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9 Common Butterflies in South Carolina (Pictures)

With distinctive geographical regions, South Carolina offers numerous habitats to support a wide range of butterfly species. The state’s four distinct regions are the Blue Ridge Mountains, Piedmont, Coastal Plain, and Sea Islands. Many of the state’s butterflies inhabit all four; some, however, are more particular about their habitat. In this article we’re going to take a look at 9 different species of butterflies in South Carolina.

Photo collage butterflies in South Carolina

9 Butterflies in South Carolina

The 9 butterflies in South Carolina that we cover in this list are the giant swallowtail, harvester, little metalmark, white peacock, common buckeye, falcate orangetip, southern pearly-eye, red-spotted admiral, and the Yucca giant skipper.

1. Giant Swallowtail

Giant swallowtail butterfly
Giant swallowtail butterfly | image by USFWS Midwest Region via Flickr

Scientific name: Papilio cresphontes

The largest butterfly in the United States, the giant swallowtail, inhabits the eastern two-thirds of the country, including South Carolina. Several other members of the Papilionidae family inhabit South Carolina.

This impressive butterfly boasts a wingspan reaching over 6-inches wide, making it hard to miss as it flutters by or feeds on common garden flowers. Dark upper wings are sectioned by rows of yellow spots; a distinctive band of yellow spreads horizontally across the wings, meeting with two diagonal lines of yellow spots lining the margins. Swallowtail caterpillars resemble bird droppings, their telltale identification marker.

2. Harvester

Harvester butterfly
Harvester butterfly | by ALAN SCHMIERER via Flickr

Scientific name: Feniseca tarquinius

The harvester butterfly is small, barely ⅙ the size of the giant swallowtail. Wingspans are less than 1 ¼-inches. What this small butterfly lacks in size, he makes up for in color.

Orangish-brown sections stand out among the darker, duskier margins and spots. Orangish-purple undersides are dappled with irregular white circles.

Although butterfly caterpillars most often feed on plants, the harvester larvae are strictly carnivorous — and the only such species in the United States. Caterpillars feed on aphids and scales.

Adults have shorter proboscises compared to many other species, making them more suited to eating aphid honeydew than flowers.

3. Little Metalmark

Little metalmark
Little metalmark | image by Roy Cohutta via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Calephelis virginiensis

The little metalmark butterfly is one species that prefers only specific geographical regions in South Carolina: the Atlantic coastal plains and piedmont. Among the smallest butterflies in South Carolina, this species is truly deserving of having “little” in its common name.

Wingspans range from only ½- to 1-inch. Wings are deep rusty-orange with dark gray lines and fringe. Caterpillars emerge from their eggs and feed on yellow thistle, a plant native to various types of habitat throughout these two geographical regions.

4. White Peacock

White peacock butterfly
White peacock butterfly | image by Renee Grayson via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Anartia jatrophae

The white peacock, a medium-sized butterfly with peculiar color, is a migratory and temporary butterfly along the South Carolina coast. The upperside of the wings is brilliant, iridescent white separated by darker markings and two rows of light-colored crescents. Some adults have deeper orangish-brown markings and dusky areas on the forewings, while others are mostly white or have pale yellow markings.

Females lay eggs individually on the underside of host leaves or near host plants. Caterpillars feed on a small variety of native plants.

5. Common Buckeye

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

Scientific name: Junonia coenia

At rest with wings folded up, the common buckeye seems to display no discernible characteristics. With its wings unfolded, however, this butterfly is easily identified by its deep, dark wings and large, ringed eyespots. Cream, rusty-orange, blue, and sometimes indigo markings create a dazzling display that may ward off predators.

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Caterpillars sport several bluish-black spines across their bodies and feed on a variety of native plants, including several members of the snapdragon family.

6. Falcate Orangetip

Falcate Orangetip
Falcate orangetip | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Anthocharis midea

Numerous species of butterflies have common names based on various characteristics or food sources; the falcate orangetip is no different, except only the males display the telltale orange tips. Both sexes of this small- to medium-sized butterfly are primarily white with a single black spot on the upper-side of the forewing. Males, however, have broad, bright orange tips on the upper-sides of their forewings, lending to the common name.

Caterpillars and adults have numerous food sources, although both are particularly fond of plants in the Brassicaceae family.

7. Southern Pearly-eye

Southern pearly-eye
Southern pearly eye on a leaf | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Enodia portlandia

The southern pearly-eye, a medium-sized butterfly reaching 2 ¾-inches, is a species of slight concern due to its disappearing habitat. These butterflies prefer wet, swampy areas where the caterpillar’s host plant, bamboo switchcane, is readily available. While the species is considered secure, habitat management remains a concern.

Adults display large eyespots on a brown background with several eyespots lining the underside of the wings.

8. Red-Spotted Purple | White Admiral

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

Scientific name: Limenitis arthemis

Two distinct variations of this species exist: the red-spotted purple and white admiral. The two varieties are so differently marked, they were once thought to be two distinct species!

The red-spotted purple variety is often bluish-green and has iridescent markings lining the hindwing and reddish-orange spots and bars.

The white admiral, on the other hand, is a striking black butterfly with wide white bands, a row of small blue dots, and a small selection of red dots. While the two varieties prefer different geographical regions, it’s not uncommon to find intermediate forms of this species displaying colorful characteristics from both varieties.

9. Yucca Giant Skipper

Yucca giant skipper
Yucca giant skipper | image by Gary Leavens via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Megathymus yuccae

The family Hesperiidae, or skippers, is often considered an intermediate family between moths and butterflies. Stout, “fluffy” bodies are reminiscent of moths, while their diurnal or crepuscular habits and smoother antennae are characteristic of most butterflies. Most skippers are small, although Megathymus contains some of the “giant” skippers.

This species is divided into two different geographical ranges: a western population and a southeastern population; the latter inhabiting South Carolina. This large skipper has black upper wings with a faint yellow band and small white spots. As its common name suggests, this skipper’s preferred diet as caterpillars is various yucca species.

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