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19 Types of Butterflies: Facts and Photos

There are numerous types of butterflies, each with distinct features and behaviors. They live in various habitats and eat several kinds of food, providing valuable insights into their roles within the ecosystem. 

Many butterfly types use camouflage to blend in with their surroundings and feed on nectar. They also come in different sizes; for example, the Karner Blue butterfly is as small as a postage stamp. Most species can also see in the ultraviolet spectrum.

However, some butterfly species can be pests, such as the cabbage white butterfly, which feeds on broccoli, cauliflower, and other cabbage family members, hence the name.

Related Read: Butterfly Facts, Moth Facts.

19 Types of Butterflies You Should Know

Butterflies are part of the order Lepidoptera and are divided into six main families. Each family has its unique characteristics, contributing to the overall diversity of the butterfly population.

  • The Papilionidae, also known as Swallowtail butterflies, are large and often have tail-like extensions on their wings. This group comprises around 600 species.
  • The Pieridae family, known as Whites and Sulphurs, are generally yellow, white, or orange mid-sized butterflies.
  • The Lycaenidae family, which includes Blues, Coppers, and Hairstreaks, is the largest butterfly family, with about 6,000 species globally.
  • The Riodinidae, or Metalmarks, are named for the metallic spots on their wings.
  • The Nymphalidae, also called Brush-footed butterflies, are the most numerous family.
  • The Hesperiidae, known as Skippers, have a distinctive fast, skipping flight.

Let’s explore 19 out of the 20,000 butterfly species without further adieu.

1. Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch Butterfly
Photo by kcthetc1 on iNaturalist (Public Domain)

Monarch butterflies have bright orange coloring on their wings with black veins and white dots, gaining worldwide recognition. 

These brush-footed butterflies also have a longer lifespan than other butterflies, up to nine months compared to a few weeks. 

Moreover, this common butterfly enjoys a symbiotic relationship with the milkweed plant. They lay eggs on the underside of their leaves, which their caterpillars eat, allowing them to store toxic compounds in their body. The compounds make them unappetizing to predators.

Millions of monarch butterflies travel 3,000 miles from Canada and the United States to Mexico and certain parts of South America. This butterfly migration is one of the world’s longest insect migrations. In addition, research has shown that they have an innate magnetic compass that helps them get their bearings during migration3.

Further, the Monarch Butterfly is not officially listed as an endangered species but is considered to be in decline, especially in North America, due to habitat loss and the decreased availability of milkweed, their primary food source.

2. Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Painted Lady
Photo by Paul Crook on Unsplash

The Painted Lady butterfly lives in gardens and meadows worldwide; it has bright orange-brown wings with black and white spots.

During their annual migration, Painted Lady butterflies travel 9,000 miles from North Africa to Europe and even as far as the Arctic Circle2. Its migration depends on its caterpillars’ diet of thistle plants. 

Unlike other butterflies, this type of butterfly does not hibernate in the winter. It travels to warmer climates to survive and ensure the continuation of the species.

3. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Photo by FranksValli on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is a striking butterfly with vibrant yellow wings, bold black stripes, and unique bluish spots near its tail, all accentuated by swallowtail-like extensions.

Interestingly, they can alter their appearance based on gender and location. The butterfly wings of males can turn yellow or black, while females can turn yellow or black with blue markings. Some females in southern regions can imitate the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail to deter natural predators.

This type of butterfly feeds on flower nectar, tree sap, damp soil, and dung. Furthermore, its flight pattern comprises a rapid flutter and a carefully coordinated gliding motion, resembling a choreographed dance.

4. Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)

Western Tiger Swallowtail
Photo by Calibas on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Western Tiger Swallowtails are examples of North American butterflies. Its wingspan ranges from 3 to 4 inches, and its wings have yellow and black stripes. Each forewing has four tiger stripes, while each hindwing has a swallowtail.

As a caterpillar, it eats willows, cottonwoods, and aspens, changing colors to green with two large eye spots to scare off predators. The caterpillar also has bright orange horns behind its head, and it releases an unpleasant scent as a defense mechanism.

We can see these yellow butterflies flocking in damp soil and mud because this is where they get essential minerals and salts. They also emit a strong odor from their abdomen to deter potential predators.

5. Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Red Admiral
Photo by Joanna Huang on Unsplash

The Red Admiral butterfly lives in various regions of Europe, Asia, North Africa, and North America. It has black and red colors with white spots. They feed on flower nectar from various flowers, overripe fruit, tree sap, and bird droppings. 

Meanwhile, their caterpillars feed on host plants from the nettle family, constructing tent-like homes by folding leaves with silk, which protects them from potential threats.

Male Red Admirals defend their perching spots against intruders with fast and unpredictable flight patterns. They also seek shelter under leaves during inclement weather. They undertake long-distance migrations during spring and fall, similar to birds. 

6. American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

American Lady
Photo by Joel Bader on Unsplash

The American Lady butterfly lives in North America's gardens and meadows. They have two large eyespots on their hindwing's underside, distinguishing them from their close relative, the Painted Lady.

As winter approaches, the American Lady Butterfly packs its bags and heads to warmer regions. 

The American Lady butterfly has special glands that release a foul-smelling odor to deter potential attackers and allow the butterfly to escape. 

Despite their preference for solitude, these types of butterflies signal environmental transformations. 

7. Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

Mourning Cloak
Photo by Estormiz on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

The Mourning Cloak butterfly has dark wings resembling mourning attire, with pale yellow edges and iridescent blue spots. It feeds on tree sap, overripe fruit, and animal waste. 

This type of butterfly has one of the longest lifespans among butterfly species. While most butterflies typically live for only a few weeks, the Mourning Cloak can survive up to 11 months. Their lifespan relies on their ability to hibernate during winter.

As a caterpillar, it is a black-and-white speckled creature with red spots before assuming somber colors as adult butterflies.

8. Buckeye Butterfly (Junonia coenia)

Buckeye Butterfly
Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

The Buckeye butterfly gets its name from the markings on its wings, which resemble the eye of a male deer. They are defense mechanisms against predators.

They primarily live in the southern United States. The Buckeye Butterfly's flight pattern is fast and unpredictable; they often fly low to confuse predators. 

When threatened, the butterfly “freezes” and blends perfectly with its surroundings. In the winter, the butterfly travels southward to pursue warmer weather.

9. Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme)

Orange Sulphur
Photo by Judy Gallagher on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

The Orange Sulphur butterfly releases a pungent odor from the scent scales on its wings. This odor deters predators, similar to the defense mechanism of skunks. 

This butterfly lives in Oklahoma's arid plains and Ontario's verdant fields. Males have bright orange or yellow colors, while females feature a more subtle yellow or white color with a hint of orange.

By eating clover and alfalfa, the Orange Sulphur caterpillar regulates their abundance. Adults also spread pollen by flying from milkweed to thistles, helping these plants reproduce.

During colder weather, this type of butterfly overwinters and emerges as an adult butterfly in the spring.

10. Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)

Clouded Sulphur
Photo by ALAN SCHMIERER on Flickr (Public Domain)

The Clouded Sulphur is yellow or white and can blend into its surroundings, like a field of dandelions or asters. It lives from Alaska to Central America. They fly around backyards, meadows, and gardens.

Like most types of butterflies, they gather around moist soil patches to absorb minerals. They release a strong scent from scent scales on their wings. 

11. Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)

Zebra Swallowtail
Photo by Richard Stovall on Unsplash

Unlike other butterfly species, the Zebra Swallowtail flies close to the ground, often just a few inches above the surface. 

The Zebra Swallowtail has black and white stripes resembling a zebra commonly found in Canada and the Eastern United States, like Florida. Its flight style helps it navigate dense vegetation and wooded areas. 

Interestingly, the Zebra Swallowtail adapts well to seasonal changes. During the spring, they are smaller and lighter in color. As summer arrives, they become bigger, and their stripes become darker.

12. Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)

Giant Swallowtail
Photo by Paul Crook on Unsplash

The Giant Swallowtail butterfly is the largest in North America. Its yellow and black markings add to its appeal, making it a favorite among enthusiasts. It has a delicate “tail” on its hindwings, which also blends yellow and blue. 

Another interesting feature is a mottled splash of yellow and blue that resembles an 'eye,' believed to be a defensive mechanism against predators. 

The butterfly flies rapidly near high canopies, almost like a bird, making it hard to track.

13. Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Black Swallowtail
Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

The Black Swallowtail is native to North America. It has black wings with yellow and blue accents. It is also one of the largest species, with a wingspan of 3.1 to 4.3 inches. These butterflies can thrive in gardens, open fields, and roadsides.

When threatened, the Black Swallowtail butterfly emits a foul-smelling odor, like rotten fruit or skunk spray, from a forked gland called the osmeterium.

Moreover, its caterpillars feed on the carrot family, including Queen Anne's Lace, parsley, and dill. As an adult, it feeds on flower nectar. 

14. Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides)

Blue Morpho
Photo by Nancy Hughes on Unsplash

The Blue Morpho is a tropical species with vibrant blue wings resulting from microscopic scales that reflect and refract light. On the other hand, the underside of its wings is brown with eye-like patterns. Plus, its color appears to change depending on the viewing angle.

Its flight is a rhythmic combination of rapid wingbeats and graceful glides; it typically feeds on rotting fruits, tree sap, and damp mud. Sometimes, they sip sweat off human skin to gather salts and minerals.

15. Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus)

Common Blue
Photo by Erik Karits on Unsplash

The Common Blue butterfly is a highly abundant species across Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Occasionally, it appears in North America. Its natural habitat includes grassy areas, meadows, and urban zones. 

Despite its name, the Common Blue butterfly has many colors, from bright blue to pale grayish-blue, depending on individual and environmental factors. 

During the mating season, this small blue butterfly lays eggs on young shoots of bird’s-foot trefoil, a member of the Fabaceae plant family.

16. Peacock Butterfly (Aglais io)

Peacock Butterfly
Photo by Russell Moore on Unsplash

The Peacock Butterfly’s wings have orange and black patterns with eye-like patterns, similar to its colorful namesake. To deter predators, these eye-like patterns mimic the eyes of bigger creatures1

They have adapted to gardens, woodlands, and grasslands in Europe and Asia. Their presence signals the start of summer; in some regions, their fluttering continues until late October.

Furthermore, these types of butterflies can live up to a year and seek shelter in hollow trees and buildings during the winter.

17. Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Small Tortoiseshell
Photo by Elisa on Unsplash

The Small Tortoiseshell butterfly has orange and black wings with fringes of blue spots. This medium-sized butterfly lives in gardens, hedgerows, and woodland clearings in Europe, Asia, North Africa, and North America. 

They can travel over 7,400 miles during their yearly migration. It’s like flying back and forth between New York City and Sydney, Australia.

Despite its delicate appearance, this type of butterfly can be territorial, quickly repelling intruders.

18. White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis)

White Admiral
Photo by Judy Gallagher on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

The White Admiral lives in Canada and the northern regions of the United States, primarily in deciduous forests and woodland clearings. It typically feeds on willow, its host plant.

They release a potent odor from specific scent glands on their hindwings when threatened. This odor is strong enough to deter predators like birds and lizards.

While its caterpillars stick to the leaves, adult White Admirals feed on tree sap, decaying fruit, and nectar from milkweed and wild cherry blossoms.

The White Admiral caterpillar also hibernates in a leaf shelter during the winter. In spring, the adult butterfly basks in the sun from the morning to the early afternoon. However, they are hard to spot despite being active during the day since they fly quickly and rest atop high trees.

19. Question Mark Butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis)

Question Mark Butterfly
Photo by Erik Karits on Unsplash

The Question Mark Butterfly gets its name from the silver "question mark" shape on its hindwings' underside, making it look like a fallen leaf or a moth. This shape effectively camouflages the butterfly when it closes its wings. Its wings feature a combination of bright reddish-orange and black spots, designed with delicate precision. 

These types of butterflies live in local parks and dense forests throughout North America. Moreover, they can thrive in the different climates of Southern Canada and Mexico. 

Females lay single butterfly eggs on specific leaves, resulting in nocturnal caterpillars.

As adults, the Question Mark butterfly eats feeds on rotting fruit, tree sap, and animal dung. They also feed on nectar from milkweed. 

Their flight pattern is unpredictable and swift, like professional dancers. Moreover, they are territorial and often return to their preferred spots.

Additionally, this species observes “puddling,” flocking toward wet soil or mud to absorb salts and nutrients.

Conclusion

The diverse world of butterflies, with its myriad of wing colors and species, is truly a spectacle of natural history.

Each family contributes unique charm and beauty to our environment, from the Swallowtails of North America to the Blues, Coppers, and Hairstreaks found globally. Latin America, in particular, boasts a significant variety of these winged beauties, offering a vibrant display of the different types of butterflies.

Moreover, the incredible migratory journey of the Monarch butterflies, covering thousands of miles across continents, serves as a reminder of the resilience and marvel of these delicate creatures.

As we continue to explore and understand the many butterflies that grace our planet, we learn about these fascinating insects and our responsibility to conserve and protect the rich biodiversity they represent.

Types of Butterflies FAQs

1. What is the most well-known species of butterflies?

The Monarch Butterfly is the world’s most popular butterfly, with vibrant orange and black wings. 

2. How can you tell butterflies and moths apart?

Butterflies possess thin antennae with tiny balls at the end and tend to hold their wings vertically over their bodies when at rest. In contrast, moths have feather-like or straight antennae without any club end and typically maintain their wings flat to their bodies or slightly open when stationary.

3. What do butterflies eat?

Butterflies feed on nectar from flowers, using their long proboscis to extract the sweet liquid. 

4. Do all butterfly species migrate?

Not all types of butterflies migrate. The Monarch Butterfly undertakes a remarkable long-distance migration, while the Peacock Butterfly stays in its local habitat. 

5. Are butterflies important pollinators?

Both butterflies and moths are crucial pollinators, transferring pollen from one flowering plant to another as they feed.

1

Stevens, M. (2005). The role of eyespots as anti-predator mechanisms, principally demonstrated in the Lepidoptera. Biological Reviews, 80(4), 573–588.

2

Butterfly Conservation. (2012, December 10). Secrets of Painted Lady migration unveiled. BirdGuides.

3

Guerra, P. A., Gegear, R. J., & Reppert, S. M. (2014). A magnetic compass aids monarch butterfly migrationNature communications5(1), 1-8.

By Mike Gomez, BA.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Photo by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash
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