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What Is the State Insect of Oregon? Symbolisms & History

Oregon swallowtail Butterfly

Oregon might be best known for its state symbol, the beaver, or the University of Oregon’s famous duck mascot, but they also have an important insect that serves as an official state symbol. The official state insect of Oregon is the Oregon swallowtail. It is fitting that this bug takes top marks because it is named for the state of Oregon.

The Oregon swallowtail butterfly has been the official state insect of Oregon since 1979, giving it a reign of over 40 years. But how was this illustrious insect chosen to be Oregon’s official state insect?

garden flower divider How It Was Decided

The Oregon swallowtail was selected as the official state insect for the state in 1979. The decision was made by the state legislature. The bill that selected the Oregon swallowtail as the official state insect was SCR 6 (1979). The decision was a relatively easy one because the Oregon swallowtail is inherently Oregonian in its nature.

Oregon Swallowtail Butterfly
Image By: Steve Byland, Shutterstock

A Symbol of Oregon

The Oregon swallowtail butterfly is thriving in its native habitat. The butterfly feasts on the nectar of wildflowers that grow throughout the state. The lands east of the Cascade Mountains feature many dry canyons that are filled with sagebrush that these butterflies absolutely love. The Oregon swallowtail is so prevalent and numerous in Oregon that the butterfly is named for the state. All of the scientific names also feature Oregon, so it is featured in both the official designation and the colloquial name.

The scientific names for the Oregon swallowtail butterfly are Papilio machaon oregonius, Papilio oregonius or Papilio bairdii oregonius. Note that oregonius is featured in each of these names, which is the Latin designation for Oregon.

Some of the best places to spot these butterflies in the wild are around the Columbia, Deschutes, and Snake Rivers, where they frequent the wildflowers and foliage that propagate along the riverbanks.

Oregon swallowtail butterfly
Image By: Bob Pelletier, Shutterstock

Butterfly Description

The Oregon swallowtail is a subspecies of swallowtail, so its appearance is similar to that of other common swallowtail species, such as the Old World swallowtail. The butterfly features a black body with yellow markings. It has medium-sized wings that can grow as large as four inches. The wings are yellow with black markings. One of the ways to tell the Oregon swallowtail apart from other swallowtails is by how bright the wings are. The Oregon swallowtail has brighter wings than the common swallowtail.

The caterpillars of the Oregon swallowtail are also black and yellow. The caterpillars have black bodies and yellow markings along their length.

Oregon swallowtail Close up
Image By: Danita Delimont, Shutterstock

Previous Fame

The Oregon swallowtail was put on the radar of Americans when it was featured on an official stamp in 1977. Up until that point, no butterflies had been featured on any US stamps. The Oregon swallowtail was featured alongside three other iconic American butterflies. The presence of the Oregon swallowtail on a US stamp helped propel it into prominence. It was just two years later that the state designated it as the official state butterfly.

garden flower divider Conclusion

Oregon has a lot of state symbols, over two dozen, but few of them are as inherently tied to the state as the Oregon swallowtail. The state butterfly is named for Oregon, and it is a frequent sight in some of Oregon’s most breathtaking wild places. The Oregon state butterfly has been an official state symbol for over forty years and will likely have a reign that lasts many decades more.

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Featured Image Credit: moonietunes, Pixabay


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