Butterflies of North America

The butterflies of North America are a varied bunch – there are many species that inhabit this vast continent.  There are several hundred known species of butterfly that live in North America, while only a few are well known.  These beautiful and fascinating creatures are a delight for the eyes – and their variety is stunning. 

The monarch butterfly is one of the most well-known butterflies of North America.  It’s common all around the United States and the southern part of Canada.  Monarch caterpillars eat exclusively milkweed plants. 

The toxins in milkweed become a protection for the monarch larva and butterflies – predators avoid them.  Monarch butterflies live mostly in open, sunny places.  They especially love meadows that are full of weeds.  They live on various types of milkweed, including common milkweed, scarlet milkweed, and dogbane. 

Adult monarch butterflies feed off the nectar of beggarticks, coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, goldenrod, New England aster, and several types of thistle.

The Eastern tiger swallowtail is certainly one of the most easily recognizable butterflies in the U.S. It is often found in forests and streams, but may also be found around flowering bushes in city gardens.  It loves flowers with a lot of nectar.  Males are yellow with black decoration, and females are either yellow or black. 

They generally breed on broadleaf trees like cottonwood, cherry, birch, poplar, and willow.  Their favorite nectar flowers are typically phlox and milkweed. The painted lady butterfly typically lays its eggs on thistle or asters. 

It is one of the most widespread butterfly species in the word, and can be found all over Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America.  They seem to be especially attracted to feeding on goldenrod.  They also tend to be attracted to butterfly bushes.

The red-spotted purple butterfly is a ground-dweller.  They fly low, and light on low-lying branches or on the ground.  They breed on willows, poplars, cherry trees, apples, hawthorns, and aspens.  They feed on thistles, lilac, azaleas, phlox, petunias, lupines, butterfly bush, and bergamot, among others. They look similar to a poisonous butterfly known as the pipevine swallowtail. 

The pipevine swallowtail is a beautiful butterfly with iridescent blue on the wings. They lay eggs on many different types of trees, similar to the red-spotted purple.  They also eat the same types of nectar. The cabbage white butterfly is certainly extremely common.  It’s a white butterfly with few markings, and is rather small in size.  It lays eggs on radishes, cabbage, broccoli, and nasturtiums.

Mourning cloak butterflies can survive throughout the winter in many parts of the world.  It’s native to North America and Eurasia.  Their wings are very dark red, with a yellowish border around the wings. They also have a dark band with brighter blue spots on the wings.  Their caterpillars are raised on willows, aspens, cottonwoods, elms, and paper birch trees.  They are especially common on willows and elms. 

 Adult butterflies usually live on sap and rotting fruit, but may occasionally feed on flower nectar. If you’d like to attract certain species of butterfly, you’ll need to provide them with the food the adults need, as well as a good place to lay their eggs.

There are hundreds more species of butterflies of North America, a good guide book can help you learn to identify them.

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