If you’ve wandered through our Nature Trails or our Woody Wickham Butterfly Garden in the spring and summer, you’ve probably seen a variety of butterflies flying through! You may have even seen some of them in your yard or garden. But what are they? Here are six common species of butterflies you’re likely to find around the Nature Museum and in your neck of the woods. When you’re all done, try your hand at making your own butterfly out of coffee filters! Click here for details.
The monarch is one of the most familiar North American butterflies. As caterpillars, they eat milkweed and absorb the plant’s toxins. This makes them poisonous to predators, especially birds. Monarchs range across North America and up into southern Canada during the summer. Every fall, millions of monarchs migrate south and west to central California and central Mexico. They will inhabit almost any sunny place with flowers, including parks, gardens, or prairies.
Teaching Tip: Want to keep the discussion going about monarchs? Click here to watch a video that details the monarch’s life cycle!
Viceroys and monarchs look alike, but they have a lot of differences. Viceroys prefer wet habitats and will chase away other butterflies that come too close. Their caterpillars also eat very different plants, including willows, aspens, and cottonwoods. In addition, viceroys have a black line crossing through the veins on their hindwing. They are usually found in wetland, prairies with willows, and in human-disturbed wet areas, like suburban lake edges.
Guiding Question: What do you notice about the viceroy’s appearance? Do you think it looks like another butterfly? Why do you think it looks like that?
The black swallowtail’s range extends from southern Canada to northern Mexico. Although it may be hard to believe, they actually overwinter as chrysalises. The caterpillars eat parsnips, wild carrots, celery, parsley, and dill. They like sunny places with weeds and flowers, and can be found in gardens, vacant lots, old fields, pastures, and marshes.
Guiding Question: How is the black swallowtail different in appearance form the monarch and the viceroy? What do you notice about it?
Not to be confused with the painted lady, the American lady is found throughout much of North America. Their striking orange and black pattern helps them stand out against the flowers they feast on. They overwinter in the south and move north during the spring and summer. The adults like to sip on nectar from a variety of flowers, including aster, goldenrod, and common milkweed. These butterflies, in particular, are a common sight in the Nature Museum’s outdoor butterfly garden.
Red admiral butterflies are very common and very easy to spot, thanks to their striking black forewings which feature red bars and white spots. While they fly year-round in Guatemala and Mexico, in the northern areas of their range they hibernate or overwinter as chrysalises. The caterpillars eat plants in the nettle family. They can be found in most sunny places including moist fields, prairies or marshes. In urban areas, look for them in parks or along tree lined residential streets.
Teaching Tip: Does your scientist have a lot of questions about these butterflies? Gather those questions, write them down, and then group them together to help think about the types of things you’re wondering about the natural world. You can also reach out to us with those questions!
People often mistakenly think that cabbage white butterflies are moths. The caterpillars are often considered pests because they eat cabbage, radish, mustard, and other related plants. The adult butterflies are often found in weedy habitats like vacant lots, as well as in gardens where its host plants grow.
Teaching Tip: As the weather gets warmer, and the butterflies start to appear in backyards and parks, encourage your scientist to make observations of butterfly behavior using our ethogram template. Click here for details.
Behind the scenes!
Our scientists work with a few threatened butterfly species, including the regal fritillary. Click here to watch a video about this beautiful butterfly.