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18 Butterflies and Moths with Eyes on Their Wings

Butterflies and moths with eye-like patterns on their wings are fascinating examples of nature’s ingenuity. These eye spots serve as a defense mechanism, tricking predators into thinking they are staring into the eyes of a much larger and more dangerous creature.

This clever adaptation can startle or deter potential threats, giving these delicate insects a better chance of survival. The presence of these eyespots also adds to their allure, making them a favorite subject for photographers and butterfly enthusiasts.

From the vibrant buckeye butterfly to the imposing io moth, many species exhibit these captivating markings. Their distribution spans across various regions of North America, showcasing a variety of colors, sizes, and patterns.

18 Butterflies and Moths with Eyes on Their Wings

This list explores some of the most intriguing butterflies and moths that sport eyes on their wings, highlighting their unique characteristics and the regions they inhabit. Enjoy!

1. Io Moth

io moth
io moth

Scientific name: Automeris io
Wingspan: 2.5 – 3.5 inches
Range: Eastern and Central North America

The io moth is known for its dramatic eyespots on the hindwings, which resemble large eyes. These eyespots are revealed when the moth is threatened, startling potential predators. The io moth is found in a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, and gardens. The caterpillars are notable for their stinging spines, which can cause irritation to humans. The adult moths do not feed and are primarily active at night.

2. Eyed Brown Butterfly

Scientific name: Satyrodes eurydice
Wingspan: 1.6 – 2.2 inches
Range: Northeastern United States and Canada

The eyed brown butterfly features subtle eyespots along the edges of its wings, which serve to confuse predators. This butterfly prefers wetland habitats, such as marshes and swamps, where it can often be seen resting on grasses and sedges. The caterpillars feed on various sedge species. The eyed brown is known for its delicate and elusive nature, making it a treasured find for butterfly enthusiasts.

3. White Peacock Butterfly

Scientific name: Anartia jatrophae
Wingspan: 2.0 – 2.8 inches
Range: Southern United States, particularly Florida

The white peacock butterfly has eye spots on its forewings and hindwings, which help protect it from predators. This butterfly is commonly found in wetlands, gardens, and along roadsides. The caterpillars feed on plants such as water hyssop and ruellia. The white peacock’s elegant flight and striking appearance make it a favorite among butterfly watchers.

4. Common Buckeye

Common buckeye butterfly
Common buckeye butterfly | Image by Brett Hondow from Pixabay

Scientific name: Junonia coenia
Wingspan: 1.5 – 2.7 inches
Range: Throughout North America

The common buckeye butterfly is distinguished by its multiple eye spots on the forewings and hindwings, which serve as a defense mechanism against predators. It thrives in open, sunny habitats such as fields and gardens. The caterpillars feed on a variety of plants, including plantains and toadflax. The common buckeye is a frequent visitor to flowers, where it feeds on nectar.

5. Polyphemus Moth

antheraea polyphemus
Antheraea polyphemus

Scientific name: Antheraea polyphemus
Wingspan: 4.0 – 6.0 inches
Range: Throughout North America

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The polyphemus moth features large eyespots on its hindwings that resemble the eyes of a larger predator. This moth can be found in deciduous forests and urban areas. The caterpillars feed on a wide range of trees, including oak, maple, and birch. The adult moths are nocturnal and do not feed, focusing solely on reproduction.

6. Giant Leopard Moth

Scientific name: Hypercompe scribonia
Wingspan: 3.0 – 4.5 inches
Range: Eastern United States

The giant leopard moth is known for its striking black and white patterned wings and large eyespots on its hindwings. These eyespots are used to startle predators. The caterpillars, known as woolly bears, feed on a variety of plants including dandelions and violets. The adult moths are nocturnal and are often attracted to lights at night.

7. Red Admiral

Scientific name: Vanessa atalanta
Wingspan: 1.8 – 3.0 inches
Range: Throughout North America

The red admiral butterfly features eye spots on its hindwings, which help deter predators. It is a migratory species that can be found in gardens, parks, and woodlands. The caterpillars primarily feed on nettles. The red admiral is known for its rapid and erratic flight, making it a challenging but rewarding subject for photographers.

8. Question Mark Butterfly

question mark butterfly
question mark butterfly | source: ALAN SCHMIERER

Scientific name: Polygonia interrogationis
Wingspan: 2.0 – 3.0 inches
Range: Eastern United States, Midwest, Great Plains

The question mark butterfly is named for the silver mark on the underside of its hindwings, which resembles a question mark. It also features subtle eye spots that help protect it from predators. This butterfly is commonly found in forests, fields, and gardens. The caterpillars feed on elm, nettle, and hackberry. The question mark is known for its unique hibernation behavior, with adults overwintering in tree crevices.

9. Red-spotted Purple

Scientific name: Limenitis arthemis astyanax
Wingspan: 3.0 – 3.5 inches
Range: Eastern United States

red spotted purple
red-spotted purple

The red-spotted purple butterfly features blue-black wings with red and white spots, including eye-like markings that help deter predators. It can be found in deciduous forests, parks, and gardens. The caterpillars feed on trees such as willow, poplar, and cherry. The red-spotted purple is known for its iridescent wings that shimmer in the sunlight.

10. Great Spangled Fritillary

Great Spangled Fritillary
Great Spangled Fritillary | by ALAN SCHMIERER via Flickr

Scientific name: Speyeria cybele
Wingspan: 2.5 – 3.5 inches
Range: Throughout North America

The great spangled fritillary has prominent eye spots on the underside of its hindwings, which serve to deter predators. This butterfly is commonly found in meadows, fields, and gardens. The caterpillars feed on violet leaves. The great spangled fritillary is known for its fast and powerful flight.

11. Painted Lady

Scientific name: Vanessa cardui
Wingspan: 2.0 – 2.9 inches
Range: Throughout North America

The painted lady butterfly features eye spots on its hindwings that help protect it from predators. It is a migratory species that can be found in a variety of habitats, including gardens, fields, and roadsides. The caterpillars feed on thistle, mallow, and other plants. The painted lady is known for its widespread distribution and impressive long-distance migrations.

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12. American Lady

American lady butterfly
American lady butterfly | Image by Mike Goad from Pixabay

Scientific name: Vanessa virginiensis
Wingspan: 1.8 – 2.5 inches
Range: Throughout North America

The American lady butterfly features two large eyespots on the underside of its hindwings, which help protect it from predators. This butterfly can be found in gardens, fields, and open areas. The caterpillars feed on various plants, including cudweed and everlasting. The American lady is known for its rapid and erratic flight.

13. Hackberry Emperor

hackberry emperor butterfly
Hackberry emperor butterfly by khteWisconsin via Flickr

Scientific name: Asterocampa celtis
Wingspan: 2.0 – 2.8 inches
Range: Throughout North America

The hackberry emperor butterfly has subtle eyespots on its wings that help deter predators. This butterfly is commonly found in woodlands, near streams, and in gardens. The caterpillars feed on hackberry trees. The hackberry emperor is known for its curious nature and will often land on people.

14. Eyed Sphinx Moth

Scientific name: Smerinthus ophthalmica
Wingspan: 3.0 – 3.5 inches
Range: Western United States

The eyed sphinx moth is known for its large, dramatic eyespots on its hindwings that resemble owl eyes, used to startle predators. This moth is found in forests and woodlands. The caterpillars feed on willow, poplar, and birch leaves. The adult moths are nocturnal and do not feed, focusing instead on reproduction.

15. Northern Pearly-eye

northern pearly eye
Northern Pearly-eye

Scientific name: Enodia anthedon
Wingspan: 1.7 – 2.5 inches
Range: Northeastern United States and Canada

The northern pearly-eye butterfly features subtle eyespots along the edges of its wings, which help to deter predators. This butterfly prefers shaded woodland habitats. The caterpillars feed on various grasses. The northern pearly-eye is known for its elusive nature and preference for shady environments.

16. Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush swallowtail on a flower
Spicebush swallowtail on a flower | image by John Flannery via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Scientific name: Papilio troilus
Wingspan: 3.0 – 4.0 inches
Range: Eastern United States

The spicebush swallowtail butterfly features eye-like spots on its hindwings that serve to deter predators. This butterfly is commonly found in deciduous forests, gardens, and parks. The caterpillars feed on spicebush and sassafras leaves. The spicebush swallowtail is known for its iridescent blue-green coloration and graceful flight.

17. Pipevine Swallowtail

Scientific name: Battus philenor
Wingspan: 2.5 – 4.0 inches
Range: Southern and Eastern United States

The pipevine swallowtail features iridescent blue hindwings with eye spots that serve as a defense mechanism. This butterfly is commonly found in gardens, meadows, and along roadsides. The caterpillars feed on pipevine plants, which make them toxic to predators. The pipevine swallowtail is known for its vibrant coloration and erratic flight.

18. Common Wood-Nymph

common wood nymph
wood-nymph butterfly | source: ALAN SCHMIERER

Scientific name: Cercyonis pegala
Wingspan: 2.0 – 3.0 inches
Range: Throughout North America

The common wood-nymph butterfly features prominent eyespots on its forewings and hindwings that help deter predators. This butterfly is commonly found in meadows, grasslands, and forest edges. The caterpillars feed on various grasses. The common wood-nymph is known for its cryptic coloration and elusive behavior.

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