locust trees, wisteria, alfalfa and stick-tights.

Swallowtails

The family Papilionidae has only three species in Dickinson County. They are well-known butterflies because they can easily be identified by their size and the tails at the end of their hindwings.

Photo of a black swallowtail

Black swallowtail

Seen April-October, black swallowtails will, instead of landing and drinking nectar, often hover with their forewings constantly moving.

Their caterpillars eat plant in the carrot family, including Queen Anne's lace, parsley, wild parsnip and dill.

Photo of an eastern swallowtail

Eastern tiger swallowtail

Eastern tiger swallowtails have a vibrant yellow color and blue along the hindwing. The male (pictured above) has a small amount of blue spots, while a female has a wide blue ridge along the hindwing. Females can also have a color morph in which they miss the main yellow color on the wing and instead are mostly black.

Adult eastern tiger swallowtails love coneflowers, and caterpillars feed on ash, cherry, poplar and willow leaves.

Photo of a giant swallowtail

Giant swallowtail

The giant swallowtail is the largest butterfly in Iowa with wingspans up to 6 inches and can be seen May-September.

Photo of a giant swallowtail caterpillar

Giant swallowtail caterpillar

Its caterpillar has an interesting feature that sets it apart. It has two red tentacles on its head called osmeterium that come out omit an unpleasant odor when waved around if the caterpillar is startled or handled.

(Read part II of this series: Sulphurs and blues)

Keep a handy field guide with you to identify some of the most common moths and butterflies in Dickinson County. Click on the photo below for a free, downloadable PDF.

Image of a butterflies and moths field guide

Click on the image for a downloadable PDF

Five fun facts about painted lady butterflies

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

Six facts about viceroy butterflies

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

10 facts about red admiral butterflies

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

Native Iowa Butterflies and Moths: Monarchs and other brush-footed butterflies

Last fall, when black and orange butterflies were fluttering all around the area, many people were so excited to see the masses of monarchs in their yards. However, the butterflies weren’t actually monarchs. They were painted ladies. We may think we know all there is to know about monarch butterflies, but sometimes we have more…

Read More

Native Iowa Butterflies and Moths: Sulphurs and blues

As our Pollinator Paradise addition to the Dickinson County Nature Center wraps up construction and we look forward to finishing fundraising for exhibits and adding some children’s museum-quality displays, we have butterflies and bees on the mind. That’s why we’re taking a look at some of the most common types of butterflies and moths in…

Read More

How do monarch butterflies find their way south?

Those wonderful orange-and-black butterflies that we love so much. They fly overhead this time of year, and we know they are headed to their overwintering sites outside of Mexico City. But how do they get there? Plenty of studies have been done throughout the years to try to figure out how a brain the size…

Read More

2 Comments

  1. Angie calhoun on July 3, 2018 at 2:20 pm

    I had a strange looking big on sliding glass door. I think it was a month. Can I send a pic to have it identified?