Discover the Official Colorado State Insect

Written by Kirstin Harrington
Updated: September 7, 2023
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Every state has a dedicated insect, often a butterfly, to represent something about that state. Surprisingly, it’s often a local elementary school that does the picking! Today we’re going to be looking in the Mile High state of Colorado.

Known for stunning scenery, plenty of wildlife, and refreshing mountain air, the official Colorado state insect is the Colorado Hairstreak Butterfly. We expect nothing less from such a beautiful place. Let’s talk about identifying the Colorado Hairstreak Butterfly, its habitat, and more! 

Since 1996, the official state insect of Colorado has been the Colorado Hairstreak Butterfly.

Choosing a State Insect

The tale of the Colorado Hairstreak, the state insect of Colorado, all starts with an Aurora grade school teacher. When Melinda Terry took her fourth graders from Wheeling Elementary to the state assembly, she asked that the state adopt this beautiful beetle as its official emblem. 

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They worked together in Colorado fourth-grade schools, and ultimately the butterfly overcame opposition to become the state insect despite suggestions that the honeybee would be a superior option. After the Colorado Senate Bill 96-122 was approved, Colorado became the 37th state to have an official insect! 

Red Banded Hairstreak

The official Colorado state insect is the hairstreak butterfly, which has a wingspan of 3.3 inches and goes through a four-stage series of transformations in its life cycle.

©iStock.com/johnandersonphoto

Identifying the Colorado Hairstreak Butterfly

The upper side of the wings has a broad black border and a purple tint mixed with blue to violet color when they are spread out. Around the lowest outside corner of both wings are orange dots. The lower side has a light to dark gray hue with dark and white patterns when the wings are folded. 

Additionally, each forewing has an orange area by the border and an orange spot with a black mark in the center close to the tail. The average wingspan for these beautiful creatures is about 3.3 inches. 

Metamorphosis

Insects undergo a four-stage series of forms throughout their life cycle, which is referred to as “complete metamorphosis.” For butterflies, this refers to the stages of egg, larva, cocoon, and adult. While dragonflies, bees, moths, beetles, and other creatures also undergo complete metamorphosis, using the butterfly as an illustration is useful. They all go through the same growth stages, much like butterflies. 

This Colorado state insect is a classic example of an insect that completely transforms. The food plant’s leaves are consumed by the caterpillar once it hatches from the egg that was deposited there. It molts, commonly referred to as shedding, its skin as it grows. Instars are the intervals between molts, and the caterpillar molts one more after the final larval stage.

The Gambel Oak (Quercus gambelii, family Fagaceae), the host plant of the Colorado hairstreak, is typically present in those regions. In late summer or early fall, the adults lay a single egg on oak leaves or bark; the egg then overwinters. 

At the beginning of spring, the eggs hatch into caterpillars, which consume the leaves of Gambel Oakak as they grow. It is rare for such a popular butterfly to have no descriptions of the larval stages. Adults are present from June through August. However, there is only one cycle annually.

Protective Tail

The hair-like tails that protrude from the rear wings are most likely where hairstreak butterflies earn their popular name. Entomologists, or people who study insects, think that these tails are designed to resemble antennae, which are naturally a component of the insect’s head.

The critter will just lose a small portion of its wing and continue to be able to fly, attract mates, and breed even if a ravenous bird or reptile bites at the phony “head” with its mimicking antennae. In addition, seeing a hairstreak butterfly in the wild lends more support to this notion. 

When a butterfly lands, it frequently does so with its back facing down or upside down while rubbing its hind wings together to flutter the tails and bring awareness to it. Ultimately, it puts on a strong performance. Therefore, this butterfly gives the impression that you are viewing the hairstreak’s head rather than its tail.

The jumping spider is one predator with keen eyes that might be duped by this strategy. Instead of weaving a web, this nimble, deadly hunter prowls among flowers and vegetation in search of its victim, which is typically another spider that is much bigger than it. 

It frequently grabs prey by the head and attacks, hoping to swiftly render its food inoperable by going after the vital cranium. However, the tails of the hairstreak butterfly might save it from being snatched up by an eager jumping spider.

Colorado Hairstreak Butterfly Diet

Like almost all mature butterflies, Colorado hairstreaks consume flower nectar as well as sap and other liquids to supplement their diet. All adult insects, including butterflies, are primarily interested in finding a mate and having offspring. 

The Colorado state insect inhabits colonies, therefore, making it simpler to find a partner. The female butterfly lays her eggs on Gambel Oak leaves after the adult butterflies have mated. The caterpillar, which resembles a slug, consumes oak leaves.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Marek Mierzejewski/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Kirstin is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering animals, news topics, fun places, and helpful tips. Kirstin has been writing on a variety of topics for over five years. She has her real estate license, along with an associates degree in another field. A resident of Minnesota, Kirstin treats her two cats (Spook and Finlay) like the children they are. She never misses an opportunity to explore a thrift store with a coffee in hand, especially if it’s a cold autumn day!

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