There are over 175 species of butterflies in North Carolina, each ranging in different colors and enjoying different plants for nectar flowers. Their wings are useful to them not only for flying but also to help them blend in with their surroundings or scaring off predators with their bright colors.
North Carolina has a wide range of habitats that butterflies enjoy. From coastal dunes and sandhill savannahs to wetlands, piedmont, forests, and mountain ranges, these environments grow plenty of flowers for butterflies and provide areas for them to rest.
This article will cover 15 common species of butterflies you can find in North Carolina, including some unique ones such as a species featuring a “snout”. Learn about where butterflies in the state frequent and the plants they enjoy!
15 butterflies in North Carolina
15 butterflies you can find in North Carolina are the little yellow, common buckeye, cabbage white, orange sulphur, red-banded hairstreak, American lady, American snout, silver-spotted skipper, Horace’s duskywing, falcate orangetip, monarch, summer azure, red-spotted purple admiral, eastern tiger swallowtail, and Carolina satyr.
1. Little yellow
Scientific name: Eurema lisa
The little yellow butterfly is mostly yellow with dark borders or splotches on their wings that span 1.25 to 1.75 inches. These butterflies live throughout the state, except for certain counties in the western and central regions.
You can find them in dry, open habitats, such as abandoned or sandy fields. Caterpillar’s feed on wild sensitive plants in the pea family, while adult butterflies enjoy nectar from flowers in the aster family, such as goldenrods.
2. Common buckeye
Scientific name: Junonia coenia
The common buckeye is mostly brown with various patterns, including orange bars and 6 eyespots. Four of the eyespots are large and multi-colored. Their wings span 1.62 to 2.75 inches.
You can find these butterflies throughout the state in sunny, open habitats with bare ground and low vegetation. Caterpillars are black and prefer plants from the plantain and snapdragon family. Adult butterflies feed on nectar flowers, such as:
- Tickseed sunflower
3. Cabbage white
Scientific name: Pieris rapae
The cabbage white is one of the most common white butterfly species found worldwide, including throughout North Carolina. They are overall white, with yellowish-green and grayish-green undersides and a wingspan of 1.74 to 2.25 inches.
Their thin green caterpillars feed on plants in the mustard and caper families, while adults prefer a range of nectar flowers, including:
- Red clovers
4. Orange sulphur
Scientific name: Colias eurytheme
Despite their names, the orange sulphur butterfly has various colors, including white or yellow with orange overlaps, black borders, and yellow veins. They have wingspans of 1.37 to 2.75 inches.
You can find them throughout the state in fields or meadows where their food sources are. Caterpillars feed on plants in the pea family, while adults prefer nectar flowers, such as:
5. Red-banded hairstreak
Scientific name: Calycopis cecrops
The red-banded hairstreak gets their name from the line of reddish-orange on their brown or bluish wings. They are small butterflies with wings spanning 0.87 to 1.25 inches.
You can find these butterflies throughout most of North Carolina when they migrate during the months of April to October from warmer states like Florida. They prefer forest edges, overgrown fields, and coastal hammocks where caterpillars feed on fallen leaves of trees such as wax myrtle and oaks. Adults prefer nectar flowers, such as:
- Tickseed sunflower
- Wild cherry
- Sweet pepperbush
- Common milkweed
6. American lady
Scientific name: Vanessa virginiensis
During the summer months, the American lady butterflies are larger and brighter than winter ones in warmer states. They have yellow, brown, and orange patterns with two large eyespots on their hindwings. Their wingspans are 1.75 to 2.62 inches.
You can find them throughout the state in habitats with low vegetation, where the caterpillars feed on plants in the sunflower family. Adult butterflies enjoy nectar flowers, such as:
- Common milkweed
7. American snout
Scientific name: Libytheana carinenta
The American snout is a brownish and dull-orange butterfly with white patterns. They get their name from the elongated part of their mouth, called a labial palpi, that resembles a snout. Their wingspans are between 1.37 and 2 inches.
These butterflies can be found mostly in the southern, far western, and central regions of the state, especially in forest edges and clearings. The caterpillars feed on different species of hackberry, while adult butterflies prefer nectar flowers, such as:
- Sweet pepperbush
8. Silver-spotted skipper
Scientific name: Epargyreus clarus
There are 68 species of butterflies in the skippers family in North Carolina, and one of the most common species found throughout the state is the silver-spotted skipper. This butterfly gets their name from the gold spots and silver band on their brownish-black wings. Their wings grow between 1.75 to 2.62 inches.
The caterpillars of this species live on woody and herbaceous legumes. The adult butterflies interestingly never feed on yellow flowers. Instead, they prefer red, pink, blue, and purple flowers, such as:
- Everlasting pea
- Red clover
- Blazing star
9. Horace’s duskywing
Scientific name: Erynnis horatius
Despite their name, the Horace’s duskywing butterfly is also a species of the skippers family. They are dark brown with light brown patterns. Their wings are 1.4 to 1.9 inches.
You can find these butterflies throughout the state, except certain counties in the central-eastern region and at the state’s borders. They typically are in North Carolina from April to September in open woodlands and fields.
The caterpillars feed on red and white oaks, while adult butterflies prefer flowers around 4.5 feet tall, such as:
- Winter cress
10. Falcate orangetip
Scientific name: Anthocharis midea
The falcate orangetip butterfly is mostly white with a hooked tip. However, only the males have orange on the tips. These butterflies can grow wing spanning between 1.37 to 1.75 inches.
You can find them mostly in north and central North Carolina, with some populations in the southern, eastern, and western counties. The caterpillars live on plants from the mustard family, including winter cress. Adult butterflies feed on nectar flowers such as violets and mustards.
Scientific name: Danaus plexippus
Monarch butterflies live in various open habitats throughout the state. These butterflies are known for their long migration routes and are a common butterfly in North America, recognizable by their bright orange wings with black borders and veins. They grow to wingspans around 3.37 to 4.87 inches.
Both caterpillars and adult monarchs feed on milkweeds, which make them poisonous to predators. Adults will also feed on other flowers such as:
- Red clover
- Blazing stars
- Tickseed sunflowers
12. Summer azure
Scientific name: Celastrina neglecta
The summer azure is one of 5 azure species in North Carolina. You can find these powdery blue butterflies throughout the state in varying habitats, such as gardens and stream valleys. They are small, growing to wingspans of 0.9 to 1.1 inches.
These butterflies live as adults for only a few weeks, typically from June to October. Caterpillars feed on plants such as racemose and New Jersey tea, while adults enjoy a wide range of nectar flowers, including:
- Bunch flowers
13. Red-spotted purple admiral
Scientific name: Limenitis arthemis
The red-spotted purple butterfly used to be considered the same species as the white admiral. However, they have slightly different coloring of bluish-green and dark brown with red-orange bars and red-orange spots. Their wings span 1.25 to 4 inches.
You can find these butterflies throughout the state in valley bottoms, coastal plains, forests, and moist uplands. Caterpillars feed on leaves of various shrubs and trees, including oaks, cottonwood, and willows. The adult butterflies prefer tree sap, dung, rotting fruit, and sometimes nectar from small white flowers.
14. Eastern tiger swallowtail
Scientific name: Papilio glaucus
The eastern tiger swallowtail gets their name from the “tails” on the back of their wings that resemble the tails of swallows. They also have dark stripes like tigers against yellow wings. However, females are sometimes bluish-black with dark stripes. They have wingspans between 3.6 to 6.5 inches.
This butterfly species is the most common swallowtail in the state, found everywhere except in three counties. The adults feed on nectar flowers, such as lilac and wild cherry, while caterpillars eat a wide range of leaves, including on:
- Wild cherry
- Tulip trees
15. Carolina satyr
Scientific name: Hermeuptychia sosybius
The Carolina satyr is the most common satyr species in North Carolina. You can find them throughout the state, especially in woodlands and grassy areas. The caterpillars feed on different grass, such as Kentucky bluegrass and carpet grass, while adults prefer rotting fruit and sap.
These butterflies are plain brown on the upperside and brown with small eyespots on the underside. Their wingspan is between 1.25 to 1.5 inches.
If you like this article then be sure to check out our guide on how to make your own butterfly garden!