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People and Biological Diversity

Butterflies are charming little bits of magic in our lives.  How can you interact with a butterfly without enjoying yourself?  "Butterflying" is an increasingly popular sport, in the same manner as birding.  But you don't have to know anything about butterflies to enjoy them.

Butterflies are fairly well studied in Iowa, mostly by a small number of very dedicated researchers. There have been lists of Iowa butterflies floating around for quite some time, and a book on Iowa's butterflies has recently been published:

Schlicht, Dennis, John C. Downey, and Jeffrey C. Nekola. 2007. The Butterflies of Iowa. The University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA.

This is a great book, and it was a long time in the making. It lists all of Iowa's butterflies (118 species plus a few occasional strays) with range maps and diagrams that show the time of year that they can be expected. There are detailed descriptions of the habitats and habits of the individual species in Iowa, plus some questions that point out some of the unknowns about those butterflies.

There are some concerns, however. A whole group of butterflies seems to be in trouble. That group can be called the prairie obligates, because they need good prairie to survive.

A number of the prairie obligates have disappeared or almost disappeared from Iowa. These include the Dakota skipper (extirpated), Poweshiek skipper (almost extirpated) prairie ringlet (probably extirpated), and several others.

What is causing the loss? Management of prairie preserves by fire has been implicated by some of the butterfly researchers, and widespread use of pesticides in Iowa has to be considered. There could be other reasons as well, such as invasive predator species.

I have written a short guide to help school children who might be exploring a prairie for the first time to identify the butterflies they might find. It is intended for about a fourth or fifth grade audience and for the early September to mid October time frame. This is a large file--about 5 megabytes. You can find it here: Prairie butterflies.pdf

Here is a checklist of Iowa's butterflies, especially designed for beginners: Here is the checklist.