(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 1, 2008. Your comments are welcome but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
For the record, the image you see here is a Chinese Praying Mantis (Tenodera sinensis) and is not the chosen insect for any of the states. But she was wandering through my garden and I took a picture, thus adopting her as the Leland Acres Official Insect. I've briefly described this critter at the end of the article.
Maryland claims this beauty. Range is east of the Mississippi, from as far north as Nova Scotia, across to the Great Lakes Region, and southward as far as northern Georgia and Mississippi. Sometimes found in Oklahoma, Texas, or Nebraska. The butterfly inhabits wet meadows and marshes in the eastern distribution, and dry wooded hillsides in southwestern areas.
California Dogface Butterfly (Colias eurydice)
This stunning butterfly is only found in California. Photos are rare, and those found in research are all heavily protected by copyright. To see one, click here. Named for a wing pattern that looks like a canine face, only the males are so marked. The female has a small black dot on each yellow forewing. Carolina Mantid (Stagmomantis carolina)
A native species of mantis that boasts stature in South Carolina, it is one of six species found in North America. A valuable predator in the garden, mantis egg cases (oothecae) can be purchased commercially. Mature length is about 2 1/2 inches and the coloring ranges from brown and gray to green, depending on the insect's camouflage needs.
Colorado Hairstreak Butterfly (Hypaurotis crysalus)
Adopted by Colorado, this is another butterfly for which public domain photographs were difficult to find. However, you can see this beauty here. The insect is native to the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, and depends only on the Gambel Oak (Quercus gambelii) for survival. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio glaucus)
Very familiar to most people, this variety of Swallowtail was adopted by Virginia. It is found all over the eastern United States, and as far west as eastern Colorado, but most of the year, it ranges through the southern areas. European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)
A most popular insect resides in many states: Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia (state insect), and Wisconsin. The most important contribution of this insect is pollination. Without bees, our agricultural product would be endangered. The bee has many predators amongst insects, mammals, birds, spiders, and reptiles or amphibians. More recently, the Honey Bee is threatened by Colony Collapse Disorder.
European Mantis (Mantis religiosa)
Connecticut claims this beneficial predator as the official state insect. It was inadvertently introduced in 1899 on a shipment of plants, and is now resident in many parts of the country. Grows 2 to 3 inches long and is bright green or tan. Firefly (Photuris)
Photuris pennsylvanica is the state insect for Pennsylvania, and the Common Firefly (Photuris pyralis) is that of Tennessee (the state with the greatest number of state insects: Firefly, European Honey Bee, and Ladybug. Often called "Lightning bugs", these insects are actually beetles. Over 2,000 species of firefly have been documented. The flashing light is a courting signal. Four-spotted Skimmer Dragonfly (Libellula quadrimaculata)
Alaska claims this prize. Also known as the Four-spotted Chaser, it is one of the most common species. Definitely voracious predators, these mini-helicopters feed mostly on mosquitoes, as well as gnats and midges. This insect lives near pools, slow-flowing rivers, and ponds, showing up in great numbers in June and July.
Green Darner Dragonfly (Anax junius)
Washington state recognizes the benefits of this variety of dragonfly found from Alaska to Panama, Hawaii to Nova Scotia, and seen in the West Indies and Tahiti. It is a large dragonfly, measuring from 2-5/8 to 3-1/8 inches in length and 3-1/2 to 4-1/8 inches wingspan. Living near fresh water, the Green Darner can only survive where there are no predatory fish.
Seven-spotted Ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata)
A true bug, this beneficial predator is honored in Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. This species--the Seven Spotted Lady Beetle--is thought to have been accidentally introduced into North America, but has since been continuously reintroduced for aphid control. Detail that distinguishes this insect from the Asian Lady Beetle is a white spot on either side of the head.
Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
This beauty in the summer garden has been adopted by Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas (state butterfly), and West Virginia (state butterfly). Renowned for its migratory habits, the Monarch is a large butterfly with a wingspan of 3-1/2 to 4 inches. Monarchs dine solely on Milkweed and are therefore poisonous or at least distasteful to birds and other predators.
Mosquito (Family: Culicidae with 41 genera)
Texas adopted this one as state insect--do you suppose they are huge there? Everyone recognizes the mosquito, but few know that only the female draws blood and only the female survives the winter. Mosquitoes have been around for over 30 million years and are serious vectors for disease, most notably malaria (carried by the Anopheles genus), West Nile virus (carried by various genera), and equine encephalitis (carried by various genera). Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
Stunning and strictly regional, this butterfly is Montana's state insect. Found in woodlands and dry areas of the western portion of North America, this large 2-1/2 to 3 inch butterfly ranges from the northern tundra to central Mexico.
Oregon Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio oregonius)
No surprise that Oregon claims this beautiful variety of Swallowtail butterfly with a wingspan of 2-1/2 to 3 inches. Its distribution is from the southern parts of British Columbia, into eastern Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, as well as western Montana. Habitat includes hilltops, mountain meadows, and tundra.
Pink Spotted Ladybug (Coleomegilla maculata)
New York is the only taker for this lovely member of the bug family. Dark pink with squarish black spots, these distinctively oblong bugs are voracious feeders on the eggs of other insects and have been found to be very effective against the Colorado Potato Beetle. They are attracted to Cilantro, Parsnips, Queen Anne's Lace, and other members of the carrot family. Tarantula Hawk Wasp (Pepsis formosa)
Nothing pretty about this critter, but New Mexico school children voted to make it the state insect in 1989. Up to 2 inches long, this insect is among the largest wasps. True to name, the wasp hunts for Tarantulas to use as food for the wasp larvae. The wasp is found worldwide and at least 250 species live in South America. Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)
One of the many varieties of Swallowtails, this one is the state choice for Arizona. Very similar to the Eastern and Western Tiger Swallowtail, it is distinguished by two tails on the hind wing and blue markings. This is a large butterfly (2-3/4 to 5-1/4 inches). Habitat is throughout Arizona, and in New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and California. Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus)
This clever Monarch look-alike is Kentucky's state butterfly and insect. Features distinguishing it from the Monarch are a black line across the hindwing and a single line of white spots in the black edges of the wings. It prefers moist open areas, thickets, wet meadows, and roadsides. Range is the Northwest Territories south to central Mexico, and through all of the eastern U.S. Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia)
This magnificent butterfly is named as Florida's official state insect. It ranges over North, South, and Central America, and parts of the West Indies. In the U.S., it is predominantly found in the southern states. These butterflies differ from most in that they roost in groups of about 70, and they not only sip nectar, but eat pollen.
If you were counting, yes--that was a list of 42 states. Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Wyoming do not have a state insect. Michigan has unofficially adopted the Green Darner Dragonfly.
As promised, a few notes on the Chinese Praying Mantis.
Intentionally introduced into North America in 1895 as beneficial predators, these hungry insects are welcome in any garden. The Chinese Mantis is the largest species in North America, attaining lengths of up to 5 inches. The coloring is dull brown or tan with a green lateral stripe along the edge of the wings. One unsettling aspect of this creature's appetite is its non-selectivity--it will eat anything that moves, including its mate or hatchlings.
The 5 inch female in the photo produced several egg cases (oothecae) in my garden and I have a veritable army of bug-biters every spring. And, apparently, they make wonderful house pets--if you like that sort of thing!