“What kinds of butterflies can you find in Iowa?”
I love watching butterflies in my neighborhood! It’s amazing to see the incredible variety of different colors, patterns, and sizes.
There are hundreds of kinds of butterflies in Iowa! Since it would be impossible to list them all in one article, I chose the most common and exciting species to share with you today. 🙂
Today, you’ll learn about 35 kinds of butterflies found in Iowa.
Admirals, Queens, & Emporers
These large and brightly colored beauties are some of the most recognizable butterflies in Iowa!
#1. Red Admiral
- Vanessa atalanta
- Red Admirals have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.5 inches.
- The coloring is dark brown with a reddish circular band and white spots. The underside of the back wings looks similar to bark.
- The caterpillars are pinkish-gray to charcoal with white spots. They have spines along the back that resemble hairs.
The Red Admiral is the most widespread butterfly in Iowa!
Look for this beautiful butterfly near the edge of forests in moist habitats. Red Admiral Butterflies have a unique favorite food – they love fermented fruit! If you’d like to attract them, try placing overripe cut fruit in a sunny spot in your yard.
Red Admirals are migratory butterflies. They fly south toward warmer climates in winter, and then move north again in late spring, where food is more plentiful.
If you’re looking for a butterfly in Iowa that’s easy to observe, you’re in luck! Red Admirals are very calm and easy to approach and frequently land on humans!
RELATED: How to Attract Butterflies: 17 Tips!
#2. Painted Lady
- Vanessa cardui
- Painted Lady butterflies have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.5 inches.
- The coloring is pinkish-orange, with dark brown to black markings near the wingtips and white spots inside the black markings.
- The caterpillars’ coloring is variable, ranging from greenish-yellow to charcoal. Most have light-colored spots.
Look for Painted Lady butterflies in Iowa in open areas that are quiet and undisturbed, like roadsides, pastures, and gardens. This species migrates south to Mexico over winter and returns in the spring.
The population of Painted Lady butterflies can be drastically different from year to year. It’s common for them not to be seen for years in a row in some places, then suddenly show up in more significant numbers.
The Painted Lady is the only butterfly that mates year-round! Because of its constant migration pattern, it spends its entire life in suitable areas for its eggs to hatch.
- Danaus plexippus
- Monarch butterflies have a wingspan of 3.5 to 4 inches.
- Their recognizable coloring is a “stained glass” pattern of orange with black veins. White dots line the outside edge of the wings.
- Caterpillars are plump, with black, white, and yellow bands and tentacles on each end of its body.
Monarchs are easily the most recognized butterfly in Iowa!
They are famous for their color pattern and migration. Look for Monarchs anywhere there is milkweed, which is the only food source their caterpillars eat.
Most people are familiar with the declining population of Monarchs. However, you might not know that this indicates an overall population decline of many other pollinating species like bees. Planting local milkweed species to attract Monarchs will also help these other species.
During migration, usually in mid-September, you may even see groups of hundreds flying south!
#4. American Lady
- Vanessa virginiensis
- American Lady Butterflies have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.5 inches.
- The coloring of this species is a brilliant orange with dark borders and markings and white and purple spots. The underwings have an ornate pattern similar to a cobweb.
Look for American Lady butterflies in Iowa near open landscapes with leafy, flowering plants.
On the underside of the wings, American Lady butterflies have eyespots. These circular markings make the butterfly look intimidating to predators, warding off potential danger.
Eyespots aren’t unique to butterflies – moths, other insects, and even some fish species display this evolutionary defense strategy!
Additionally, American Lady butterflies are nervous and will often take flight at the slightest disturbance.
- Limenitis archippus
- Viceroy butterflies have a wingspan of 2.5 to 3.25 inches.
- Their coloring is deep orange with black edges and veins and white spots on the black border.
- The caterpillar is a mix of green, brown, and cream colors. It has two “horns” on its head that look like knobby antennae.
The first thing you might notice about the Viceroy butterfly is that it’s almost identical to the Monarch! The easiest way to tell them apart is to look for the black line on the bottom wing. This line is present in Viceroys, but not Monarchs.
Even though these two butterflies are similar in appearance, their caterpillars look remarkably different. Viceroy caterpillars are greenish-brown, spiny, and certainly not as beautiful as Monarch caterpillars.
I think of them as the “ugly duckling” of caterpillars, but they’re one of the prettiest butterflies in Iowa!
One other key difference between these two species is that Viceroys don’t migrate. Instead, the caterpillars roll up and hibernate in leaves and emerge during the next breeding season.
#6. Hackberry Emperor
- Hackberry Emperors have a wingspan of 2 to 2.75 inches.
- The intricate pattern of this species is amber brown and nearly black, with orange-ringed eyespots and many spots in dark brown and white.
- Caterpillars are light green with two yellow stripes on the back. Two short spines top the head, and there are two small tails on the rear end.
Hackberry Emperor butterflies are common in Iowa.
Look for them in moist wooded areas, parks, and suburban yards. One place you WON’T find Hackberry Emperors is on flowers since they don’t eat flower nectar at all!
Although flowers don’t attract them, they are naturally curious and will even land on humans who happen to be near them. One reason for this habit is to ingest sodium from our skin! This may be hard to believe, but Hackberry Emperors find the minerals they need to survive in tons of unusual places, like soil, rocks, and even pavement!
They also eat sap, dung, carrion, and rotting fruit and drink water from rain puddles. They might be one of the least picky eaters I’ve encountered!
#7. Red-Spotted Purple
- Limenitis arthemis astyanax
- Red-Spotted Purple butterflies have a wingspan of 3 to 4 inches.
- Coloring is iridescent blackish-blue, with rows of spots on the outer edge of the wings. The spots are commonly orange or red, but in some morphs, the spots are light blue. The undersides of the wings are sooty black.
- Caterpillars are mottled brown, cream, and yellow, with lumpy, angular body sections and twig-like horns.
Red-Spotted Purples are one of the most beautiful butterflies in Iowa!
Their shimmery, dark-purple wings and bright red-orange spots allow them to stand out – and amazingly, this is actually their main defense against predators! They developed their coloring to mimic the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly.
What’s amazing about Red-Spotted Purple butterflies is that members of the same species can look completely different. In the northern part of its range, where there are no Pipevine Swallowtail, this same butterfly is called the White Admiral!
Instead of nectar, Red-Spotted Purple butterflies eat carrion, sap, and rotting fruit. To attract them, try putting a cut orange or banana in a suet cage in your yard. You’re most likely to see them during their active season from April to October.
#8. White Admiral
- Limenitis arthemis arthemis
- White Admiral butterflies have a wingspan of 3 to 4 inches.
- This species’ coloring is black with a bright white band on the center of the upper wings.
- Their caterpillars are mottled brown, cream, and yellow, with lumpy, angular body sections and twig-like horns.
What’s amazing about White Admirals is even though they look wildly different from Red-Spotted Purple butterflies, they’re actually the same species!
Red-Spotted Purple butterflies in Iowa changed color to mimic another species. Since the mimic species isn’t as widespread, the White Admiral butterfly with its original coloring is still present.
Besides their appearance, almost everything about these two subspecies is similar. For example, their caterpillars use willow, aspen, and birch trees as hosts.
To attract White Admirals, try putting a cut orange or banana in a suet cage in your yard. Instead of nectar, White Admiral butterflies eat carrion, sap, and rotting fruit.
They’re most active from April to October, which is their mating season.
Crescents, Commas, and Anglewings
Named for the tiny markings on the undersides of their wings, these butterflies are known for their intricate designs.
#9. Mourning Cloak
- Nymphalis Antiopa
- Mourning Cloaks have a wingspan of 3 to 4 inches.
- The coloring is black with an iridescent sheen. A yellow border and a row of purple spots mark the outer edge of the wings.
- Caterpillars are black with white specks and a row of red spots on the back.
Mourning Cloak butterflies are most often found near deciduous forests. However, their habitat includes many developed areas like suburban yards, parks, and golf courses.
You might have a hard time finding this butterfly in Iowa.
Even though it’s fairly widespread, its preference for cold weather and solitary habits make it hard to spot even for an avid butterfly enthusiast! In addition, it’s so well-camouflaged when its wings are folded that you might miss one right in front of you.
Mourning Cloaks are often the first butterflies to become active in the spring! In fact, some adults are even active through winter on warm days, when snow is still on the ground.
They’re also one of the longest-lived butterflies around, with some individuals living up to ten months!
#10. Pearl Crescent
- Phyciodes tharos
- Pearl Crescent butterflies have a wingspan of 1.25 to 1.75 inches.
- Their coloring is bright orange with black borders, spots, and lines. The pattern created by the black markings is similar to lace.
- Caterpillars are dark brown with cream stripes and spines all over their bodies.
Look for Pearl Crescent butterflies in Iowa near moist ground.
They prefer open, sunny habitats but many locations suit their needs, including forest edges, fields, meadows, and gardens.
The Pearl Crescent caterpillar’s preferred host is the Aster plant. Any flowering plants in your yard will attract this beautiful butterfly, but for best results, try to find one that’s native to your area.
When the caterpillars grow into butterflies, they will feed on the nectar of the Asters as well!
#11. Question Mark
- Question Mark butterflies have a wingspan of 2.25 to 3 inches.
- Their coloring is deep orange with black spots and a lavender edge.
- Caterpillars are gray to black with spines on the side and orange and cream stripes.
Look for Question Mark butterflies in moist woodland and forest edges. Their caterpillars’ preferred host plants are elm trees and nettle, so you’re most likely to see this species in areas with elm forests or thickets of nettle, or both.
Question Marks feature bright coloring on the upper side of their wings, but the lower side is mottled brown. This coloring helps to camouflage the butterflies, making them resemble a dead leaf while resting on branches.
Their name comes from a slight, light-colored marking on the underside of the wing. It takes some imagination, but this marking sort of looks like a roughly drawn question mark!
#12. Eastern Comma
- Eastern Comma butterflies have a wingspan of 2 to 2.5 inches.
- Coloring is orange with black mottling on the upper wings and primarily black with some orange spots on the lower wings.
- Caterpillars are black or greenish with a white stripe down the sides and white spines.
Eastern Comma butterflies live in deciduous forests, suburban yards, and parks.
Nettle and Elm Trees are the preferred hosts for their caterpillars. Adults are not attracted to flowers but instead feed on rotting fruit, carrion, and animal dung. So this most likely isn’t a species you’d want to attract to your yard! 🙂
However, they’re very prevalent, and your chance of seeing one is good.
Interestingly, Eastern Commas hibernate as adults instead of as caterpillars. During winter, they find shelter in log piles, tree hollows, and even some human-made shelters. Their mating season is early spring, and new generations of butterflies become active in early summer.
#13. Common Buckeye
- Common Buckeye butterflies have a wingspan of 2 to 2.5 inches.
- Their coloring is brown with orange bars. Black and white rings outline three to four prominent eyespots with middles in blue, magenta, orange, and green shades.
- Caterpillars are dark brown to black with stripes along the back and sides and spines around the entire body.
Common Buckeyes prefer open spaces like pastures, old fields, and roadsides in Iowa. Although they’re hard to approach and wary of predators, they fly low to the ground and will often perch long enough for you to snap a photo.
In the southern U.S., Common Buckeyes don’t have a specific mating season. Since they can live in the southern climate all year, they continually reproduce.
Common Buckeyes in northern states migrate south for the winter and return in the spring for mating. These northern individuals can produce two to four generations each season!
Fritillaries are some of the most abundant butterflies in Iowa. They have a checkerboard type pattern and are usually shades of orange and black.
#14. Variegated Fritillary
- Variegated Fritillary butterflies have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.25 inches.
- The coloring of this species is tawny brown to burnt orange with black dots and lines. The outer edge of the wings is also lined in black.
- Caterpillars are reddish-orange, with white stripes that run the length of the body and black spines.
Look for these butterflies in Iowa in meadows, open lots, and fields.
Plant flowers like butterfly weed, mint, and sunflowers to attract them to your garden. Ornamental plants like violets, pansies, and passionflower serve as hosts for their caterpillars.
The Variegated Fritillary’s chrysalis is one of the most beautiful of all the butterflies in Iowa. This protective shell is where the caterpillar transforms into the adult butterfly. Its pearly white color and shiny gold spikes make it look like an expensive jeweled pendant!
#15. Great Spangled Fritillary
- Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies have a wingspan of 2.5 to 3.5 inches.
- Their coloring is orange with black lines and dots that form a web-like pattern on their wings. In addition, the undersides of their wings have silvery white dots outlined in black.
The Great Spangled Fritillary is one of many butterflies in Iowa that prefers open, sunny areas like pastures and meadows.
It’s not uncommon to see hundreds of them in large milkweed or violet fields!
This species doesn’t migrate; instead, its caterpillars hibernate over winter and emerge in the spring. That happens around the same time as the new growth on their host violet plants appears.
Interestingly, male Great Spangled Fritillaries die weeks before females, right after mating. The females then feed for another two to three weeks and lay eggs before also dying off.
#16. Aphrodite Fritillary
- Aphrodite Fritillary butterflies have a wingspan of 2 to 3 inches.
- Their coloring is bright yellow-orange with a network of black webbing and dots. On the underside of the wings, there are black-ringed blueish-white dots as well.
Look for Aphrodite Fritillaries in meadows, fields, and pastures in Iowa.
The caterpillar’s host plant is violets, so any plantings of this flower will attract adult Aphrodite Fritillaries. They lay eggs on the ground near violet plants, and when the eggs hatch, the caterpillars crawl to the violets to hibernate.
Many flowers in a typical butterfly garden will also attract adult Aphrodite Fritillaries. Try planing milkweed, butterfly weed, thistles, or goldenrod if you’d like to see more of this species.
#17. Meadow Fritillary
- Meadow Fritillary butterflies have a wingspan of 1.5 to 2 inches.
- Their coloring is yellow-orange with dusky black splotches. The underside of their wings is muted in color and looks like a dead leaf, which is used for camouflage.
Meadow Fritillary butterflies in Iowa have the scientific name Boloria bellona, which is in the brush-foot family. That’s sometimes confusing since a European butterfly has the same name, but the two species are only distantly related!
Our Meadow Fritillaries are active throughout the summer and very common in their range, so this is an excellent butterfly to attract to your garden.
Aster flowers like Black-eyed Susans, daisies, and sunflowers are popular picks to attract them.
#18. Silver-Bordered Fritillary
- Silver-Bordered Fritillaries have a wingspan of 1.6 to 2.1 inches.
- Their coloring is bright orange with irregular black markings. The wings have a thin white edge and a thick black border with orange dots inside. The underside of the wing has metallic, silvery dots along the edge, which is how this species got its name.
Silver-Bordered Fritillaries are small, rare butterflies in Iowa.
Their preferred habitat is wet grassland, which is often turned into agricultural fields. This habitat disruption has caused a decline in the population of the Silver-Bordered Fritillary.
Despite these challenges, you can still attract Silver-Bordered Fritillaries to your garden by planting violets for their caterpillars or thistle as a nectar flower.
They typically fly low to the ground in jerky, fast movements, so keep your eyes on the grass and look out for streaks of orange!
Satyrs & Snouts
Satyr butterflies prefer cool, shady areas with less sunlight than other butterflies in Iowa. There are estimated to be over 2,400 distinct species!
#19. Common Wood-Nymph
- Cercyonis pegala
- Common Wood-Nymphs have a wingspan of 2 to 3 inches.
- Coloring can vary greatly, but generally, this species is shades of brown with dark eyespots.
- Caterpillars are yellow-green with dark green stripes and white hairs.
Common Wood-Nymphs are found in many different habitats, including open forests, meadows, agricultural fields, and salt marshes. Their caterpillars hatch late in fall and hibernate through the winter.
Look for this species in late summer and early fall since it’s most active this time of year.
Adult Common Wood-Nymphs occasionally eat flower nectar but prefer to feed on rotting fruit or decaying plants.
This is one of few species whose host plant (which the caterpillar eats) is grass. Kentucky Bluegrass, one of its favorites, is also a popular lawn grass. So, you may not even need to plant anything new to attract this species!
#20. Little Wood Satyr
- Little Wood Satyrs have a wingspan of 1.5 to 1.9 inches.
- They are brown with multiple yellow-ringed eyespots. Their top wings have two eyespots, and their bottom wings can have one to three.
Look for Little Wood Satyrs in shady woodland areas, clearings, and nearby brushy areas. They prefer to stay close to the ground and even use leaf litter as a perch to rest, instead of branches or tall grass like some other species.
Little Wood Satyrs are not attracted to flowers because they don’t eat nectar. You’d probably be surprised and kind of disgusted by its regular diet!
Instead of wildflowers or sweet fruit, this species is attracted to animal dung, rotting mushrooms, and old sap flows. So it’s probably best to find this butterfly in its natural habitat instead of trying to attract it to your yard!
#21. American Snout
- American Snout butterflies have a wingspan of 1.5 to 2 inches.
- The coloring is brown with orange and white patches that resemble a dead leaf. In addition, the upper side of the wings is more heavily patterned and darker in color.
One look at this strange butterfly, and you’ll know why it’s called the American Snout! This species’ long, beak-like “snout” is used as camouflage, making the butterfly look more leaf-like.
There are no other butterflies in Iowa with this feature!
Even though American Snout butterflies migrate north every year, they’re generally rare in most of their habitat and hard to find because of their excellent camouflage. When they are seen, it’s often in huge migratory groups that are so massive they can darken the sky!
These brightly colored, delicate-looking butterflies in Iowa are some of the prettiest to look at!
- Celastrina ladon
- Azure Butterflies have a wingspan of 0.75 to 1.25 inches.
- Their coloring is dusky gray to cornflower blue, with spots and stripes in shades of gray. Females of this species tend to be darker and less colorful.
Azure butterflies in Iowa are found in open woodlands, forest edges, roadsides, and hiking trails.
They’re one of the most widely-seen species in our area and very abundant within their range.
It’s common to see Azure butterflies before spring flowers are even in bloom! Azures are part of the Gossamer-Winged butterfly family, which gets its name from their wings’ fringed, fabric-like texture.
Three additional Azures have recently been given species status:
- Summer Azure, Celastrina neglecta, is usually found later in the year and has more vibrant coloring than its early cousin.
- Appalachian Azure, Celastrina neglectamajor, has a smaller range but is the largest Azure butterfly.
- Dusky Asure, Celastrina nigra, is the least vibrant, often with no blue or ashen gray-blue wings.
#23. Eastern Tailed-Blue
- Eastern Tailed-Blue butterflies have a wingspan of 0.75 to 1 inch.
- Males and females have very different coloring on their upper wings. Males are brilliant blue with a brown border and white edges, and females are grayish-brown with white edges. Both sexes have one or two small orange spots above the wing tails.
Look for Eastern Tailed-Blue butterflies in Iowa in vacant lots, pastures, and home gardens.
They’re one of our most abundant species and easily attracted to flowers.
The easiest way to identify Eastern Tailed-Blues is by their hair-like tails on each of the hind wings. But, these often break off, so you may find some individuals without tails.
The silvery-blue color of the underside of their wings is another good sign that you’ve found an Eastern Tailed-Blue.
#24. Gray Hairstreak
- Gray Hairstreak butterflies have a wingspan of 1 to 1.5 inches.
- Their coloring is slate gray with a single bright orange spot on each lower wing. Below, their wings are light gray with a black and white stripe.
Look for Gray Hairstreak butterflies in open areas like roadsides, unused pasture, and rural meadows. Their caterpillars use many plants as hosts, so they’re common across many different habitats.
Gray Hairstreaks are one of a few butterflies in Iowa with thin, long wing tails that resemble hairs.
This adaptation is a defensive strategy that draws predators away from the butterfly’s body. By mimicking a head with antennae and using its eyespots as a distraction, Gray Hairstreaks give themselves time to escape!
#25. Coral Hairstreak
- Coral Hairstreaks have a wingspan of 0.9 to 1.25 inches.
- Their coloring is light grayish-brown with an outer row of coral spots ringed in black. They also have a second row of smaller black spots ringed in white.
You’re unlikely to mistake a Coral Hairstreak with any other butterfly in Iowa!
Its coloring, both on the wings and its body, makes it unique among small butterflies.
Coral Hairstreaks prefer brushy fields and woodland edges with plenty of dense shrubs. Adults are especially attracted to milkweed blossoms for their nectar and as a place to perch.
Coral Hairstreak caterpillars use wild cherry and American plum trees as their hosts and feed on the fruits of these trees.
#26. Banded Hairstreak
- Banded Hairstreak butterflies have a wingspan of 1 to 1.25 inches.
- Their coloring varies from brown to slate gray. In addition, they have black-bordered red dots along the outer edge of the wings, white stripes, and a blue patch near the wing tails.
Look for Banded Hairstreak butterflies in forested areas or sunny clearings near woods. Adult butterflies are drawn to nectar plants, so it should be pretty easy to attract this species if you live near a wooded area.
Planting dogbane or meadowsweet will help you have more sightings.
Adults are active for about four weeks in early summer, and they mate a single time during this active season. The eggs survive through summer, fall, and winter and hatch into caterpillars in the spring.
The caterpillars feed on oak, walnut, and hickory trees. Therefore, any area with these species is an excellent place to spot the Banded Hairstreak!
#27. American Copper
- American Copper butterflies have a wingspan of 0.75 to 1.5 inches.
- Their coloring follows a distinct pattern: the upper wings are orange with black spots and a gray border, and the lower wings are inverted, with a gray middle and a black and orange border. The underside of both wings is light gray with tiny black flecks.
- Caterpillars are light green and sometimes have a pinkish tint along their sides. They’re covered with fine, downy hairs.
American Coppers go by many other names around the world!
Also known as Little Coppers, Common Coppers, and other regional names, this species is one of the most widespread butterflies.
American Coppers can withstand many different climates, from the long, cold winters of the far north to humid, hot weather near the equator. American Copper butterflies are ordinarily active from June to September, but this season is longer in warmer areas.
To attract this species to your garden, try planting hawkweed or butterfly weed – these are the adults’ favorites for nectar.
With their long wing tails, colorful patterns, and large wings, Swallowtails are an impressive visitor to any garden! These species are definitely some of the most popular butterflies in Iowa.
#28. Black Swallowtail
- Limenitis archippus
- Black Swallowtails have a wingspan of 2.5 to 4.25 inches.
- The coloring is black with rows of light yellow spots. It has one red-orange eyespot and several blue spots on each hind wing.
- Caterpillars are green with black bands containing yellow spots.
Black Swallowtails are one of the most common garden butterflies in Iowa.
They love flower nectar and frequently stop to drink on garden plants.
Their caterpillars use cultivated herbs like parsley and mint as host plants. They can sometimes be harmful to these plants if they feed too much, so keep an eye on your herb garden if you have Black Swallowtails around!
Black Swallowtails are excellent at mimicry, which is an evolutionary defense mechanism. They have developed markings similar to the Pipevine Swallowtail, which is toxic to most predators. In this way, Black Swallowtails can hide in plain sight!
#29. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
- Eastern Tiger Swallowtails have a wingspan of 3.5 to 5.5 inches.
- The coloring is variable based on sex. Males are always vibrant yellow with black stripes and borders. Females have two color forms:
- Light females are slightly darker yellow with more prominent black markings.
- Dark females are almost entirely black, with light blue speckling on the lower wings.
This species is one of the most striking butterflies in Iowa!
The bright coloring and large wings of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail make it easy to see and identify.
You’ll most often spot this butterfly on its own, since it’s a solitary flier. If you’re lucky, though, you might see a group of male Eastern Tiger Swallowtails “puddling,” grouped together on a patch of wet ground to drink water.
This species loves flowers and is easy to attract to home gardens. Try planting tall-stalked flowers like phlox, ironweed, and lilac in your yard.
One amazing feature of this species is the defense strategy of its caterpillar. It has enormous eyespots and an enlarged head that make it look like a snake to predators! Its appearance definitely says “back off!” even though it’s really harmless.
#30. Spicebush Swallowtail
- Spicebush Swallowtails have a wingspan of 3 to 4 inches.
- Their coloring is dark brown to black, with a border of cream-colored spots on the edge of the wings. In addition, the hind wings have a cloudy patch of either greenish-blue or bright blue.
- Caterpillars are bright yellow with rows of tiny green spots on the body and a prominent black eyespot ringed in white.
Spicebush Swallowtails are found in forests, swamps, and unused fields.
They have a long active season and are plentiful from late spring through early fall.
If you’re looking to attract this large and beautiful butterfly, try planting azaleas or jewelweed, which are two of its favorite nectar plants. The distinctive caterpillar of the Spicebush Swallowtail likes white sassafras and spicebush, which is how it got its name.
Spicebush Swallowtails have a unique talent among insects! They can regulate their body temperature using their coloring, which allows them to be active at colder temperatures than other swallowtail butterflies in Iowa.
Whites & Sulphurs
These small, unpatterned butterflies are common in Iowa and often the first sign that spring has arrived.
#31. Cabbage White
- Pieris rapae
- Cabbage White Butterflies have a wingspan of 1.25 to 2 inches.
- The wings are light greenish to white, with black wing tips and black dots in the center of each wing. Males have one black dot on each side, and females have two.
- Caterpillars, sometimes called Cabbage Worms, are dark green with a light green stripe along the back.
Cabbage White butterflies are well-suited to almost any habitat in Iowa.
The only areas they avoid are dense forests with little room to fly. You can even see this species if you live in the city since they often live in very large metropolitan areas!
Look for Cabbage Whites in the summer, when they are most active and breeding. Their caterpillars, sometimes called Cabbage Worms, are a pest because they often overtake and eat cabbage, kale, nasturtium, and other brassica plants.
If you have a vegetable garden and see Cabbage Whites, you should pay extra attention to your plants to ensure these hungry insects don’t ruin them! In fact, Cabbage White butterflies are invasive in Iowa. This non-native species was transported here through the food and agricultural trade.
Since it’s so well-suited to our climate, its population has exploded and it’s now considered one of the most damaging invasive species to crops.
#32. Orange Sulphur
- Colias eurytheme
- Orange Sulphur Butterflies have a wingspan of 1.5 to 2.5 inches.
- Their coloring is bright yellow-orange with black borders on the wings and irregular black spots.
Look for Orange Sulfur butterflies in Iowa along sunny roadsides, meadows, and gardens.
Its preferred food and host plant is Alfalfa, which is how it got the nickname “Alfalfa butterfly”.
The easiest way to recognize an Orange Sulphur is by its flight pattern. They have an erratic, jerky flying style and usually stay low to the ground.
You’re likely to see this abundant and widespread species in urban and suburban environments during the spring and summer.
#33. Clouded Sulphur
- Colias philodice
- Clouded Sulphur butterflies have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.75 inches.
- This species has two color forms, one white with a light green cast, and one yellow. Both morphs have a red-ringed eyespot and pinkish borders on the wings.
Clouded Sulphurs are some of the most common butterflies in Iowa!
This is because they’re prolific breeders and are at home in almost any habitat.
Look for them along roadsides, parks, and home gardens. They are often found in the same area as their closely related cousins, the Orange Sulphur. However, the erratic, jerky flight style of Orange Sulphurs set them apart from most other butterfly species. To properly identify a Clouded Sulphur, look for a “wobbly” flying butterfly.
There are two distinct morphs of the Clouded Sulphur. The white morph is primarily white with a greenish tint, and the yellow morph is almost entirely yellow. Interestingly, ONLY females display the white color morph, and males are always yellow.
#34. Cloudless Sulphur
- Phoebis sennae
- Cloudless Sulphurs have a wingspan of 2.2 to 2.8 inches.
- Their coloring is unmarked, bright lemon-yellow.
Cloudless Sulphurs are one of the most recognized butterflies in southern Iowa!
This is because they’re so widespread and abundant in their habitat, and also because they aren’t shy around humans!
Cloudless Sulphurs are almost always pure yellow, with only a few markings on their wings. Sometimes a small white eyespot ringed in dark red can be spotted on their upper wings.
Unfortunately, this species has been impacted by habitat loss due to overdevelopment. While it isn’t considered a threatened species, the Cloudless Sulphur isn’t as prolific as it used to be. One way you can help is to plant flowers that are native to your area, which will naturally attract these cheerful butterflies!
#35. Little Sulphur
- Little Sulphur butterflies have a wingspan of 1 to 1.5 inches.
- The coloring is bright yellow with a black border or wing tip in males. Females have pale yellow wings with dark speckles and blotches.
- Caterpillars are deep green with a thin cream stripe on each side.
Look for Little Sulphurs in disturbed open areas like roadsides, vacant lots, and hiking trails. They’re also known as Little Yellows for their small size and bright yellow wings.
To attract them, try planting a local variety of aster whose nectar this species loves! Their caterpillars use the partridge pea as a host plant, so it’s a welcome addition to any butterfly garden.
Like many butterflies in Iowa, Little Sulphurs can be found year-round in warm climates. Further north, look for this butterfly from late June to early October.
Do you need more help identifying butterflies in Iowa?
Try this field guide!
Which of these butterflies have you seen in Iowa?
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