It’s no surprise that a state known for its beautiful forests and lakes is also home to a wide variety of butterflies. There are dozens of species of butterflies in Minnesota, but for this article, we have highlighted 12 of the most notable species. Most of these butterflies are flower-feeding pollinators, but surprisingly, some also feed on things like dung and carrion. Who knew something so pretty would eat something so unappealing?
12 common butterflies in Minnesota
1. Red Spotted Purple
Scientific name: Limenitis arthemis astyanax
The Red Spotted Purple Butterfly (pictured above) is considered more of a forest butterfly, due to its preference for tree sap, but it is often found in gardens with nectar-producing flowers as well.
These butterflies are found in the eastern half of the US, including Minnesota, and interestingly enough, can breed and produce viable young with the White Admiral butterfly.
Red Spotted Purples are about 3 inches in size and are known for their vibrant mimicry of the Pipevine Swallowtail, which is poisonous. This evolved defense has made them less likely to be eaten by predators.
2. White Admiral
Scientific name: Limenitis arthemis arthemis
The White Admiral is similar to the Red Spotted Purple, so similar in fact that the two species are capable of reproducing together and creating viable offspring.
What separates the two is the Red Spotted Purple’s mimicry of the Pipevine Swallowtail. The White Admiral is mostly black with white bars on its wings, while the Red Spotted Purple is a dark purple with blue near its tail.
3. Hackberry Emperor
Scientific name: Asterocampa celtis
This butterfly is a member of the brush-footed family of butterflies, which are recognizable due to their fluffy legs and feet. Unless you have Hackberry trees in your yard or garden it is unlikely Hackberry Emperors will be paying you a visit.
They spend most of their time in Hackberry trees which is where they get most of their nourishment from the time they leave the egg until they die.
4. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Scientific name: Papilio glaucus
As their name suggests, these butterflies are found in Minnesota as well as most of the eastern United States, parts of northern Mexico, and southern Canada.
Easter Tiger Swallowtails are sexually dimorphic with males being solid yellow with black tiger stripes and females being similarly colored, but with blue at the bottom of their tail.
Females can also come in a dark form which mimics the Pipevine Swallowtail, though males are reluctant to breed with these females.
These butterflies feed mainly on flower nectar as adults and Milkweed and Butterfly Bush are great choices to attract these to your garden.
5. Zebra Swallowtail
Scientific name: Eurytides marcellus
The Zebra Swallowtail is found in the Eastern United States, including parts of Minnesota, where it is rather rare. This butterfly gets its name because of its striking color and pattern. Mostly white, with zebra-like stripes on its wings.
These plants host on the pawpaw plant where females will lay individual eggs on the underside of leaves. Adults feed on nectar from a variety of plants, the most common of which is milkweed.
6. Common Buckeye
Scientific name: Junonia coenia
Named for its gorgeous black eyespots on the top of its wings, the Common Buckeye is mostly brown with orange bars.
Found all over the United States and southern Canada, including Minnesota, this butterfly is common but shy. If you hope to observe this nervous species, you will need to either sit and wait for them in your garden or move slowly when approaching them.
Common Buckeyes are nectar feeders, so any nectar-producing flowers can attract them to your garden, but Butterfly Bush and Zinnia are two of their favorites.
7. Regal Fritillary
Scientific name: Speyeria idalia
Once found across most of the US, the Regal Fritillary population has been steadily declining. Its current range encompasses the Midwest, including Minnesota and small parts of the North East.
This butterfly is arguably the most beautiful of the fritillary family, with a bold orange on the top of its wings and a bright blue on the bottom half.
Females are frequently found walking on the ground and will lay their eggs in grasses even when their preferred host, the violet, is not present.
Steps are being taken to hopefully preserve what is left of the Regal Fritillary and the nectar flowers it feeds on.
8. American Lady
Scientific name: Vanessa virginiensis
The American Lady butterfly is found throughout most of North America from Southern Canada to South America. Unlike some other butterflies, the American Lady is not cold tolerant, so they migrate away from colder weather in states like Minnesota in the fall and winter.
Feeding on nectar-producing plants, decaying fruit, and tree sap, this butterfly is easy to attract to your butterfly garden with Milkweed.
9. Mourning Cloak
Scientific name: Nymphalis antiopa
One of the longest-lived butterflies in the Americas is the Mourning Cloak. This species can live 10-11 months and will often hibernate through the winter in northern states like Minnesota.
Named due to their coloration, which resembles a traditional cloak worn during periods of mourning, they have purplish-black wings with a beautiful orange border.
These butterflies lay their eggs in various willow species and feed mainly on tree sap, though they will also dine on rotting fruit and flower nectar.
10. Green Comma
Scientific name: Polygonia faunus
This small 1.5-2 inch butterfly is found in pockets across the north. They are most prevalent in the Northwest, but are also found in the Northeast and in a small pocket in between that includes Minnesota and Michigan.
Named for a comma-shaped white mark on the underside of their wings, these butterflies can have highly variable colors from dusty orange to brown and their wings tend to have ragged-looking edges. These butterflies are known to feed on nectar, dung, and carrion.
11. Giant Swallowtail
Scientific name: Heraclides cresphontes
The Giant Swallowtail is the largest butterfly in North America. Found in most of the US, including parts of Minnesota. These butterflies are not picky and will host on a variety of plants including citrus, lime, and Hercules Club.
Adults are mostly black and yellow, but they do also have some blue and red markings. They feed mainly on nectar and seem to favor Milkweed, Butterfly Bush, and Zinnia.
Scientific name: Danaus plexippus
You can’t have a list of butterflies without including America’s Sweetheart of butterflies, the Monarch. These stunning orange and black butterflies are known for migrating thousands of miles each year from their home range to Mexico where they reproduce and then die.
Their babies then hatch in the spring and somehow know where to migrate back to. Monarchs are found throughout Minnesota in the summer time and are one of the most common butterflies in Minnesota.
If you want to attract Monarchs to your yard, you need to add native milkweed plants to your garden. The adults will feed on the flowers and lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves, and the caterpillars will feed on the plant.
Eating milkweed makes these butterflies and caterpillars taste bitter, so many predators avoid eating them.