35 Types of Butterflies in Iowa

Types of Butterflies in Iowa
Photo by Michal Mrozek

Butterflies in Iowa come in all colors, sizes, and patterns! Butterflies can be seen fluttering through fields of flowers and pollinating plants as they travel in search of food, mates, or places to lay eggs.

In this guide to types of butterflies in Iowa, we’ll talk about their colors and patterns, where you can find them, and the best times of year to see these winged creatures in their natural habitat.

1. Red Admiral

The Red Admiral is the most common among the types of butterflies in Iowa. These types of butterflies in Iowa can be found in open fields and other areas with lots of flowers. They are small (1.5-3.8 cm) and fly back and forth over flowers while sipping nectar. 

The caterpillars feed on the leaves of plants that grow in moist soils, such as violets, clover, asters, dandelions, brambles, elms, hickories, maples, and many others.

2. Painted Lady

The Painted Lady is one of Iowa’s most common butterflies. It was introduced here from Europe in the 1950s.

Painted Lady is a bright orange and black butterfly with white spots on its wings. It has a long, thin body with a wing span of 2-inches or more extraordinary. 

These types of butterflies in Iowa can fly in gardens, fields, and meadows throughout Iowa. 

To attract these butterflies to your yard or garden, plant flowers native to their natural habitats, such as Queen Anne’s Lace, Black Eyed Susans, or Joe Pye weed.

3. Monarch

The Monarch butterfly is easy to recognize because it is orange with black veins on the wings. It lives in temperate climates from Canada through Central America. The female Monarch lays her eggs on a host plant such as milkweed. 

The larvae that hatch from the eggs eat the leaves of the host plant for about three weeks before pupating into a chrysalis for two or three days.

Inside the chrysalis, the adult butterfly develops until it breaks free of its chrysalis and starts flying off in search of nectar plants.

4. American Lady

The American Lady is one of Iowa’s most common butterflies. These types of butterflies in Iowa are medium-sized butterflies with four large spots in black with white borders on each wing. The underside of the wings is orange and black. 

The American Lady can be found in forested areas, meadows, farmlands, gardens, parks, marshes, and wetlands during summer.

5. Viceroy

The Viceroy butterfly is a small, black-and-orange winged butterfly most commonly found in the Midwest. The black wings have orange veins running down them. These types of butterflies in Iowa can be seen from April through November. 

The Viceroy is one of Iowa’s more giant butterflies with an average wingspan of 1.5 inches (38 mm). Like other butterflies in the family Nymphalidae, it is known for its strong flight abilities and fast speed.

6. Hackberry Emperor

The hackberry emperor (Asterocampa celtis) is a large butterfly with a wingspan of up to 4 inches. These types of butterflies in Iowa are dark brown on top with an underside that varies from light yellow to deep orange. 

These butterflies feed primarily on the hackberries in Iowa in the summer months. In the fall, they fly south, where they can be seen as far south as Texas and Florida.

7. Red-Spotted Purple

The Red-spotted Purple is one of Iowa’s most common species. The larvae feed on various plants, including several considered invasive.

However, the Red-spotted Purple is such an effective pest control for invasive plants like garlic mustard. It was introduced into New England from Europe to control this noxious weed. 

Adults typically emerge from pupae in May or June and spend much of the day nectaring at flowers before laying eggs on host plants during the evening hours. Larvae hatch 7-14 days later and continue feeding until they pupate in late July or August.

8. White Admiral

The White Admiral is the Iowa state butterfly. The wingspan ranges from 3-3.5 inches, and these types of butterflies in Iowa feed on the nectar of flowers, including milkweed, wildflowers, clover, dogwood trees, goldenrod, red clover, and goldenrod.

They are most active in the early morning hours during warmer months. They can be found throughout Iowa but are more concentrated in wet lowlands such as marshes or prairies.

They fly higher than other butterflies,s with their flight elevation ranging from 6-20 feet. These beauties can also be found in wooded areas around streams where host plants like alder, birch, and willow grow. 

Scarlet Skipper: One of Iowa’s earliest butterflies to emerge, Scarlet Skippers only live one month before they die, so enjoy them while you see them! Their large size makes them easy to spot, with their wingspan reaching 2 inches wide.

9. Mourning Cloak

The Mourning Cloak is a North American butterfly that is found throughout Iowa. These types of butterflies in Iowa have a wingspan of about 3 inches. The male has a long tail on the hind wing that curves up at the end. 

Females are brown and have no tail on the hind wing. Eggs are laid singly or in clusters on the leaves and flowers of plants in the family Asteraceae. 

When the larva emerges from the egg, it eats for two weeks before pupating for two more weeks. Adults may live for two months.

10. Pearl Crescent

The Pearl Crescent is Iowa’s state butterfly; It was chosen because of its rarity in Iowa. The Pearl Crescent only lives in a small area of the state, so if you want to see one, you better get out there!

These types of butterflies in Iowa have a long life span, with females living up to two months and males living up to three weeks.

Few people know that the Pearl Crescent lays eggs on the underside of leaves near water sources. Once they hatch, caterpillars eat their way into the leaf before spinning a cocoon for protection from predators.

11. Question Mark

The question mark is a common butterfly in Iowa. These types of butterflies in Iowa can be found in many different habitats throughout the state.

However, most of their populations occur in prairies, farmland, and open woodlands, where they feed on nectar plants such as goldenrod, black-eyed Susans, etc. 

Like other butterflies, they have a complete metamorphosis which includes four stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult. The female lays the eggs on the leaves of host plants, where they hatch into tiny caterpillars.

These are called larvae or caterpillars because they feed on plants during this stage of development; this feeding process can take from two weeks to six months, depending on the butterfly species.

12. Eastern Comma

The Eastern Comma butterfly is found in most North America east of the Rocky Mountains. These types of butterflies in Iowa are mainly brown with black spots on their wings.

This little guy can be seen in Iowa from April through June. The adults feed on nectar from flowers and fruit trees. 

Females lay eggs during July or August, turning into larvae. These larvae hibernate during winter months before emerging as adults the following spring.

13. Common Buckeye

The common buckeye is a trendy butterfly for beginners. These types of butterflies in Iowa are more significant than many butterflies at 4 inches across the wings. The male has distinctive black forewings with white spots and red spots on the hindwings. 

Females are duller in color but also have red spots on their hindwings. Males fly around during the day, while females are more active at dusk.

They prefer large open fields where they can find plenty of nectar sources, such as goldenrod and milkweed plants.

14. Variegated Fritillary

The variegated fritillary is a species of butterfly native to North America. These types of butterflies in Iowa can be found in fields, meadows, and prairies throughout the Midwest.

They are one of the most common types of butterflies in Iowa. The variegated fritillary has a wingspan between 2.4 inches (6 centimeters) and 3.1 inches (8 centimeters).

These butterflies have orange-brown colored wings with a yellow or greenish stripe on their back wing tips that are shaped like an upside-down letter Y.

15. Great Spangled Fritillary

The Great Spangled Fritillary was first discovered in Iowa in 1899. It’s one of the giant butterflies found in Iowa, with a wingspan of 3-4 inches.

These types of butterflies in Iowa are mostly orange with black spots on their wings. Females have an orange underside, while males have a dark brown underside.

Males also have silver spots near the edge of their wings, unlike females’ gold spots. Females lay eggs on milkweed plants that hatch into caterpillars, turning into pupae and adult butterflies.

The Great Spangled Fritillary is active from late summer through early fall but can be seen as early as July or as late as November.

16. Aphrodite Fritillary

The Aphrodite Fritillary is a beautiful butterfly that is found in Iowa. These types of butterflies in Iowa have yellow bodies with dark spots.

The underside of the wings is orange with black stripes. The wingspan of this butterfly is approximately 3 inches long. 

The Aphrodite Fritillary can be found in moist meadows, damp pastures, grassy slopes, or roadsides, where they drink from puddles or moist soil.

Their larval host plants include violets, thistles, clovers, lettuce plant roots, dandelions, and wild carrot leaves. Adults feed on nectar from flowers like violet blossoms or goldenrod during the day or evening.

17. Meadow Fritillary

Meadow Fritillaries are the giant butterfly in Iowa. These types of butterflies in Iowa have a wingspan of around five inches.

Their forewings are primarily dark brown with lighter brown or orange markings, while their hindwings are orange with dark spots. 

You’ll find them in prairies with tall grasses or hay fields where they feed on wildflowers like Queen Anne’s Lace and Purple Loosestrife. Meadow Fritillaries overwinter as adults, so you can often see them from September through May.

18. Silver-Bordered Fritillary

Silver-bordered Fritillaries are one of Iowa’s butterflies that can be found in low numbers across the state. They are medium-sized butterflies with an orange underside and silver markings on the top. The female is larger than the male, with a wingspan of about 2 inches. 

These types of butterflies in Iowa can be found in prairies and meadows where the host plants grow, thistle, dandelion, sowthistle, goldenrod, and others. Females lay their eggs on these plants, or they may be found near the stands of these plants.

In addition, silver-Bordered Fritillaries have been seen feeding at flowers such as Queen Anne’s lace (wild carrot) and lanceleaf coreopsis.

19. Common Wood-Nymph

The Common Wood-Nymph is one of the most common butterfly species in Iowa. It can be found in most wooded areas and parks with trees.

These types of butterflies in Iowa are light brown with dark brown or black stripes on the underside of their wings. 

Adults can be seen flying around flowers from early spring until late fall. Caterpillars feed on leaves from various plants, including sweet clover and Greenbriar vines.

After molting them twice, they emerge as adults. Males patrol for females who lay eggs by dipping their abdomens over clusters of small branches (called ‘foliage’)

20. Little Wood Satyr

The Little Wood Satyr is a small butterfly found in Iowa. These types of butterflies in Iowa are usually spotted near the edge of the woods or near the forest. Males have a wing span of 3⁄4 inch, while females have a wing span of up to 1 inch.

The Little Wood Satyr has a variety of colors on its wings, including red, brown, orange, yellow, and black, with white spots on them. 

They feed primarily on nectar but enjoy eating tree sap oozing out of trees. Females lay eggs on rotting wood so their larvae can feed on it. They are typically active during the late morning and early afternoon hours, resting during the day’s heat.

21. American Snout

The American Snout butterfly has a wingspan of about 3.5-4 inches and is primarily dark in color. It is also known as the Eastern American Snout butterfly because it’s found in the eastern United States.

These types of butterflies in Iowa are active from April through October but can be seen year-round during mild winters. 

These types of butterflies in Iowa prefer moist areas such as marshes, meadows, pastures, wetland edges, streamsides, and wooded areas with brushy undergrowth.

These butterflies will visit flowers for nectar and lay their eggs on plant leaves. Their larvae or caterpillars feed on plants that include grasses, sedges, rushes, buttercups, strawberries, and nettles.

22. Azure

Azure butterflies are a type of brush-footed butterfly. These types of butterflies in Iowa can be found in various habitats, but they prefer dry areas. Azure butterflies are easy to identify because their wings are blue with patches resembling eyespots. 

The underside of its wings is yellow or orange. In Iowa, this type of butterfly can be found all over the state, especially in the western part. The spotless azure is similar to the previous one, except for the color difference. 

Instead of blue on top, it has white scales with light purple ones mixed in. The underside is typically light brown or dark brown. It is not as widespread as the azure butterfly, only being seen primarily in northwestern parts of Iowa.

23. Eastern Tailed-Blue

The Eastern Tailed-Blue is a small butterfly with iridescent blue wings that feed on flowers. The butterflies in Iowa fly from late spring until late summer and can be found in fields.

Male Eastern Tailed-Blues often have a tailed shape on the upper surface of their wings, which is where their name came from. 

The females usually do not have tails. The males also tend to be smaller than the females.

These types of butterflies in Iowa are often confused with the Western Tails but are much more common in Iowa than their western counterparts.

24. Gray Hairstreak

The Gray Hairstreak is a butterfly that has been endangered for many years. These types of butterflies in Iowa are found in the Eastern United States.

The Gray Hairstreak is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species due to its population shrinking by about 75%.

The Gray Hairstreak lives in deciduous woodlands during the spring and summer seasons. In late summer, they migrate southward and inhabit places such as the Appalachian Mountains.

They can be seen from April to September but are sometimes easily spotted because they are pretty hidden.

25. Coral Hairstreak

The Coral Hairstreak is a beautiful butterfly with an orange body, black markings on its wings, and a distinctive wing shape.

It is found in the southern United States from Texas to Georgia. It can be seen hovering around flowers in the spring or early summer for nectar. The caterpillar eats plants like milkweed, grape vines, and Virginia creeper. 

Like other hairstreaks, these types of butterflies in Iowa are most active at dawn and dusk. An adult female will lay her eggs on a host plant leaf. She will then die after laying eggs before those eggs hatch into caterpillars.

Instead, a larva emerges about two weeks later as it feeds voraciously until it hibernates during the winter months before pupating and becoming an adult moth in June or July.

26. Banded Hairstreak

The Banded Hairstreak is a common butterfly in Iowa. It has a wingspan of about an inch and can be seen from April through November.

These types of butterflies in Iowa are easily identifiable by the orange spots on their wings that resemble hairbands. 

The Banded Hairstreak can be found in meadows, prairies, roadsides, and gardens. They eat dandelions, milkweed plants, and pokeweed. If you see one take a picture because they don’t always hang around for long!

27. American Copper

American Copper butterflies are the Iowa state insect. The American Copper is a medium-sized butterfly with copper-colored wings with white spots.

The types of butterflies in Iowa can be found throughout Iowa in woodlands and along stream banks. 

The female lays eggs on milkweed plants, where the larva feed on them before emerging from their cocoons as adults.

The male will drink nectar while the female will lay her eggs. Both genders of this butterfly have a three-stage life cycle that typically lasts about one month.

28. Black Swallowtail

The Black Swallowtail is the largest of Iowa’s butterflies. It is primarily black with orange or yellow on its hind wings.

It can be found in grassy fields and woodlands. The Black Swallowtail caterpillar eats plants like dandelion, thistle, ragweed, and plantain. 

The adult butterfly will fly from April to September. The Black Swallowtail was named for the dark blue color on its wings when it first emerged from the pupa stage after metamorphosis. The larvae are known to eat plants such as dandelions, thistles, and plantains. 

These types of butterflies in Iowa have a life span of about 10 weeks before becoming adults. These butterflies are commonly found in wooded areas but can also be seen in open fields.

29. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is one of Iowa’s most beautiful butterflies. It has a black body with white stripes on the top of its wings.

It can be found in the eastern part of Iowa. The caterpillars eat leaves from willows, ashes, elms, and apple trees. You can find them near streams or wet areas where they lay their eggs on the host plants.

One cool thing about this butterfly is that it can reproduce sexually by mating with other butterflies or a member of the same species, or without mating by producing offspring without ever laying eggs!

These types of butterflies in Iowa are also known for being able to change colors as they grow older.

30. Spicebush Swallowtail

The Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly is more commonly known as the black swallowtail. It is a stunning dark butterfly with white spots on its wings. The Spicebush Swallowtail can be found in Iowa during the summer months of June through September. 

It is often found in moist woodlands near rivers or streams. Their larvae feed on the leaves of spicebush plants.

These types of butterflies in Iowa will eat any species of plant they encounter. The life cycle for the Spicebush Swallowtail takes about two weeks from egg to adult moth.

31. Cabbage White

The Cabbage White is the most common butterfly found in Iowa. These butterflies can be seen from May through August. The Cabbage White caterpillar feeds on cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. 

These types of butterflies in Iowa are easy to spot because they are green with light yellow stripes down their backs. Adults feed on flower nectar but will also eat other insects or fruit when it is available. 

These species of butterflies are not poisonous but should not be handled. 

Families that include this species of butterfly include Pieridae (whites), Lycaenidae (gossamer-winged blues), and Nymphalidae (brush-footed).

32. Orange Sulphur

Orange Sulphur butterflies are abundant in Iowa during the summer months. Their wings are yellow with orange spots on the forewings.

These types of butterflies in Iowa can be found in fields of wildflowers such as goldenrod, aster, daisies, black-eyed Susans, or coneflowers. 

Orange Sulphur caterpillars feed on various plants, including ragweed and common milkweed. Adults like nectar from flowers such as blueberries or thistles. Females lay their eggs singly on leaf surfaces or crevices on tree bark. 

Larvae feed primarily at night and rest by day. Some grow up to three inches long before pupating for about one week before emerging as adults. The larval stage lasts for two years.

33. Clouded Sulphur

The Clouded Sulphur is a common butterfly in Iowa. It has a wingspan of about two inches. Cloudy Sulphurs can be identified by the white spots on their wings that are outlined in black. The underside of their wings is yellowish with heavy brown spotting. 

The Clouded Sulphur prefers damp areas such as bogs or meadows where they can find blooming plants on which to feed, such as milkweed, goldenrod, and thistles.

These types of butterflies in Iowa lay eggs on the leaves of these plants,s which turn into caterpillars that feed on them before turning into pupae and then butterflies when they emerge. 

Suppose you want to attract Clouded Sulphurs and plant flowers like Goldenrod and Butterfly Weed. You will also see many species of other butterflies here as well!

34. Cloudless Sulphur

The Cloudless Sulphur is a common butterfly in Iowa. These types of butterflies in Iowa can be found in fields of flowers like Queen Anne’s Lace, the caterpillar’s host plant. The Cloudless Sulphur can also be found feeding on wild grasses at the edges of streams. 

Like many butterflies, the Cloudless Sulphur is well hidden and will sit still when disturbed by a potential predator. They are yellowish-orange with black dots around their eyespots (called ocelli). 

Females lay eggs singly or in small groups on the leaves of host plants, where they feed as caterpillars for about two weeks before pupating on nearby vegetation. The Cloudless Sulphur has one generation annually from late May to early July.

35. Little Sulphur

Little Sulphur (named for its predominantly yellow color) is relatively small. These types of butterflies in Iowa have a wingspan of about one inch. The underside of the wings is often light brown with dark brown stripes. 

Their abdomen is black, with a single row of yellow spots on each side. These butterflies fly from March through September in Iowa. Little Sulphurs prefer dry sites near woods or open fields with scattered trees. 

These types of butterflies in Iowa feed on rotting fruit and tree sap, as well as nectar from flowers such as Queen Anne’s Lace and Joe-Pye Weed.

Female Little Sulphur may lay up to three hundred eggs that hatch within 10 days. It has been observed that females will lay eggs more frequently if fewer males are available for mating.

Conclusion

While some butterflies can be found throughout Iowa, it is always worth the drive if you want to see an even more diverse group.

Some of the most iconic butterflies for Iowa include the monarch butterfly. It is a beautiful orange-yellow color with black veins on its wings. 

The viceroy butterfly is also famous for those looking for a smaller variety of butterflies in Iowa. It has the same orange-yellow color but features white veins on its wings rather than black.

The question may arise as to where you can find these types of butterflies in Iowa; luckily, they are both widespread across the state, so it is not too difficult to find them as long as you know where to look!

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