A Day Spent Chasing Butterflies

I went to Rolling Thunder and Medora Prairies in south-central Iowa yesterday.  I will be inviting people along with me on a butterfly walk in a couple of weeks (July 2), and I thought I would check things out before I went.


The star of the show and the butterfly I would like to be able to show people is the large prairie obligate regal fritillary.  I saw them at both sites yesterday but they were flying and difficult to get close to.

Quite a few butterflies could be found and the weather was pleasant.  I started at Rolling Thunder, which is a nice prairie but not as nice as Medora.

Rolling Thunder has a nice stand of common milkweeds at the top of the hill near the parking area.  Common milkweeds are attractive to many butterflies as nectar plants, and are the caterpillar host of monarchs.

I saw monarchs, regals, great spangled fritillaries, pearl crescent, orange sulfurs, least skippers, and a single coral hairstreak.

Then I went to Medora Prairie.  Medora normally has a nice group of butterfly milkweed plants which are a magnet for all kinds of pollinators.   I could not find them, although butterfly milkweed was blooming in ditches close by.  I hope that is just because it is early, but I have heard of people poaching this plant to sell for suburban gardens.  We will see in a couple of weeks.

The prairie is a great place to find butterflies, but the dirt road on the east side of the prairie might be better.   As I walked along the path I spooked a wild turkey, which ran off then flew away.

Dogbane is a milkweed relative that is very attractive to butterflies, and there were large patches of it along the road.


This is an American lady.


The common wood-nymph is plentiful in the prairie, but has a tendency to fly up then hide deep in the grasses where they cannot be photographed.


I take an empty five gallon bucket with me, and I sat on it for a while and watched the dogbane for butterflies.  Then I looked up into the tree above me and saw this lovely widow skimmer.


The biggest surprise of the day was this sleepy orange.  This butterfly is not rare nationally but is seldom seen in Iowa.  It was travelling along the road, and feeding on birdsfoot trefoil (an invasive alien).

Butterflies I saw at Medora include giant swallowtail, hackberry emperor, Delaware skipper, least skipper, orange sulfur, eastern tailed-blue, little yellow, great spangled fritillary, meadow fritillary, red spotted purple, regal fritillary, and a few others.

About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
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2 Responses to A Day Spent Chasing Butterflies

  1. Jeff Zablow says:

    Regals! You have regal frits! Wow! That wood nymph is so different from our pennsylvania ones, w/o the yellow field surrounding the forewing eyespots. Seeking butterflies in Iowa? Who would know what to expect next?

  2. The common wood nymphs we find in prairies are very dark, and often appear black. They do not have lighter colors around the eyespots. The wood nymphs found near the woodland areas often have the lighter color around the eyespots, but not as frequently as they do not. The general color of these common wood nymphs is lighter, more gray than those in prairies.
    Yes, we do have regals in several prairies around the state. What a beautiful butterfly!

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