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12 Butterflies in Illinois (Common Species with Pictures)

Butterflies are arguably the most adored insects on the planet. People get tattoos of them, hang art depicting them, and even dedicate their backyard garden to attracting and feeding them. If you are curious about the butterflies in Illinois, you will love reading this list of the top 12 prettiest butterflies and how to attract them.

12 common butterflies in Illinois

Here are 12 of our favorite butterflies in Illinois.

1. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern tiger swallowtail on plants
Eastern tiger swallowtail on plants | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Papilio glaucus

The Eastern tiger swallowtail is found in all states east of the Mississippi River, though they are also occasionally found further west.

These beautiful butterflies are sexually dimorphic, with males being yellow and females being yellow with blue along the tail. Females can also come in a darker coloration where the body is mostly black with the same blue on the tail.

This darker coloration seems to deter predators, but male swallowtails prefer to breed with the standard yellow females.

If looking to attract these butterflies to your yard, they love nectar-producing plants like Honeysuckle, Milkweed, Azaleas, and some wildflowers.

2. Orange Sulphur

Orange sulphur butterfly
Orange sulphur butterfly | image by ALAN SCHMIERER via Flickr

Scientific name: Colias eurytheme

Native to most of the United States, orange sulfur butterflies are around 2” in size and very active. They have a lifespan of about 2-4 weeks, unless they hibernate over the winter, in which case they can live up to a year.

These butterflies are attracted to Alfalfa, Milkweed, and Clover flowers, but also enjoy sunflowers and other wildflowers. If trying to attract them to your garden, adding native milkweed is probably your best bet.

Orange sulphur caterpillars have a preference for feeding on alfalfa and clover plants.

3. Red Spotted Purple

Red-spotted purple admiral
Red-spotted purple admiral | image by ALAN SCHMIERER via Flickr

Scientific name: Limenitis astyanax

The Red Spotted Purple butterfly is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful butterflies around. Found in most states east of Texas, this butterfly practices mimicry of the pipevine swallowtail, which is poisonous.

This is one of the harder butterflies to attract to your yard as their food preferences consist of tree sap, fermenting fruit, and oddly enough feces. They will also occasionally feed on nectar producing flowers as well, so if you are building a butterfly garden there is a chance they will make an appearance.

4. Monarch

Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly | Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Scientific name: Danaus plexippus

This species is one of the most well-known butterflies in Illinois and probably North America. When you picture a butterfly, the image that comes to your mind is likely that of a Monarch.

Found all over the US and parts of Mexico, these butterflies perform incredible migrations at the end of every year, flying all the way to Mexico where they reproduce and then pass away.

If you are looking to attract Monarchs to your yard, you will need to plant native milkweed plants as these are the only plants they will lay their eggs on.

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5. Great Spangled Fritillary

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

Scientific name: Speyeria cybele

This medium-sized butterfly is around 3” and is found throughout the northern US and southern Canada.

Like Monarchs, they are very picky about where they lay their eggs and will only lay them on or near violets. It’s believed that the females can actually smell the roots of violets as they will at times lay eggs after the violet itself has lost its leaves.

6. Little Wood Satyr

Little wood satyr on plants
Little wood satyr on plants | image by ALAN SCHMIERER via Flickr

Scientific name: Megisto cymela

These small, unassuming butterflies are only about an inch and a half in size. While their color is a drab light brown, they make up for it with beautiful eyespots along the outer edges of their wings.

Found in the eastern half of the US, the adults prefer to feed on tree sap, but will occasionally also drink nectar. Caterpillars prefer to eat orchard grass.

7. Question Mark

Question mark butterfly on flowers
Question mark butterfly on flowers | image by Jim, the Photographer via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Polygonia interrogationis

Question mark butterflies are named for a white marking on the outside of their wings. They are orange and black and have a pattern that helps them to blend in among leaves.

Like the little wood satyr, these are found on the eastern side of the US as far west as North Dakota.

You may have some trouble attracting these to your yard as they have a rather unexpected butterfly diet of carrion, feces, fruit, and sap.

8. Common Buckeye

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

Scientific name: Junonia coenia

Common Buckeyes are known for the incredible eye spots on their wings. These are thought to confuse predators long enough for the butterfly to escape.

These butterflies are nectar feeders that love Foxglove, Zinnia, and other nectar-producing wild and garden flowers.

These butterflies are a bit more flighty and nervous than some other species, so be sure to move slowly if you want to observe or photograph them.

9. Mourning Cloak

Mourning cloak butterfly
Mourning cloak butterfly | Image by dmarr515 from Pixabay

Scientific name: Nymphalis antiopa

The Mourning Cloak is the triple threat of American butterflies. It has a very unique color pattern, it’s one of the longest-lived at 10-11 months, and it’s one of the most widely distributed in the Americas.

These butterflies range from Canada down to Mexico and everywhere in between, excluding some coastal areas. Mourning Cloaks are mostly black, but they do have a yellow border on their wings that is very eye-catching.

It will be difficult to attract them to your garden as they feed mainly on tree sap and rotting fruit, but if you build a butterfly garden they may occasionally stop by.

10. Painted Lady

Painted lady butterfly on a flower
Painted lady butterfly on a flower | Image by Vikramjit Kakati from Pixabay

Scientific name: Vanessa cardui

The Painted Lady is the most widely distributed butterfly in the world, found on every livable continent on earth. These butterflies exhibit beautiful orange colors and are known for their migratory behavior.

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Unlike Monarchs that migrate seasonally, the Painted Lady seems to just go where the wind takes them. While you may see only one or two Painted Lady butterflies at a time, they are known to migrate in large groups, even showing up on weather radars from time to time.

11. Hackberry Emperor

hackberry emperor butterfly
Hackberry emperor butterfly by khteWisconsin via Flickr

Scientific name: Asterocampa celtis

The Hackberry Emperor is a very specialized feeder. Getting nourishment mainly from the Hackberry tree at all stages of its life, it’s unlikely that you will see these in your butterfly garden.

Found mainly in the eastern United States, this butterfly is common but rarely seen since it spends most of its time in trees. This makes them one of the least commonly seen butterflies in Illinois.

12. Pearl Crescent

Pearl crescent butterfly
Pearl crescent butterfly

Scientific name: Phyciodes tharos

The Pearl Crescent is a small species of butterfly that can be found as far south as Mexico and as far north as Canada, but they are rarely seen near the East Coast.

The host plant for the Pearl Crescent is the Aster, but they will frequently feed on other nectar-producing plants as adults.

If you want to attract these tiny butterflies to your garden, keep in mind that they like open spaces, Aster flowers, and native Milkweed.