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Donald Lewis, Extension Entomology, (515) 294-1101,
Elaine Edwards, Extension Communication Systems, (515) 294-5168,

Yard and Garden Column for the Week Beginning Nov. 5

Insects on Stamps

By Donald Lewis
Extension entomologist
Iowa State University Extension

Insects are everywhere. And now they are even on our stamps. In October, the U.S. Postal Service released 20 commemorative stamps titled "Insects and Spiders" that includes four spiders and 16 insects in intricate, lifelike detail. These spectacular stamps will make it easy to combine two of the all-time favorite hobbies -- stamp collecting and insect collecting. Collect both at the same time!

Insects have been on stamps for a very long time and in great abundance. Just not in the United States. While the rest of the world was producing colorful and collectable stamps of butterflies, bugs and beetles, the U.S. government was printing stamps of former presidents and other important people, national shrines, special events and flags. Recent commemorative stamps in the United States have diversified into the natural world and have included flowers, dinosaurs, deserts, Arctic animals, berries and now, insects.


There are lots of choices for insect stamp collectors. On a worldwide basis, more than 4,500 insect stamps have been issued, depicting more than 1,817 different kinds of insects. The earliest postage stamp to feature an insect was issued in Nicaragua in 1891 and depicted a honey bee hive. Numerous insect stamps from all around the globe followed but not until after World War II did the number of insect stamps begin to increase dramatically.

Early stamps honored beneficial or beautiful insects such as honey bees, silkworms and dragonflies. Later stamps included pest species such as mosquitoes, aphids, hornets and termites. Insect stamps have included everything from the attractive to the destructive and from the interesting to the odd and ugly. Although at least 14 different major groups of insects (called orders) are represented, the butterflies and moths are the champions. They appear on nearly two-thirds of all insect stamps.

The first U.S. insect stamps were a panel of four butterflies issued on June 6, 1977 (13 cents). None of the attractive species are from Iowa. The Oregon Swallowtail is the state insect of Oregon, the Baltimore Checkerspot is from the eastern United States, the Falcate Orangetip occurs from New England to south Texas and the California Dogface is only found in California.

Ten years later in 1987 four more insect stamps (22 cents) were released. This time the stamps featured familiar friends: the monarch butterfly, the luna moth, the tiger swallowtail butterfly and a lady beetle. The Schaus' swallowtail butterfly pictured on a 32-cent stamp in 1996 is an endangered species limited in the United States to hardwood hammocks of the Florida Keys.

The honey bee has been pictured twice on U.S. stamps: a 25-cent stamp coil (1988) and a 32-cent stamp titled "Giving and Sharing -- An American Tradition" (1998).

The 1997 World of Dinosaurs commemorative stamps (32 cents) were on a page that contained two dioramas depicting the Jurassic Period. Included in the scenes are a prehistoric dragonfly, a mayfly and an undetermined bug alongside menacing lizards.

"Insects and Spiders"

The new first class insect and spider stamps are first class artwork. The creatures look like they could crawl or hop off the page because of the realistic depth, texture and detail. Computer-rendered highlights and shadows give a 3-D feel to the beautifully drawn subjects. On the back of each stamp is a brief account of the insect or spider depicted on the front.

The species depicted represent a wide portion of the country. There are 20 stamps but only 19 species (the monarch is pictured as both an adult and a caterpillar). At least 11 could be found within Iowa. Others have very similar relatives that live here.

The monarch butterfly is by far the most familiar insect pictured. Others that Iowans should recognize are the periodical cicada, the black-and-yellow garden spider and the jumping spider. Most people have probably heard if not seen the katydid.

Others that exist in Iowa are colorful and widespread but not well known. For example, the eye-spotted lady beetle occurs in the state but is one of our least common ladybugs. The bombardier beetle, the dogbane beetle, the elderberry longhorn, the dung beetle and the scorpionfly are present but you would have to search to find them.

There are four species that might occur in far southern Iowa but are not know to live here. These include the black widow spider, the assassin bug, the velvet ant and the spinybacked spider. The remaining four insects are not from around here though some, such as the black-winged damselfly and the flower fly have very similar-looking relatives present in the state. The Hercules beetle occurs only in the eastern United States and the spotted water beetle is from California and Arizona.

The insects and spiders stamps are a delight both artistically and entomologically. Do admire insects on stamps. Do not stamp on insects.


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