Here’s a list of common butterfly species found throughout the United States. Learn about their vibrant colors, physical characteristics, fascinating behaviors, and the regions where they can be found.
Everyone has seen butterflies, but learning to identify them can be fun and exciting! Each butterfly species has its own look, behaviors and preferences.
There are estimated to be 750-800 species of butterflies in the United States alone, so “common” butterflies species may vary based on location and local plant life. Here are a few of the most common butterfly species that most butterfly enthusiasts will recognize and newbies can easily learn to identify!
Monarch (Danaus plexippus): The Monarch butterfly is perhaps one of the most iconic and well-known species in North America. Monarchs are known for their distinctive orange and black wings with white spots. Monarchs make long-distance migrations from Mexico to the United States and Canada and are found throughout both countries. They also have their own conservation movement called #SaveTheMonarchs.
Monarch caterpillars are easy to attract to your butterfly garden when you plant milkweed, their only host plant.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus): Swallowtails are one of the most common and largest families of butterflies. In fact, you’ll find another species of swallowtail on this list!
This large and striking butterfly is commonly seen in the eastern and central parts of the United States. The male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail has yellow wings with black stripes, while the female can vary in color from yellow to black.
Attract this large butterfly to your garden by planting its host plants – tulip trees, wild black cherry trees and sweet bay magnolia.
Cabbage White (Pieris rapae): The Cabbage White butterfly is a small to medium-sized butterfly with white wings. It is widely distributed across the United States and is commonly found in gardens and open areas. Caterpillars of this species feed on cabbage family plants.
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui): The Painted Lady is a migratory butterfly that has a widespread distribution across North America. It is recognized for its orange-brown wings with black and white spots. Painted Ladies are also known to undertake long-distance migrations and are one of the most common butterflies people raise in butterfly kits purchased online.
Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes): This butterfly species is found in eastern and central parts of the United States. The Eastern Black Swallowtail has black wings with iridescent blue spots, along with distinctive yellow markings. The black swallowtail caterpillar can feed on several different host plants, making it an easy one to attract to your garden and raise indoors.
Other common swallowtails include the giant swallowtail, zebra swallowtail, spicebush swallowtail and pipevine swallowtail. There are over 500 species of swallowtail butterflies around the world.
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta): The Red Admiral butterfly is a medium-sized butterfly with black wings featuring red-orange bands and white spots. It is commonly found across the United States and is known for its active flight patterns.
Silver-Spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus): The Silver-Spotted Skipper is a medium-sized butterfly with brown wings and prominent silver spots on its undersides. It is commonly observed in open areas, gardens, and along woodland edges.
It is just one species of skippers out of an estimated 3500 different types.
Skippers actually share many characteristics of moths and are loosely classified as moth-butterflies.
Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice): The Clouded Sulphur is a small to medium-sized butterfly with yellow wings. Males often have brighter yellow coloration, while females may have more pale or white markings. This yellow butterfly can be found across the United States.
The specific butterfly species you find depend on your location, habitat, and local environmental conditions. You can join butterfly groups on Facebook and consult other local conservation groups to learn more about the butterflies in your area!
How to attract more common butterflies to your garden:
The best way to attract different species of butterflies to your yard is to plant their caterpillar’s host plant. Each species of caterpillar has a specific plant it eats to survive, and butterflies instinctively know to lay their eggs on these plants. So plant them and they will come!
Also fill your pollinator garden with a variety of flowers and nectar plants with a focus on native plants. Planting a wide variety of plants – including flowering plants and host plants – will help attract many different kinds of butterflies and other pollinators, and helps promote reproduction of many different insects that are currently suffering from habitat loss across the nation.