Identification of butterflies is easier than with other insects and there are fewer families than moths – only 6 butterfly families in the eastern US. Many butterfly species are very specific about their habitat and when they fly, which also makes identifying them a bit easier.
How many types of butterflies are in one area depends on the diversity and complexity of the landscape and the plants in it. The areas where the landscape changes from one habitat to another is where an even larger great diversity of butterflies can be found.
A couple of interesting behaviors are hilltopping and mudpuddling. Hilltopping is where male and unmated females congregate at the top of the highest hill in the area. It’s the equivalent of our singles’ bar scene! Mudpuddling is just as it sounds; butterflies cluster on the damp mud seeking salt as well as water.
Caterpillars of butterflies and moths are highly parasitized by flies and wasps who are attracted to them by the chemicals released from the injured plants they are munching. I have a photo of the remains of such a caterpillar.
Butterflies are like the canary in the coalmine. They are great barometers for environmental issues because they are more often observed and studied than other insect species. When one is endangered, it signals that many other species might be or already are threatened, too.
Habitat destruction is the main reason we are losing many of our invertebrates and vertebrates. It’s no different for butterflies. Butterflies require open areas; if these areas in our rural landscape are not maintained as open areas, they soon become filled with woods. Farming practices make other types of rural areas unfit for butterfly habitat and open spaces in urbanized areas are parking lots and manicured lawns which provide no nectar sources or host plants.
You can click on the families and go to a gallery of photos for butterflies within that family. From there you can click on the photo caption and learn more about that specific butterfly. For ease of use, I have these in alphabetical order. I have done my best to ID these correctly, but because I’m human, mistakes can be made. If you find an error, please let me know. Here’s a listing of references that I used for my info. Since adult butterflies nectar, the host plants that I have listed are specific to the caterpillars (aka larvae).
Danaidae (Milkweed Butterflies)
Danaus plexippus – Monarch
Epargyreus clarus – Silver-spotted Skipper
Thymelicus lineola – European Skipper
Lycaenidae (Blues, Coppers, Hairstreaks, Harvesters, and Metalmarks)
Celastrina neglecta – “Summer” Spring Azure
Everes comyntas – Eastern Tailed-Blue
Satyrium caryaevorum – Hickory Hairstreak
Satyrium favonius – Oak Hairstreak (also Fixsenia favonius)
Nymphalidae (Brushfooted Butterflies)
Boloria Bellona – Meadow Fritillary
Cercyonis pegala – Common Wood-Nymph – Hodges #4587
Chlosyne nycteis – Silvery checkerspot
Limenitis arthemis astyanax – Red-spotted Purple
Phyciodes tharos – Pearl Crescent
Speyeria Cybele – Great Spangled Fritillary
Papilio cresphontes – Giant Swallowtail
Papilio glaucus – Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Papilio polyxenes – Black Swallowtail – Hodges #4159
Pieridae (Whites, Sulphurs, Yellows)
Colias eurytheme – Orange Sulphur
Colias philodice – Clouded Sulphur
Pieris rapae – Cabbage White – Hodges #4197