May gave us wet, cool weather following a late spring. We had a few warm days with a surprising number of butterflies, but most days had few on the wing. I expect that to change pretty soon as the season progresses and the days get longer. June is a great month for butterflies, and during the first week or so I will often see two or three first of the year butterflies each time I go out.
In addition to the great flights of new butterflies, June also brings blooms of flowers that are very good at attracting butterflies–milkweeds, dogbane, and purple coneflowers.
The silver-spotted skipper has several broods and can be found most of the summer. They can be pretty numerous in June. They are strong fliers and are easily recognized once you have seen them. They seem to me like little flying fireplugs, hopping around from flower to flower, often landing underneath the flower and extending the proboscis up to get the drink. Common checkered skipper, common sootywing, least skipper, tawny-edged skipper, and Peck’s skipper are all widespread and can be found most of the summer. Watch for any of them on milkweeds or dogbane, or along the edges of gravel roads and trails. Most butterflies engage in a behavior called “mudding” or “mud puddling”, in which they drink water from damp sand. It has been reported that ninety percent of the individuals mudding will be males, and that males do his to collect minerals that they pass along to the females during mating.
Skippers can be frustrating to identify at any time, but three that you might see in June can be especially difficult. Little glassywing, dun, and crossline skippers all can be seen now, sometimes together on the same plant. There are subtle differences, but you have to see the butterflies at the right angle in order to tell them apart.
The three most common swallowtails–black, giant, and eastern tiger, all have good numbers in June and can be seen all month long. Zebra and pipevine swallowtails are mostly only found in the south east or south west corners of the state.
Cabbage whites along with clouded and orange sulfurs will soon become the most common butterflies to be seen.
The two most common gossamer-winged butterflies will be the summer azure and the eastern tailed-blue. Both are quite small, but are likely to be present in large numbers. You should not need to look too hard to find these. Bronze copper, American copper, and gray copper are a little more difficult to find, but are quite beautiful when seen. The gray copper is fairly large and can be found in good numbers in the habitats where it is found–moist prairies. It does not seem to roam too much, so you won’t see it at all unless you are near those habitats. Although most are pretty rare, hairstreaks can often be found by checking the blooms of milkweeds. Butterfly milkweed and common milkweed are great for finding the hairstreaks. The flowers have nectar that is highly attractive to the hairstreaks, but which also encourages them to stay on the flowers for an extended period of time.
Brushfoot butterflies also make quite a showing in June. Watch for silvery checkerspot in wooded areas (although they can be anywhere). Pearl crescents are quite common in more open areas. Gorgone checkerspots can be found in areas with good prairie.
Any place that has willow trees should be good for viceroys. Red spotted purples can usually be found near woodland areas. Great spangled fritillaries can be found in a variety of habitats and are often a backyard butterfly.
Anytime from late June to early July is a good time to look for regal fritillaries. You need to look at a good prairie to find them, and you might only see them from a distance. They can cover a lot of territory in a short period of time. They can be found in a number of prairies in central Iowa, including Doolittle, Liska-Stanek, Neal Smith Wildlife refuge, Rolling Thunder, Medora, and a bunch of others. If you have never been to a prairie in Iowa it is worth your time, but wear long pants, sturdy shoes, and check yourself for ticks afterword. Also, take plenty of water.
There are several butterflies that are gray or brown and mostly inconspicuously colored, and which spend most of their time on the ground or at least under the vegetation. These include the northern pearly-eye, the common wood nymph, and the little wood satyr. They have a tendency to fly down into the weeds when startled, making them difficult to view or to photograph. Still, they can be quite charming. The little wood satyr sort of jumps or twitches when mildly startled, as if getting ready to fly.
Of course, American ladies, painted ladies, and red admirals can become quite common during the early summer. If you are fortunate enough to have a yard you will almost certainly have red admirals. During the long days of summer red admirals will be very active just before sunset, basking on tree trunks, sidewalks, and patios. They will sit at a particular spot for a while, then race off in hot pursuit of another red admiral that gets too close. They provide a great form of entertainment that is not curtailed due to social distancing concerns.
Get out when you can and enjoy the butterflies.