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13 Different Types of Butterflies

Monarch butterflies in a garden

Butterflies are some of the most familiar and popular forms of insects mainly because of how commonly one can find them flying around in their garden while sporting a plethora of beautiful colors and patterns.

There are more than 17,500 species of butterflies in the whole world, and 750 of them are found in the United States only. They are also the only group of insects whose wings are covered with scales, and one of their most distinctive feature is their ability to coil or curl up their proboscis.

The word ‘butterfly’ is believed to have been derived from “butterfleoge” in old English which actually means ‘butterfly’ in modern English terminology. A very fascinating theory behind this unique name is that once during ancient times, witches that resembled butterflies in terms of shape used to steal milk and butter, hence, they got the name “butterfly”.

Evolution of Butterflies

Garden with flowers and butterfly

A few scientists believe that butterflies primarily emerged from the Cretaceous period, which is often referred to as “The Age of Flowering Plants”. This period occurred 65 million to 135 million years ago, apparently the time when dinosaurs used to roam around the earth.

This belief stemmed from the basis of how in today’s times, there is such a dedicated and particular association between butterflies and flowering plants.

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Another distinct theory suggests that butterflies are relatives or family members of an obscure moth family that is called the Hedylidae. So, because these moths are the closest living relatives of butterflies, according to which butterflies are nothing but a group of brightly colored moths.

Types of Butterflies  

There is a large number of butterfly species and varieties that are found on this earth, across most parts of the world.

However, below are some of the most common and popular types of butterflies that you might even find flying around in your garden.

1. Swallowtail Butterfly

Swallowtail butterfly on a Marigold flower

These butterflies have over 500 species, and they belong to the family Papilionidae. They are really large, colorful, and very widespread with the majority of their species found in every continent except Antarctica.

Swallowtail butterflies are named so because of their distinctive tail-like extensions emerging from the hind wings. However, some of its species are also tailless. Their wingspan of these butterflies both male to female typically lyes 8-90 mm.

These are distributed across the temperate and tropical regions, and the greatest diversity is found in sub-tropical regions particularly in East Asia and Southeast Asia. 40 of its species are found in North America while 12 are found in Europe.

These butterflies come in a variety of different colors and patterns, ranging from red, yellow, orange, and green, often accompanied by green, black or blue backgrounds. They solely feed on milk parsley while some may also prefer wild carrot.

The species normally breeds marshes, and open fens and some occasional migrants are frequently seen on grasslands located near England’s south coast.

2. Brush-footed Butterfly

A Brush-Footed butterfly on a Fruit

These belong to the Nymphalidae family and are also sometimes referred to as ‘four-footed butterflies’. This other common name basically comes from the fact that these butterflies have only four walking functional legs.

The wingspan of most species ranges from 35-90 mm, which is about 1.5-3.5 inches. This family is believed to be the largest family of butterflies, considering how it has over 6000 species that are distributed in most parts of the world.

Their wings are usually brown, yellow and white with different colored markings on their undersurfaces that typically sport duller colors. These butterflies are generally medium-to-large sized, and they are known to stand on four legs while two of their other legs are almost always curled up.

One of the varieties of these brush-footed butterflies is called the ‘peacock butterfly’ that is native to parts of Europe and Asia. An interesting fact about this butterfly is that it makes a hissing sound when it senses danger and is in an alarming state.

3. American Snout Butterfly

An American Snout butterfly with white flowers

Also called common snout butterfly, the American snout Butterfly belongs to the sub-family called Libytheinae that further belongs to the family Nymphalidae, the brush-footed butterfly. They are typically found in regions of both the South and North America and their name primarily comes from the fact that they have very long and elaborate snouts.

The wingspan of these butterflies ranges from 3.5-5 cm their palms that form the snout are generally extended forward. These are relatively small butterflies that often come in very dull colors.  

The upper surface of their wings sports a brownish-black color coupled with orange patches and white spots on the forewings. The underside of the hind wings, on the other hand, is a beautiful purplish gray shade and sometimes even brown.

Fascinatingly, the elongated ‘snout’ of these butterflies has generated a lot of interest among people where most of them question the purpose of it. This led to the belief that perhaps such a long snout helps the butterfly imitate a dry leaf and basically camouflage themselves to as a way of protection against predators.

Since their snouts are mostly shaped and colored cryptically so they are often missed by a majority of butterfly enthusiasts.

4. Red Admiral Butterfly

Red Admiral butterfly on a leaf

This is popularly known as a strong-flying and large butterfly that is commonly found in gardens and parks. These are quite different and distinctive types of butterflies that have majorly come from Ireland and Britain.

Red Admiral Butterflies belong to the Nymphalids family, and their wingspan ranges from 67-72 mm for a male to female. They are described as medium-sized and highly well-characterized butterflies and are famous for their black wings, coupled with white spots and orange bands.

These butterflies typically reside in warmer areas; however, they choose to migrate towards the north during the spring and autumn seasons. An interesting fact about these butterflies is that they are incredibly territorial which means the female red admirals will only mate with those male admirals that hold territory.

They also have very erratic and irregular flights. For instance, the male butterflies usually wait for females on any available ridge top available, where the latter lays eggs singly on plant leaves.  

Their habitats typically consist of marshes, moist woods, parks, moist fields, yards, and fields. You will also find them in any habitat ranging from sub-tropics to tundra.

5. Monarch Butterfly

Orange-Black butterfly on purple flowers

As the name evidently suggests, Monarch butterflies are the king of all butterflies and are also the most beautiful species of all.

They are easily recognized or identified by their stunning combination of orange, black and white markings which further also include vibrant orange wings with black veins, white dots, and black borders.

Monarch butterflies are typically found in South, North and Central America, as well as some regions of Australia, Western Europe, and India. The wingspan of most full-grown monarch butterflies reaches around 5 inches while the average is usually 4 inches.

The name ‘monarch’ apparently stemmed from paying honor to King William III of England, who was also given the title of ‘Prince of Orange’. It is assumed that the king’s title is a reference or an indication towards the butterfly’s main color which is why they are called monarchs.

The upper side of the wings of these butterflies is a tawny orange shade with black margins that are followed by a series of white spots. The color and shape of their wings changes at the start of the migration process and turns into a red shade with a more elongated shape as compared to the later migrants.

The monarch butterflies ideally go through a series of four stages as a part of their lifecycle and a series of four generations in a single year.

6. Karner Blue Butterfly

Karner Blue butterfly on the sand

This is a small, delicate butterfly that is considered to be an endangered sub-species of the small blue butterfly. Back in the days, Karner blue butterflies were abundantly found on the northern edge of the blue lupine range that extends from Southern Maine all the way to eastern Minnesota.

In recent times, however, they are greatly found in large numbers in a few areas of western and central Wisconsin, as well as some parts of western Michigan.

These butterflies are fairly small with their wingspan only growing to an average of one inch in both males and females; however, both are different appearances.

The female Karner blue sports a grayish brown shade with hints of blue on the topside and orange colored bands contained within narrow black borders.

The male Karner blue, on the other hand, has silvery or dark blue topside coupled with narrow black margins.

They were initially listed as ‘endangered’ during 1992 because their populations underwent a dramatic decline mainly due to modifications and loss of habitats. However, their populations went back to being stable during the last couple of years.

7. Blue Morpho Butterfly

Stunning Blue Morpho butterfly on a green leaf

As the name suggests, the wings of the Blue Morpho butterfly are a stunning vibrant blue with jet black edges. Like many other species, this one also constitutes as some of the largest butterflies in the world, primarily because the size of their wingspan ranges from 5-8 inches.

These butterflies have microscopic scales of the back of their wings that basically reflect light and are also why they sport the characteristic sparkling blue color. In contrast, the underside of the wings sports a dull, pale brown color that helps them camouflage against harm and predators.

Blue Morpho butterflies are native to tropical forests of Columbia, Latin America, and Mexico, and the adult blue morphos are usually found on forest floors, in lower shrubs and trees. Their diet also changes radically as they move from one phase of their lifecycle to the other.

As caterpillars, they love eating different varieties of leaves, and once they transform into full-grown butterflies, they prefer fruits and other similar foods.

A very intriguing fact about these butterflies is that taste fruit with sensors that are present on their legs and not just this, but they use their antennae to ‘taste-smell’ the air around them.

8. European Skipper Butterfly

European Skipper butterfly feeding from a Thistle plant

This butterfly belongs to the family Hesperiidae and sub-family Hesperiinae. It is also known by another common name, which is, ‘Essex Skipper’.

The wingspan of these butterflies normally ranges from 2.5 to 2.9 cm. Although they are very similar in appearance to the small skipper butterfly, one feature that sets them apart is undersides of the tips on their antennae. Their antennae are a dark black while those of the smaller skipper are bright orange in color.

The European skipper butterfly has originated from Southern Scandinavia, and its population ranges all the way through Europe to central Asia and North Africa. The exterior of these butterflies is a pretty orange with thin black margins and hints of white throughout the upper and lower wings.

9. Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Mourning Cloak butterfly on a leaf

The Mourning Cloak butterfly belongs to the Nymphalidae family and is found throughout North America and New Hampshire. Some of its species are also found in Florida and in the Gulf states.

Their habitat typically ranges from sunny glades, open woodlands, grooves, forest borders, garden, and parks. The wingspan of these butterflies grows to an average of 2.8 to 3.3 inches, and the wings are typically a beautiful red, maroon color with creamy yellow margins that are reflective and often display shades of purple.

Once these butterflies transform into full-grown adults, they adopt several distinctive special markings that set them apart from a variety of other butterflies.

10. American Painted Lady Butterfly

An orange American Painted Lady butterfly with white spots

Also known as the American lady, this butterfly is largely found throughout the whole of North America. While these species are popular for their stunning appearance, they are most-wanted among naturalists because of the unique nests made by its caterpillars that are truly characteristic of this species only.

Some species of the American Painted Lady butterfly are also found in Southern Canada and occasionally in Europe, too. Their wingspan typically spreads to an average of 1.75 to 2.40 inches. Their wings sport an orange-brown color on the upper surface with black margins, and the front side has white spots on them.

The habitats of these butterflies normally range from open places with low vegetation that may include forest edges, dunes, meadows, and vacant areas.

11. Small Copper Butterfly

Small Copper butterfly sitting on bright yellow flowers

This butterfly species is best known as a fat flying insect with beautifully vibrant copper-colored forewings. Its population is widespread through Ireland and Britain. The wingspan of these butterflies’ averages to 32-35 mm for both males and females and their upper wing side displays a shiny yellow color with dark brown margins and black blotches.

The underside of the wings, on the hand, is a bright orange with black blotches and reddish stripe along the margins.

The main habitats of the small copper butterfly include rocky outcrops and dry slopes, and they can be easily distinguished from other coppers by their square-shaped blotches on the wings.

12. Creamy Marblewing Butterfly

Creamy Marblewing butterfly feeding on a flower

This butterfly species is also often called the ‘large marble’ primarily because these butterflies tend to be relatively larger than other varieties found within these very species. The cream marbling butterfly is also a western species whose population mainly spans from south Alaska all the way to northern New Mexico.

The underside of this butterfly’s wings is a cream, and a marbled greenish color and the top surface of the wings sport creamy white color with black markings found near the edges and the tips.

Some of their key identifying characteristics and features include furry scales on the head with a greenish sheen and bright green large, round eyes.

13. Sleepy Orange Butterfly

Sleepy Orange butterfly feeding on Zinnia flower

This is mainly a North American butterfly that belongs to the family Pieridae, and sub-family Coliadinae. These species can also be found in Costa Rica and West Indies. The habitat of these butterflies ranges across wet meadows, roadsides, swamps, open woodlands, valleys, waterways and wood edges.

The Sleepy Orange butterflies, as the name suggests, sport a bright orange color and the upper side of their wings usually have wide black borders. The underside, on the other hand, varies according to seasons. So, during summers, their wings change into a bright yellow with red markings, and in the winter season, the wings adopt a brown shade with heavier markings comparatively.

Many people have been truly intrigued by the name ‘sleepy orange,’ and according to one theory, they get this unique name from the fact that the narrow black spot on their forewing looks like closed eyes. The wingspan of these butterflies ranges from 35-57 mm.

These butterflies are more of tropical species and are usually found all year-round starting from Central America and moving all the way to the Southern Tier of the United States. As fascinating as you might be by its distinct name, you’ll be even more surprised to know that there is actually nothing “sleepy” about the butterflies’ behavior.

Butterflies are truly beautiful and stunning insects that add color and splendor wherever they go. If you ever get to plan your own butterfly garden, do make sure to include some of these absolutely stunning butterfly varieties!

We also have lots of information about earthworms, hedgehogs, snails and gnats!