Closely associated with the native prairies, wetlands, and oak communities of the bi-state region are an easily recognized group of species called Lepidoptera or, as most of us know them, butterflies and moths. Biologists studying the quality of remaining natural lands in our part of the Midwest often turn to this group for clues as to how healthy those ecosystems may be. Butterflies have relatively quick life cycles with a new generation produced each year (in the case of some species, two generations). This swift reproductive cycle makes butterflies particularly susceptible over time to changes in their habitat. Because the caterpillars or larva of most butterfly species will only feed on particular types of plant species, they also respond quickly to loss of plant diversity within their habitats. Declines in overall butterfly numbers or losses of those species which are dependent on remaining native plant communities like prairies are both warning signs that other species groups, like mammals or birds, may be next in line for declining numbers.
The bi-state region is home to some of the most diverse butterfly assemblages in the upper Midwest, including those shown below. For more information visit: butterfliesandmoths.org