Idaho’s state insect is the monarch butterfly. Monarchs get around, so it may not surprise you that it is also the state insect of Vermont, Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, and Alabama.
Monarchs, or Danaus plexippus, if you want to get all Latin, rely on milkweed in their larval stage. As adult butterflies they feed on a variety of nectar-producing plants, accidentally spreading around pollen at the same time.
You probably know that monarchs migrate south for the winter. Western monarchs, those found in Idaho, typically over-winter in southern California, mostly around Pacific Grove. It’s not the same butterfly coming back in the spring that you waved farewell to in October. It takes three or four generations of butterflies to make a migration loop.
Many Idahoans can identify a monarch caterpillar (picture). Or can you? It surprised me to learn that there are a series of five stages of growth for a monarch in the larval form. The first caterpillar to hatch from those tiny butterfly eggs is translucent green, and less than a quarter of an inch long. It eats ferociously, then molts, revealing the beginnings of the white, black, and yellow markings we are familiar with. It eats again, and molts again, etc. until it reaches the fifth and final stage and its ultimate size, about 2 inches long.
Milkweed, which is unfortunately often considered a weed, is essential in the lifecycle of the monarch. So, if you can let them grow you’ll be helping Idaho’s official insect.