Pennsylvania has an abundance of butterflies, with 186 species present throughout the state. However, many of these species have only been identified a handful of times in the state. The more common species are usually more widespread around the state and can be found in various habitats. This article will cover 11 of the most widespread and common butterflies in Pennsylvania.
These species are commonly found on hikes, in your garden, and in more populated regions. Let’s have a look!
11 Common Butterflies in Pennsylvania
1. Mourning Cloak
Scientific name: Nymphalis antiopa
The mourning cloak is one of the first butterflies to appear every year, usually debuting in February or March. This species is less prevalent during the hottest and driest months of the year. With that said, they live almost a year and are said to be the longest living butterfly species.
You can identify the mourning cloak by its distinct wing pattern. The majority of the wing is brown with a darker brown band followed by a light tan color on the wing edge. The darker brown band has light white spots, making for distinct markings.
2. Orange Sulphur
Scientific name: Colias eurytheme
Farmers throughout Pennsylvania have a love-hate relationship with orange sulphurs due to their affinity for eating crops. This species is prone to having population booms and going after fields of pea and alfalfa crops.
This butterfly is easily identifiable by its eyespot in the center of the wing. Within the yellow-orange wing, this spot is white with a brown rim. It can be easy to confuse the orange sulphur with the clouded sulphur; however, the clouded sulphur is much yellower.
3. Baltimore Checkerspot
Scientific name: Euphydryas phaeton
The Baltimore checkerspot can be sparse some years depending on parasitism, while the insects are still caterpillars. Since the hatched caterpillars live on the tip of leaves, they’re prone to falling from the plant or being killed by wasps.
If they make it to adulthood, the Baltimore checkerspot can be found on plants like:
- Wild rose
This species has a striking orange-spotted wing edge and a black wing with white spots along the black base.
4. American Snout
Scientific name: Libytheana carinenta
The American snout butterfly is unique due to its long snout that helps them imitate dead leaves. The color of the butterfly is varying shades of browns and white, further making the insect look like a leaf.
This species usually lays its eggs on hackberry plants but gravitates towards asters, dogbane, or dogwood for nectar.
5. Question mark
Scientific name: Polygonia interrogationis
The question mark butterfly is named after a distinct marking on the underside of the hindwing. This marking looks like a punctuation mark and is generally a cream color among an otherwise brown to orange tone wing. This species is incredibly attracted to rotting fruit and sources of running sap, so you’re likely to find these butterflies in the summer.
Scientific name: Basilarchia archippus
The viceroy is very similar looking to monarchs since they have almost identical wing coloring and patterning. The primary distinction is that the viceroy is smaller than a monarch, coming in at around 2.3-3 inches compared to the monarch, which is usually 3.5-4 inches.
Interestingly, the viceroy caterpillar looks almost identical to a bird dropping, putting them at low risk for predation. Viceroys are most common to spot among wildflowers and tree blossoms.
Scientific name: Danaus plexippus
The monarch is one of the most recognizable butterflies due to its striking orange and black wings. Unfortunately, the monarch population has decreased by around 80% over the past 20 years, which is a growing concern for conservationists. This is likely due to increased usage of pesticides and herbicides in the plants that monarchs rely on; however, removal of milkweed habitat is another concern for monarchs.
You’re most likely to find groups of monarchs around milkweed and several different domestic or wildflower species.
Scientific name: Polygonia comma
The comma butterfly is astutely named after the marking on the underside of its hindwing, which imitates a comma. This is a cream-colored semi-circle with black edges, and the rest of the wing is varying colors of browns and white, giving the butterfly a leaf-like look.
You’re likely to find this species around dandelions, rotting fruit, and butterfly bushes. However, if you’re on the hunt for some comma caterpillars, you’ll have the best look looking at nettles or hopes.
9. Zebra Swallowtail
Scientific name: Eurytides marcellus
The zebra swallowtail is named after the zebra because it has similar black and white stripes to the mammal. This species also has two red spots at the hindwing base and a long black tail hanging off of both wings. Although the zebra swallowtail is native to the entire eastern United States, it’s the official state butterfly of Tennessee.
The only plant suitable for the species is the pawpaw tree because the larvae will not feed on any other plant matter.
10. Painted Lady
Scientific name: Vanessa cardui
The painted lady is the most common butterfly species globally and is often referred to as the thistle butterfly because their caterpillars will only feed on a thistle. This species can live up to one year and is most common to find around plants in the aster family between three and six feet high.
11. Southern Dogface
Scientific name: Zerene cesonia cesonia
The southern dogface butterfly has a yellow and black forewing that resembles the look of a dog’s head. Although much of the butterfly is yellow in the warmer months, they take on a pink hue during the winter. Therefore, it’s easier to identify them by looking for the unique dog face marking.
If you’re searching for this butterfly, find pea plants in your region. The females lay their eggs on pea plants exclusively because their larvae prefer eating them while growing.
Pennsylvania is a great place to spot an array of butterfly species. While these species are among the most common in the state, you’re bound to see up to 175 more species in Pennsylvania. Generally speaking, you’ll see the most diversity in butterflies during the warmer months of the year.