Butterflies are flying insects with beautiful patterns and colors that are frequent visitors to gardens. Planting the right host plants and flowers can ensure you attract them and give you a chance to observe their life-cycle. From egg to caterpillar to chrysalis and then an adult butterfly, the transformation is fascinating!
There are over 250 species of butterflies living in the Sonoran desert that takes up most of Arizona. However, this article will cover 18 common species you can find throughout the state.
Let’s learn more about them, including the host plants and nectar flowers they visit!
18 Butterflies in Arizona
18 examples of butterflies you can find in Arizona are the pipevine swallowtail, monarch, spring white, checkered white, southwestern orangetip, southern dogface, orange sulphur, Mexican yellow, great purple hairstreak, brown elfin, marine blue, Reakirt’s blue, fatal metalmark, American snout, sagebrush checkerspot, hackberry emperor, saltbush sootywing and silver-spotted skipper.
1. Pipevine swallowtail
Scientific name: Battus philenor
The pipevine swallowtail is dark blue or blue-green with patterns, including orange spots. Their wingspan is 2.75 to 5 inches and you can find them throughout Arizona.
The caterpillars are black with orange spike-like protrusions and feed on pipevines. Adult butterflies eat nectar flowers only, including:
- Common azaleas
- California buckeye
- Yerba santa
Scientific name: Danaus plexippus
Monarch butterflies are bright orange with black borders and veins, including small white spots on the margins. Their wingspans are 3.37 to 4.87 inches.
These butterflies live in open habitats, such as meadows, marshes, and fields throughout Arizona. The caterpillars and adult butterflies both feed on milkweeds, which contributes to them being poisonous to predators. Adults also visit other flowers, such as
- Blazing stars
- Tickseed sunflowers
3. Spring white
Scientific name: Pontia sisymbrii
The spring white butterfly has whitish to creamy yellow wings that are 1.25 to 3.75 inches and patterned with dark and olive veins. You can find them throughout Arizona, except Yuma county, in desert hills and other dry habitats.
The caterpillars prefer plants of the mustard family, while adult butterflies feed on flowers from plants, such as black mustard and forget-me-nots.
4. Checkered white
Scientific name: Pontia protodice
The checkered white butterfly is mostly white with some black or brown checkered patterns. Their wings are 1.5 to 2.5 inches wide.
They live in various habitats, including fields, railroad beds, and dry weedy areas throughout Arizona. Caterpillars feed on plants in the mustard and caper family. Adult butterflies prefer flower nectar from plants such as hedge mustard, alfalfa, and composites.
5. Southwestern orangetip
Scientific name: Anthocharis thoosa
Southwestern orangetip butterflies are white or yellowish-white, especially on their hindwing. They have brown patterns and an orange streak on each side of their 1 to 1.5-inch wings.
These butterflies live mostly in juniper woodlands or desert hills throughout Arizona. Adults feed on flower nectar from mustard plants. Caterpillars eat the buds, seed pods, and flowers of the same plants.
6. Southern dogface
Scientific name: Zerene cesonia
The southern dogface is a yellow butterfly with black borders, eyespots, and areas of duller diffused black colors. These butterflies grow wingspans from 2.12 to 3 inches.
You can find them in open and dry areas, such as scrub oak groves, short-grass prairie hills, and open woodland throughout Arizona, except Yavapai county. Caterpillars feed on small-leaved plants from the pea family while adults prefer nectar flowers, including:
7. Orange sulphur
Scientific name: Colias eurytheme
The orange sulphur butterfly varies in colors, including yellow, white, or yellow with an orange overlay. They have dark eyespots and rings scattered throughout their wings that span 1.37 to 2.75 inches.
You can find them in all Arizona open habitats, including fields and meadows. Caterpillars feed on plants in the pea family and adult butterflies eat nectar from flowers, such as:
8. Mexican yellow
Scientific name: Eurema mexicana
As their name suggests, the Mexican yellow is a yellow butterfly with creamy patterns and darker borders. Their wings have a tail-like point and span 1.75 to 2.5 inches.
They live throughout Arizona in dry open areas such as deserts, hillsides, and prairies. The caterpillars feed on plants in the pea family and adult butterflies eat nectar from various flowers, including butterfly busy, lantana, and Mexican sunflower.
9. Great purple hairstreak
Scientific name: Atlides halesus
Despite their name, the great purple hairstreak’s wings are mostly brown or black with blueish and white spots. Their bodies are black with red-orange colorings. Their wings span 1.25 to 2 inches.
You can find them throughout Arizona in mesquite forests, oak woods, and suburban areas. Caterpillars prefer mistletoes, while adult butterflies feed on the nectar of flowers from:
- Hercule club
- Sweet pepperbush
- Shepherd’s needle
- Wild plum
10. Brown elfin
Scientific name: Callophrys augustinus
The brown elfin has a chestnut brown underside with irregular dark patterns. Males have uppersides that are gray-brown, while females are reddish-brown. Their wingspans are 0.87 to 1.12 inches.
These butterflies live throughout Arizona, except for Yuma and La Paz counties. Caterpillars feed on plants, such as dodder and madrone. Adult butterflies visit nectar flowers, such as:
- Wild plum
- Winter cress
11. Marine blue
Scientific name: Leptotes marina
The small marine blue butterfly has wingspans of 0.8 to 1.12 inches and they are generally pale in color. The upperside is blue or with a purple tinge, while their underside has pale brown bands.
These butterflies live in open gardens, waste, and desert areas throughout Arizona. Caterpillars feed on legumes and leadwort plants, while adult butterflies prefer nectar flowers, including catclaw acacia trees or shrubs.
12. Reakirt’s blue
Scientific name: Hemiargus isola
The Reakirt’s blue butterfly is the only butterfly in the genus Echinargus. These butterflies live throughout Arizona and also regularly migrate throughout North America. They have small wingspans of 0.75 to 1.12 inches and are generally light blue with dark veins, white and black patterns, and dusky borders.
The caterpillars prefer plants in the pea family, such as yellow sweet clover and indigo bush. Adult butterflies prefer nectar from herb flowers, such as white sweet clover and spearmint.
13. Fatal metalmark
Scientific name: Calephelis nemesis
The fatal metalmark butterfly is a small butterfly with wingspans under one inch. They are brown butterflies with darker patterns, including bands and checkered fringes.
You can find them throughout Arizona in weedy or bushes areas, except in Navajo and Apache counties. Caterpillars live on seep willow host plants, while adult butterflies feed on nectar from flowers such as desert Baccharis and virgin river brittlebush.
14. American snout
Scientific name: Libytheana carinenta
American snout butterflies are unique-looking with a long mouthpiece that looks like a snout. They are mostly brown with white and mottled violet-grey patterns. Their wings span between 1.37 to 2 inches.
These butterflies live in forest edges and clearings throughout Arizona. Caterpillars live on hackberry plants, while adult butterflies feed on nectar from flowers, such as:
- Sweet pepperbush
15. Sagebrush checkerspot
Scientific name: Chlosyne acastus
The sagebrush checkerspot butterfly is orange and yellowish with a checkered black and white pattern on their wings. They have a light median band and wings spanning 1.5 to 2 inches.
These butterflies live in sagebrush scrub and woodlands throughout Arizona, excluding La Paz and Santa Cruz counties. Butterflies feed on the nectar of wildflowers in these habitats. You can find caterpillars on aster and rabbitbrush plants in the sunflower family.
16. Hackberry emperor
Scientific name: Asterocampa celtis
Hackberry emperor butterflies vary in color, however, they are typically reddish-brown on the upper side with multiple patterns, including black and white spots, two black eyespots with orange rings, and banded margins. Their wingspans are 1.37 to 2.5 inches.
Caterpillars feed on various sugarberry and hackberry plants, while adult butterflies prefer rotting fruit, dung, and sap. These butterflies can be found in wooded streams, river edges, and forest glades throughout Arizona, except in Navajo, Yuma, and La Paz counties.
17. Silver-spotted skipper
Scientific name: Epargyreus clarus
The silver-spotted skipper butterfly have brown-black wings with a metallic silver band on its hind wing. Their wingspans are 1.75 to 2.62 inches and the chrysalids can hibernate through cold weather.
In Arizona, you can find them throughout the state except for Yuma, La Paz, and Pinal counties. Caterpillars feed on various woody legumes, such as honey locust and false indigo. Adult butterflies rarely visit yellow flowers. Instead, they prefer pink, blue, red, or purple flowers, such as:
- Everlasting pea
- Red clover
- Common milkweed
- Blazing star
18. Saltbush sootywing
Scientific name: Hesperopsis alpheus
The saltbush sootywing are black and brown with checkered fringes and mottled gray patterns and pale spots. Their wings are 0.74 to 1.25 inches.
You can find these butterflies in desert or arid canyon habitats throughout Arizona, except La Paz, and Yuma counties. Adult butterflies feed on plants in the habitat, including the big saltbush. Caterpillars live on plants in the goosefoot family, including shadscale and quail brush.