There are about 120 butterfly species in Iowa and more than a quarter of them are considered endangered, threatened, or a species of concern. In fact, the Monarch butterfly’s population is at an all-time low.
Iowa State University Extension entomologist Donald Lewis says habitat loss is a big part of the problem. “We have been manipulating the environment ever since the Europeans settlers came out here, looked at the prairie and said, ‘boy, that would grow at lot of corn.’ And they started tearing up the habitat that the original residents, the original butterflies, were depending upon,” Lewis says.
Planting reconstructed prairie and preserving remnant prairie is one way to help preserve the state’s butterflies. Stephanie Shepherd, with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says one species doing remarkably well thanks to prairie restoration efforts is the deep orange, black and white spotted, regal fritillary. “The regal fritillary caterpillar only eats bird’s foot or blue prairie violet; so little tiny violets are very specific to remnant or native prairie. When you go to a remnant prairie these days, you are almost guaranteed to see regal fritillaries out there, where as in the past it wasn’t always a sure thing,” Shepherd says.
Lewis and Shepherd made their comments on the Iowa Public Radio program “Talk of Iowa.”