How to find Henry’s Elfin In Iowa

Spring is here, and with it are all the wonderful things like spring wildflowers, birds and frogs calling, and early butterflies. Many of Iowa’s butterflies are pretty common, and you will run across them even if you are not looking for them. There are some, however, that you have to go looking for if you want a chance to see them.

Such is the case with Henry’s elfin. With a little effort and a little luck you should be able to find them.

Chase them with a camera or binoculars. Please don’t use a net, especially when in a public area where other people are trying to enjoy nature as well.

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Henry’s elfin has one generation in Iowa, and they fly from about the middle of April through about the first week of May. If you miss that window, you will miss seeing the butterfly for a year.
  2. The caterpillar host plant of Henry’s elfin in Iowa is redbud. The adult butterflies can sometimes be found on redbud. Unfortunately, the butterfly seems to only be found in woodlands where redbud grows naturally. Redbud is widely planted as an ornamental but I have not seen the butterfly on any yard trees, even though I have looked for it.
  3. Henry’s elfin seems to only be found in the southern third of the state. The distribution map follows river valleys south of Interstate 80. Natural areas where it has been found include Waubonsie State Park, Slip Bluff County Park, Red Haw State Park, Cordova Park, and Elk Rock State Park.
  4. Best results will be on a sunny day without a heavy wind. Redbuds are very showy and you should be able to see them easily. Watch the trees closely and you may be able to see the small, dark colored butterflies flitting around.
  5. I have had pretty good luck finding them along walking trails–either on the ground or in the vegetation along the path, even in areas with no direct line of sight to redbuds. They are small and appear black. You might mistake them for a large fly or a skipper initially. You might not see them until they move.

Be patient and keep your eyes open.

If you are close to Red Rock Reservoir you might try either Cordova Park or Elk Rock Park. Elk Rock Park has an equestrian area that I would recommend.

This is the equestrian campground, off of 146th street. The red area is a parking area. Yellow areas, along the access road and the equestrian trails are general locations where I have seen this butterfly. There are usually horseback riders on the trails so give them a wide berth and don’t spook the horses. You will not see redbuds along the trails but they are present in several areas of the park.

Good luck and act fast.

You might also see spring azure, eastern comma, red admiral, and cabbage white in flight.

About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
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