Minnesota Butterflies

Order Lepidoptera

Lepidoptera is the order of insects that is characterized by having four large wings; mouthparts adapting for sucking, the proboscis in the form of a long coiled tube; and wings and body completely or mostly covered by scales. The order includes butterflies, skippers, and moths.

There are about 174,250 known species in 126 families worldwide, 12,423 species in 82 families in North America north of Mexico. There are at least 531 Lepidoptera species found in Minnesota.

Superfamilies Papilionoidea and Hesperioidea

Only about 7% of Lepidoptera species are butterflies. According The Lepidopterist’s Society, there are about 18,500 butterfly species worldwide, about 775 species in North America. The Website Butterflies and Moths of North America lists 161 butterfly species in Minnesota, including occasional strays.

Differentiating between butterflies and moths is complicated because on the tree of evolution (phylogenetically) butterflies are moths. There are 4 suborders and 44 superfamilies of Lepidoptera. Butterflies (Papilionoidea) and skippers (Hesperioidea), together confusingly referred to as butterflies, comprise two superfamilies, both within the same suborder (Glossata). All other suborders and superfamilies are moths.

Butterflies and skippers have swellings (clubs) at the ends of their antennae. Their wings do not have a frenulum, a specialized structure in most moths that hold the forewings in contact with the hindwings. They fly during the day.

Butterflies tend to be larger and have more colorful wings than moths. When at rest, butterflies hold their wings either spread out to the side horizontally or over their body vertically.

Compared to other butterflies, skippers have relatively large bodies in proportion to their wings. Their wings are small and angular. They hold their hindwings spread out and their forewings either spread out or at a different angle than the hindwings. Most have a thin hooked or pointed extension (apiculus) at the end of each antenna just beyond the club. Skipperlings (subfamily Heteropterinae) do not have an apiculus.

Life Cycle

Most adult butterflies live only two to four weeks. In that short period they emerge from their cyrsalis, immediately begin courting, mate, and die. The eggs hatch in 5 to 10 days, and tiny caterpillars emerge and begin feeding. In the next 10 to 14 days the caterpillars eat constantly, grow rapidly, and shed their skin four times. Most caterpillars do not survive this stage. They may be eaten by birds, small animals, or wasps; be parasitized by parasitic wasps or flies; or succumb to a fungal or viral infection. The fully grown caterpillar attaches itself to a support, usually vegetation, and produces a hard outer shell (crysalis).

northern crescent








Recent Additions

Iowa skipper

Iowa skipper (Atrytone arogos iowa) is a species of special concern in Minnesota. Its populations are restricted to undisturbed tallgrass and shortgrass prairies in the Great Plains. Massive habitat destruction and excessively frequent prescribed burning on managed prairies are major threats to the subspecies survival. It is declining in the northern parts of its range. It is no longer found in 200 western counties it was once known from. It is estimated that there are over 100 remaining populations, but those are small and scattered. It is considered uncommon to rare wherever it occurs. In Minnesota, it is found mostly in the southwest quarter of the state.

Iowa skipper is a small to medium-sized grass skipper. The wings are yellowish-orange with a broad, dark border. The female has a thin black streak in the center of the forewing, but otherwise the wings are unmarked. When at rest, the forewings are held at a 45° angle and the hindwiings are held horizontal, a configuration that resembles an F-15 Eagle fighter jet.

Iowa skipper is similar in appearance to the Delaware skipper (Anatrytone logan), which is much more common. Iowa skipper is distinguished by the lack of any black veining on the upperside of the wings; lack of a black cell end bar on the forewing; wing undersides not as bright; and the hindwing fringe that is usually white, not tan or orange.

  Iowa skipper
  Photo by Scott Leddy

Wild indigo duskywing

Wild indigo duskywing (Erynnis baptisiae) is a medium-sized spread-wing skipper. It is widespread, abundant, and increasing in the east and the Midwest, but rare in Minnesota.

Wild indigo duskywing was originally a species of open woodlands and shrubby prairies. The larvae fed on mostly on horseflyweed but also blue wild indigo and sundial lupine. With the decline of those species due to habitat loss, the skipper adapted to the introduced, locally abundant species crown vetch. Today, its range is rapidly expanding and its numbers are increasing wherever crown vetch has been widely planted.

Wild indigo duskywing has dark brown wings; a pale spot at the end of the forewing cell; and four translucent white spots at the leading edge near the tip of the forewing. Along with columbine duskywing and Perseus duskywing, it is part of the “Persius species complex”. They are very similar in appearance and difficult or impossible to distinguish in the field. Columbine duskywing is smaller, lighter, and has shorter wings. Perseus duskywing has not been recorded in Minnesota.

  wild indigo duskywing
  Photo by John Shier

Checkered white

Checkered white (Pontia protodice) is a medium-sized butterfly with a wingspan of 1½ to 2½. It is a southerly species and is uncommon in Minnesota. There are two overlapping broods here, early June to August (spring form) and July to mid-October (summer form). The wings are white with dark markings, including a checkered pattern on the outer margin. The female has more extensive markings than the male, and the spring form has darker markings than the summer form. The larva (caterpillar), known as the southern cabbageworm.

Checkered white populations have drastically decreased in eastern Unites States, and the butterfly is now scarce or extirpated in some areas where it was once common. It appears stable in the west. The cause of the decline is unknown, though habitat loss is certainly a contributor. It is possible that the extremely abundant introduced species cabbage white is displacing native whites, including checkered white. It is also possible that checkered white is a western and midwestern species that only sporadically became abundant in eastern agricultural fields. It remains to be seen whether the decline will continue to spread westward.

  meadow fritillary

Meadow fritillary

Meadow fritillary (Boloria bellona) is the most common and the most widespread of the lesser fritillaries. It is found from mid-May to mid-September throughout Minnesota in sedge meadows, grassy fields, hay fields, pastures, and roadsides. Males can be seen patrolling low over grassy areas with a slow, zigzagging flight during the day.

Adults feed on the nectar of flowers, mostly those in the Asteraceae family, and especially those with yellow flowers. Caterpillars feed on common blue violet, small white violet, and Canadian white violet.

Meadow fritillary is a medium-sized brush-foot butterfly. It is identified by the squared-off wing tip; the upper side of the wings lacking chevron-shaped, inward-pointing spots and usually lacking a black marginal line; and the underside of the wings having a pale purplish sheen on the outer half and lacking the white or silver spots found on most lesser fritillaries.

  meadow fritillary

Northern pearly eye

Northern pearly eye (Lethe anthedon) is a common, medium-sized, brown butterfly. It is found from late-June to late August in grassy edges and openings, dirt roads and trails in mature deciduous woodlands and forests, usually near streams, rivers, or marshes. They often perch upside down on tree trunks. Their wings are usually held together above the body, opening only occasionally and briefly.

The wings are brown or brownish gray with a row of dark eyespots near the margin. The spots on the underside of each wing have a white “pearly” center.

There are two subspecies and both are found in Minnesota. Their ranges overlap on a narrow strip from East Grand Forks in the west to Rush City in the east. The southern subspecies upper wing surface has a more grayish cast. The lower surface of the hindwing is lighter, more grayish, and often has a violet tinge. The pale band surrounding the eyespot group on the lower surface is variable but generally narrower. The northern subspecies upper wing surface has a more brownish cast. The lower surface of the hindwing is darker, more brownish, and never has a violet tinge. The pale band surrounding the eyespot group on the lower surface is variable but generally broader.

  northern pearly eye

Other Recent Additions

silver-bordered fritillary (Boloria selene)

banded hairstreak (Satyrium calanus)

hackberry emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

Dun skipper (Euphyes vestris)

Peck’s skipper (Polites peckius)

mustard white (Pieris oleracea)

  Dun skipper








Butterfly Migration

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) migration is well documented and much studied. In September, adults of the third or fourth generation of the eastern population of monarchs begin congregating in large numbers on the foliage of trees and shrubs near water. By the end of October they have left the state in a mass migration to their winter grounds. They arrive at one of thirteen small overwintering sites in the Sierra Madre mountains between 43 and 105 miles west of Mexico City, Mexico. The following spring the same butterflies begin a northward migration. They lay eggs that will become the first generation in northern Mexico and southern United States between late March and late April. First generation monarchs begin to arrive in Minnesota around mid-May. Northward migrating butterflies arrive in Minnesota around mid-May. They are of a more recent (first) generation, rarely if ever the same individuals (third or fourth generation) that migrated south.

Less is known about migration of other butterfly species in North America. There is some disagreement about whether any of them, other than the monarch, migrate south in the fall. There are numerous reports of southward movement or “migration” of butterflies in the literature. However, the reports that I have seen in researching this article, both in print and online, are observational in nature. They do not involve a scientific study of any kind, and may be explained in terms that do not involve migration in its strict sense.

Many species cannot survive our harsh winters and die with the arrival of cold temperatures. Their populations are restored the following spring and summer as the seasonal range once again expands into Minnesota. Sometimes an outbreak in the south is followed by large numbers of butterflies being swept north on weather fronts. Both of these northward seasonal movements, while occurring in large numbers, lack intentionality. They could be called “seasonal immigration” to distinguish them from the true migration of the monarch.

Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) migration is well documented in Europe but less not on this side of the Atlantic. The Red Admiral and Painted Lady Research Site states that some red admirals in parts of their North American range move south in the fall and some stay behind. It is not known how many non-migratory individuals in the northern parts of their range successfully overwinter. The “migration” is thought to be one way, meaning that the individuals that move south in the fall are not the same individuals that move north in the spring. The distance of the southward movement is not known, whether it is all of the way or only part of the way to the southern limits of their range.

Numerous sources report that painted lady (Vanessa cardui) butterflies migrate south, and that the migration begins in August and continues through November. Painted lady butterflies overwinter in the southwestern United States and in northern Mexico. They immigrate north in the spring in most years, temporarily repopulating the United States and Canada. Some years they do not immigrate at all. In years of much rain on the wintering grounds the northward immigrations are enormous. The El Niño of 2015 is expected to last into the spring of 2016 and should bring much rain to the wintering grounds of the painted lady.

American lady (Vanessa virginiensis) butterflies are the hardiest species of Vanessa butterflies. The field guide Butterflies through Binoculars: The East (1999) states that the American lady “Migrates south in the fall...”. In the northern part of its range some may overwinter as adults, hidden in a crevice of tree bark or a human dwelling. In the spring American lady butterflies immigrate north, repopulating northern United States and Canada.

Some anglewing species are reported to have both migrating and non-migrating individuals, and that migrating adults move south in the fall. Overwintering adults wedge themselves into small crevices in trees or human buildings. They sometimes fly about on warm sunny days in the dead of winter.

Question marks (Polygonia interrogationis) are said to have both migrating and non-migrating individuals. Mourning cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa) are reported to have some migrating individuals by, among other sources, the popular Website Butterflies and Moths of North America, and the field guide Butterflies through Binoculars: The East (1999). According to an entomologist with the Minnesota DNR, “these are movements in response to crowding resulting from a local outbreak.”

Compton tortoiseshell (Nymphalis vaualbum) and Milbert’s tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti) butterflies hibernate, sometimes in groups. Variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) does not survive Minnesota winters. It immigrates into Minnesota each year.






red admiral

Red admiral
Photo by Tom Baker



Painted lady

Painted lady
Photo by Bill Reynolds



American lady

American lady



mourning cloak

Mourning cloak



Question mark

Question mark
Photo by Tom Baker



Variegated fritillary

Variegated fritillary
Photo by Dave Jungst



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Acadian hairstreak (Satyrium acadica)


American lady

Arctic skipper

Atlantis fritillary

black swallowtail

cabbage white

Canadian tiger swallowtail

clouded sulphur

common buckeye

common ringlet

common wood nymph

coral hairstreak

eastern comma

eastern tailed-blue

eastern tiger swallowtail

European skipper

giant swallowtail

gray comma

gray hairstreak

great spangled fritillary

hackberry emperor

Harris’ checkerspot

Hobomok skipper

Iowa skipper

least skipper

little glassywing

little wood satyr

meadow fritillary

Melissa blue


mourning cloak

mustard white

northern crescent

northern pearly eye

orange sulphur

painted lady

pearl crescent

Peck’s skipper

pipevine swallowtail

question mark

red admiral

red-spotted purple

regal fritillary

silver-bordered fritillary

silvery checkerspot

silver-spotted skipper

spicebush swallowtail

tawny-edged skipper

variegated fritillary


white admiral

wild indigo duskywing

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American copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

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American lady (Vanessa virginiensis)


American snout (Libytheana carinenta)

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Aphrodite fritillary (Speyeria aphrodite)


Appalachian brown (Lethe appalachia)


Arctic fritillary (Boloria chariclea)

  Photo Photo

Arctic skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon)


Assiniboia skipper (Hesperia comma assiniboia)

  Photo Photo

Atlantis fritillary (Speyeria atlantis)

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Baltimore checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton)

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banded hairstreak (Satyrium calanus)


black dash (Euphyes conspicua)

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black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)


bog copper (Lycaena epixanthe)


bog fritillary (Boloria eunomia)


bordered patch (Chlosyne lacinia)


broad-winged skipper (Poanes viator)


bronze copper (Lycaena hyllus)


brown elfin (Callophrys augustinus)

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cabbage white (Pieris rapae)

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Canadian tiger swallowtail (Papilio canadensis)


Chalcedon checkerspot (Euphydryas chalcedona)

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checkered white (Pontia protodice)

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clouded sulphur (Colias philodice)


cloudless sulphur (Phoebis sennae)


columbine duskywing (Erynnis lucilius)


common branded skipper (Hesperia comma)

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common buckeye (Junonia coenia)


common checkered-skipper (Pyrgus communis)

  Photo Photo

common ringlet (Coenonympha tullia)


common roadside-skipper (Amblyscirtes vialis)


common sootywing (Pholisora catullus)

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common wood nymph (Cercyonis pegala)


Compton tortoiseshell (Nymphalis vaualbum)

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coral hairstreak (Satyrium titus)


crossline skipper (Polites origenes)


dainty sulphur (Nathalis iole)


Dakota skipper (Hesperia dacotae)


Delaware skipper (Anatrytone logan)


Dion skipper (Euphyes dion)


Dorcas copper (Lycaena dorcas)


dreamy duskywing (Erynnis icelus)

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Dun skipper (Euphyes vestris)


dusted skipper (Atrytonopsis hianna)

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eastern comma (Polygonia comma)


eastern pine elfin (Callophrys niphon)

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eastern tailed-blue (Cupido comyntas)

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eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)


Edwards’ hairstreak (Satyrium edwardsii)

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European skipper (Thymelicus lineola)

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eyed brown (Lethe eurydice)


fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus)


freija fritillary (Boloria freija)


frigga fritillary (Boloria frigga)


Garita skipper (Oarisma garita)

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giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)


gorgone checkerspot (Chlosyne gorgone)

  Photo Photo

gray comma (Polygonia progne)


gray copper (Lycaena dione)

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gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

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great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele)


green comma (Polygonia faunus)


green-veined white (Pieris napi)


greenish blue (Plebejus saepiolus)


grizzled skipper (Pyrgus centaureae freija)

  Photo Photo

Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

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hackberry emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

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Harris’ checkerspot (Chlosyne harrisii)


harvester (Feniseca tarquinius)


Henry’s elfin (Callophrys henrici)


hickory hairstreak (Satyrium caryaevorus)


hoary comma (Polygonia gracilis)


hoary elfin (Callophrys polios)

  Photo Photo

Hobomok skipper (Poanes hobomok)


Indian skipper (Hesperia sassacus)


inornate common ringlet (Coenonympha tullia inornata)

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Iowa skipper (Atrytone arogos iowa)


Jutta arctic (Oeneis jutta)


Juvenal’s duskywing (Erynnis juvenalis)


Karner blue (Plebejus melissa samuelis)


large marble (Euchloe ausonides)

  Photo Photo

least skipper (Ancyloxypha numitor)


Leonard’s skipper (Hesperia leonardus)

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little glassywing (Pompeius verna)

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little wood satyr (Megisto cymela)


little yellow (Pyrisitia lisa lisa)


long dash (Polites mystic)


Macoun’s arctic (Oeneis macounii)

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meadow fritillary (Boloria bellona)


Melissa blue (Plebejus melissa melissa)


Mexican yellow (Eurema mexicana)

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Milbert’s tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti)

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monarch (Danaus plexippus)


Mormon fritillary (Speyeria mormonia)


mottled duskywing (Erynnis martialis)

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mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)


mulberry wing (Poanes massasoit)

  Photo Photo

mustard white (Pieris oleracea)


northern blue (Plebejus idas nabokovi)


northern broken-dash (Wallengrenia egeremet)

  Photo Photo

northern cloudywing (Thorybes pylades)

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northern crescent (Phyciodes cocyta)

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northern pearly eye (Lethe anthedon)


Olympia marble (Euchloe olympia)

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orange sulphur (Colias eurytheme)


Ottoe skipper (Hesperia ottoe)

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painted lady (Vanessa cardui)


Pawnee skipper (Hesperia leonardus pawnee)

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pearl crescent (Phyciodes tharos)

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Peck’s skipper (Polites peckius)


pepper and salt skipper (Amblyscirtes hegon)


Persius duskywing (Erynnis persius)


pink-edged sulphur (Colias interior)

  Photo Photo

pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor)


Powesheik skipperling (Oarisma powesheik)


purplish copper (Lycaena helloides)


purplish fritillary (Boloria montinus)

  Photo Photo

queen (Danaus gilippus)

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question mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

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red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)


red-disked alpine (Erebia discoidalis)

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red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax)

  Photo Photo

regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia)


sachem (Atalopedes campestris)


satyr comma (Polygonia satyrus)

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silver-bordered fritillary (Boloria selene)

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silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus)


silvery blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus)

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silvery checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis)


sleepy duskywing (Erynnis brizo)


sleepy orange (Abaeis nicippe)


smokey eyed brown (Lethe eurydice fumosa)

  Photo Photo

spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus)


spring azure (Celastrina ladon)


striped hairstreak (Satyrium liparops)


summer azure (Celastrina neglecta)


taiga alpine (Erebia mancinus)


tawny crescent (Phyciodes batesii)


tawny emperor (Asterocampa clyton)

  Photo Photo

tawny-edged skipper (Polites themistocles)


two-spotted skipper (Euphyes bimacula)


Uhler’s arctic (Oeneis uhleri varuna)


Uncas skipper (Hesperia uncas)

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variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

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viceroy (Limenitis archippus)


western pine elfin (Callophrys eryphon)


western tailed-blue (Cupido amyntula amyntula)


western white (Pontia occidentalis)

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white admiral (Limenitis arthemis arthemis)

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wild indigo duskywing (Erynnis baptisiae)


zebra heliconian (Heliconius charithonia)


zebra swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)





No Species Page Yet?

If you do not see a linked page for an insect in the list at left, or the insect does not appear in the list, you can still upload a photo or video as an email attachment or report a sighting for that insect. Click on one of the buttons below and type in the common name and/or scientific name of the insect in your photo, video, or sighting. A new page will be created for that insect featuring your contribution.


Capitalization of Common Names

Insect scientific names are governed by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). Vernacular (common) names are not. In an attempt to “assure the uniformity of (common) names of common insects” the Entomological Society of America (ESA) published Common Names of Insects and Related Organisms. ESA has no rule or guideline that addresses capitalization of common names. However, the database of common names published by ESA does not capitalize common names. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) also uses uncapitalized common names. Most other sources, including ITIS, BAMONA, Odonata Central, and the Peterson Field Guides, capitalize common insect names. MinnesotaSeasons.com will adhere to the convention followed by ESA and NCBI.


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