Classification of Butterflies
Butterflies belong to the Order Lepidoptera. They also can be broken down to the following Families listed below (and other Families not listed here) with the Genus and Species listed for each butterfly. Classification is one of those things that can change and be fine-tuned with more information and as research becomes available. So with that in mind, and needing to have some organization here, I have chosen to list the very basics only. Hopefully that is enough.

Please "click" all small photos to see larger photos.

This is a current work in progress, so please forgive missing information and the "less than organized" layout. I literally have hundreds of photos that I have taken and need to identify for this page. It is my goal for spring 2007.

Papilionidae Family

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Dark Female Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
This day flying butterfly is a Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). It has a wingspan of up to 6 1/2 inches. It is found from central Alaska and Canada to the Atlantic and southeast of the Rockies to the Gulf of Mexico. This is the most widely found Swallowtail in the eastern USA. The dark female (lower left photo) form has evolved to mimic the distasteful (and poisonous) Pipevine Swallowtail, so its abundance is reflected in the butterfly population because of this. The strong flying Tiger Swallowtail is a member of the Papilionidae family of butterflies, and is the most widely known and studied family of butterflies. (Thanks to my daughter, Christy for the top left two photos!)

Tiger Swallowtail Catapillar    Tiger Swallowtail Catapillar    Tiger Swallowtail Catapillar

Tiger Swallowtail Pupa    Tiger Swallowtail Pupa

This is a Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes). I am sorry it is at such a distance and a bit blurry, but sometimes that's all you get. Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Identified, finally! Thanks to my daughter, Christy, for doing the research and identifying this picture I have had of a catapillar. It is the catapillar of the Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio troilus). The butterfly has a wingspan of 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches, and is found in the eastern part of North American below southern Canada. The catapillar is up to 1 5/8 inches long with 2 sets of "eye spots". It's main host plant is the Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), hence the name. But also feeds on sassafras and some bays. Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail Catapillar

Pipevine Swallowtail

Pipevine Swallowtail

Pipevine Swallowtail
The Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly (Battus philenor) is easy to identify for humans and predators. This is good since the caterpillars feed on noxious pipevines that make the adult butterflies poisonous.

Pipevine Swallowtail    Pipevine Swallowtail    Pipevine Swallowtail

Pipevine Swallowtail    Pipevine Swallowtail    Pipevine Swallowtail

Hesperiidae Family

This is a Silver-spotted Skipper Butterfly (Epargyreus clarus), and it is a member of the Hesperiidae family of butterflies, of which there are nearly 3,000 species worldwide. This one is feeding on a White Milkweed. It has a wingspan of 1 3/4 inches to 2 1/2 inches with the large silver blotch on the underside of the wing that it is named for. They have gold spots on the forewings and hooked antennae (unlike most butterflies which have "club-like" antennae). The Silver-spotted Skipper has a large body in proportion to it's wings, and is a daytime flyer found throughout North America. Silver-spotted Skipper Butterfly

Silver-spotted Skipper Butterfly

This is a skipper, I'll even go so far to say it is a grass skipper, but further than that I am only giving my best guess. I think it is a Sachem Skipper Butterfly (Atalopedes campestris). Why? Area in which I found it, time of year, and basic colorization with a very, very small whitish mark on the wings. It is hard to see in the top picture, so click the closeup of the wing. Sachem Skipper

Sachem Skipper

Nymphalidae Family

Red-spotted Purple Butterfly

Red-spotted Purple Butterfly
Red-spotted Purple Butterfly
This is a Red-spotted Purple Butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax). It is in the "Admiral" family of butterflies, and found in the southern part of the USA. It has a 2 1/2 to 3 3/4 inch wingspan. The Red-spotted Purple is a mimic of the Pipevine Swallowtail, a species distasteful and toxic to birds. Birds therefore tend to avoid both species. It is a member of the Nymphalidae family of over 5,000 species found worldwide.

Red-spotted Purple Butterfly    Red-spotted Purple Butterfly

On a beautiful clear day at the Knoxville Zoo, I found the first two pictures (in the box to the right) of the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) with a 3 to 4 inch wingspan, on a Butterfly bush. He was not one of the exhibits, but on the way south in the great monarch migration. A member of the Nymphalidae family, comprising of over 5,000 species worldwide. The most important characteristic of this group is that the front pair of legs are underdeveloped and no longer have a "walking" function. The monarch's bold coloration and patterns make it one of the easiest to identify. The North American Monarch migrates farther than any butterfly in the world, up to 3,000 miles each way each year. Though it takes more than one generation to make the migration. To learn more, read about it at Monarch Watch's website. The bottom (box to right) picture was taken at Graveyard Fields off of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. A place where I found quite a few different species of butterflies. The pictures below were taken at the Western North Carolina Nature Center during their summer exhibit of The Beauty of Butterflies. Needless to say, it was very popular and will hopefully be repeated every summer.

Monarch Caterpillar    Monarch Hatching     Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly    Monarch Butterfly     Monarch Butterfly
Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

My Daughter, Professional Butterfly Trainer

Monarch Butterfly

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly
Another beautiful member of the Nymphalidae family of butterflies is the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae). This one was also on the Butterfly bush. I think I need to plant some of those plants to attract butterflies. They have a 2 1/2 to 3 inch wingspan and fly during the daylight hours. They are found from South America to the southern USA, but migrate as far north as the Great Lakes. These pictures only show the silver-spotted underside, but the topside of the wings are orange-red with black spots. I could only photograph the underside as it stayed over my head until if flew away. It is also called the silver-spotted flambeau due to its spots. The Gulf Fritillary's catapillar feeds on passion vines (Passiflora), and the butterflies are attracted to the flowers as a source of nectar.

Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar          Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar

Painted Lady Butterfly

Painted Lady Butterfly

Painted Lady Butterfly
The Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui) is a member of the large family of Nymphalidae butterflies. They fly in the daytime and have a wingspan of 2 to 2 1/2 inches. It is probably the most widespread butterfly in the world as it is found on all continents but Antartica and in the Artic. Everyday before they can fly, butterflies must warm up their bodies to above 81 degrees F, and Painted Ladies hold their wings open at a 45 degree angle to do so. They are more abundant in some years than others. They generally have 2 broods a year except in desert areas where they breed all year. (Squished ripe banana is the preferred food to get them to eat off of your fingers.)

Painted Lady Butterfly    Painted Lady Butterfly     Painted Lady Butterfly

Red Admiral Butterfly

Red Admiral Butterfly

Red Admiral Butterfly
The Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) is a member of the Nymphalidae family. It ranges from southern Canada and the USA to northern Mexico. It is also found from Europe to North Africa to northern India. This particular one was photographed at the Upper Falls on the Yellowstone Prong in Graveyard Fields off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It has a wingspan of 2 1/4 to 3 inches and flies in the daytime. They are an easily identified butterfly. They move northward in the spring and southward in the fall, though it is not considered a "migration". The Red Admirals are not usually a year round resident in freezing climates.

Eastern Comma Butterfly
The Eastern Comma Butterfly (Polygonia comma) is a butterfly with uneven wing edges.

The Pearl Crescent Butterfly (Phyciodes tharos) is one of the most common and familiar butterflies. Pearl Crescent Butterfly

Common Buckeye Butterfly

Common Buckeye Butterfly

Common Buckeye Butterfly
The Common Buckeye Butterfly (Junonia coenia) is a very easy to identify butterfly.

Common Buckeye Butterfly    Common Buckeye Butterfly    Common Buckeye Butterfly

This is a Northern Pearly-Eye Butterfly (Enodia anthedon). I believe it to be a Northern Pearly-Eye because it has the black coloring at the base of the antennal clubs and four eyespots on the forewing unlike the Creole or Southern Pearly-Eyes. I know it is a little hard to see, but it was on the move and I was lucky to get this much of a picture. Northern Pearly-Eye

Northern Pearly-Eye

Mourning Cloak

The Mourning Cloak Butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa) is one of the first spotted butterflies after winter, since it actually hibernates as a butterfly instead of a pupa. They live longer than most butterflies, at 10 months or more, since they hibernate.

Lycaenidae Family

This Summer Azure Butterfly (Celastrina neglecta) was photographed in June at the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. It has a wingspan of 3/4 to 1 1/4 inches. It is a member of the Lycaenidae family, a large family with over 5,000 members throughout the world. It is similar to the Spring Azure, but flies later than the Spring Azure and is much paler in coloration. Summer Azure Butterfly

Pieridae Family

This is the Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris rapae). THe top photo depicts the markings of a female and the bottom photo depicts the markings of a male. Cabbage White

Cabbage White

Tiger Swallowtail Two Butterflies went out at Noon -
And waltzed upon a Farm -
Then stepped straight through the Firmament
And rested, on a Beam -

And then - together bore away
Upon a shining Sea -
Though never yet, in any Port -
Their coming, mentioned - be -

If spoken by the distant Bird -
If met in Ether Sea
By Frigate, or by Merchantman -
No notice - was - to me -

--- Emily Dickinson


  • "Discovering Moths - Nighttime Jewels in Your Own Backyard" - John Himmelman
  • "Butterflies and Moths" by David Carter
  • "Butterfly Book" by Donald & Lillian Stokes & Ernest Williams
  • "Eastern Forests" by Ann Sutton and Myron Sutton
  • Reader's Digest "North American Wildlife"
  • "Butterflies and Moths" by Robert T. Mitchell and Herbert S. Zim
  • "Butterflies of North America" by Jim P. Brock & Kenn Kaufman
  • "Moths of Eastern North America" by Charles V. Covell, Jr.

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Why more moths than butterflies here? They are easier to photograph, just turn on the porch light and wait a little while... But I'll try to track down a few more butterflies. And I have...