Colorado, a state known for its diverse wildlife and spectacular landscapes, is home to an incredible variety of butterflies. There are over 140 species of butterflies in Colorado that inhabit the Rocky Mountains National Park, one of the state’s most-visited destinations for families and nature lovers. Butterfly populations are as diverse as the myriad of native plants throughout the state’s varying geographic regions.
9 common butterflies in Colorado
Most people instinctively think of the monarch butterfly when the subject of butterflies in Colorado comes up. Below is a list of some of Colorado’s other butterflies, many of which you may never have heard of before!
1. Rocky Mountain Parnassian
Scientific name: Parnassius smintheus
This medium-sized butterfly reaches up to 2 ½-inches and is one of the smaller swallowtails in the state. Forewings are white to brownish-white; hindwings are white. Each set of wings displays red or yellow spots and irregular black markings.
The Rocky Mountain parnassian’s range stretches along the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico to southwest Alaska. Larval hosts include several Sedum species; adults favor nectar from Sedum species and members of the aster family. Adults frequent numerous habitat types, including meadows and open forests.
2. Two-Tailed Swallowtail
Scientific name: Papilio multicaudata
A large swallowtail with a wingspan reaching up to 5 inches, the two-tailed swallowtail is a sight to behold. Wings are yellow with distinctive black markings, including a thick sub marginal band. Hindwings display iridescent blue markings near the base and, as the common name suggests, two tails.
Caterpillars feed on leaves of numerous native trees, including chokecherry and ash. Adults feed on native flower nectar. Because their food sources are so diverse, two-tailed swallowtails frequent various habitats, including suburban areas and parks.
3. Colorado Hairstreak
Scientific name: Hypaurotis crysalus
The Colorado hairstreak is the official state butterfly of Colorado. Despite this butterfly’s small size of less than 1 ½ inches, it’s hard to miss.
The upperside is bright blue to deep purple with wide black bands near or at the edge. Bright orange spots on the hindwing stand out against the deeper color.
Like many other hairstreaks, larval hosts include native trees, particularly oak. Adults prefer sap and insect honeydew. This brightly colored butterfly’s habitat is directly related to its food habits; oak woodlands and scrub where food is plentiful.
4. Rocky Mountain Dotted-Blue
Scientific name: Euphilotes ancilla
This small butterfly’s wingspan reaches only 1-inch with some specimens reaching barely ½-inch. Sexually dimorphic, the males are much more colorful than females with deep blue uppersides broken with black borders.
Females are mostly brown with the exception of an orange spot on the hind wing. Black spots decorate the underside of both sexes.
This species rarely venture far from host plants; both larvae and adults prefer species in the Eriogonum genus, which often grow in sunny areas along slopes and flat areas.
5. Arogos Skipper
Scientific name: Atrytone arogos
Like other skippers, the arogos skipper has a stout body with a ‘fluffy’ appearance. Reaching nearly 1 ½-inches, this small skipper stays relatively close to the ground. These delicate insects are yellowish-orange above and paler yellow below.
Host plants include native grasses; adults prefer the nectar of numerous native flowers throughout the grasslands and prairies. In Colorado, arogos skippers are more common around Boulder and east of Denver.
6. Southern Rocky Mountain Orangetip
Scientific name: Anthocharis julia
This small orangetip reaches only 1 ¼-inches but is a beautifully colored species. Males are white and females pale yellow, but bright orange to reddish-orange patches and black bars decorate the tips of the forewings.
Caterpillars prefer rockcress species while adults enjoy flower nectar from a variety of plants. Certain populations of this species are becoming rarer, possibly due to a loss in food sources throughout parts of its range. As its common name suggests, this butterfly’s range includes parts of the southern Rocky Mountains in the U.S., from Wyoming to New Mexico.
7. Lupine Blue
Scientific name: Plebejus lupini
The small lupine blue barely reaches a wingspan of 1-inch. Colorado’s mountainous landscape is ideal for these small butterflies – preferred habitats include slopes and the meadows throughout mountain valleys. This species is sexually dimorphic: males are purplish-blue above while females are darker brown. Each species display a reddish-orange band on the hindwing.
Caterpillar hosts include several species of native buckwheat; adults prefer nectar from many species of flowers.
8. Aphrodite Fritillary
Scientific name: Speyeria aphrodite
This fritillary is medium-sized, reaching a wingspan of 3 ¼-inches. The upperside of the wings is yellowish- to orangish-brown with black spots and patches; species throughout different regions may differ slightly in appearance. Detailed population ranges spread across most of the northern half of the United States, but follow the Rockies from southern Canada to Arizona in the west.
Violets are a preferred host for the caterpillars; adults prefer nectar from several species of native flowers. The species’ widespread food sources allow it to have several habitats, including open prairies and woods.
9. Common Buckeye
Scientific name: Junonia coenia
Although the common buckeye is more prevalent in the eastern half of the U.S., this species has several populations in Colorado, particularly east of the mountains. This medium-sized butterfly reaches 2 ¾-inches and has a range of color varieties; the telltale characteristic of common buckeyes is its four distinctive eyespots. Colors range from brown to orangish brown, often with bright orange bands and bars.
Common buckeyes prefer wide-open spaces with plenty of sun where food sources are plentiful. Caterpillars feed on numerous native plants; adults favor flower nectar. While some species of butterflies prefer to perch high in the trees watching for a mate, the common buckeye male is often found near — or even on — the ground.