“What kinds of butterflies can you find in British Columbia?”
I love watching butterflies in my neighborhood! It’s amazing to see the incredible variety of different colors, patterns, and sizes.
There are hundreds of kinds of butterflies in British Columbia! Since it would be impossible to list them all in one article, I chose the most common and exciting species to share with you today. 🙂
18 kinds of butterflies in British Columbia.
Admirals, Queens, & Emporers
These large and brightly colored beauties are some of the most recognizable butterflies in British Columbia!
#1. Red Admiral
- Vanessa atalanta
- Red Admirals have a wingspan of 4.5 to 6.5 centimeters.
- The coloring is dark brown with a reddish circular band and white spots. The underside of the back wings looks similar to bark.
- The caterpillars are pinkish-gray to charcoal with white spots. They have spines along the back that resemble hairs.
The Red Admiral is the most widespread butterfly in British Columbia!
Look for this beautiful butterfly near the edge of forests in moist habitats. Red Admiral Butterflies have a unique favorite food – they love fermented fruit! If you’d like to attract them, try placing overripe cut fruit in a sunny spot in your yard.
Red Admirals are migratory butterflies. They fly south toward warmer climates in winter, and then move north again in late spring, where food is more plentiful.
If you’re looking for a butterfly in British Columbia that’s easy to observe, you’re in luck! Red Admirals are very calm and easy to approach and frequently land on humans!
RELATED: How to Attract Butterflies: 17 Tips!
#2. Painted Lady
- Vanessa cardui
- Painted Lady butterflies have a wingspan of 4.5 to 6.5 centimeters.
- The coloring is pinkish-orange, with dark brown to black markings near the wingtips and white spots inside the black markings.
- The caterpillars’ coloring is variable, ranging from greenish-yellow to charcoal. Most have light-colored spots.
Look for Painted Lady butterflies in British Columbia in open areas that are quiet and undisturbed, like roadsides, pastures, and gardens. This species migrates south to Mexico over winter and returns in the spring.
The population of Painted Lady butterflies can be drastically different from year to year. It’s common for them not to be seen for years in a row in some places, then suddenly show up in more significant numbers.
The Painted Lady is the only butterfly that mates year-round! Because of its constant migration pattern, it spends its entire life in suitable areas for its eggs to hatch.
- Danaus plexippus
- Monarch butterflies have a wingspan of 8 to 10 centimeters.
- Their recognizable coloring is a “stained glass” pattern of orange with black veins. White dots line the outside edge of the wings.
- Caterpillars are plump, with black, white, and yellow bands and tentacles on each end of its body.
Monarchs are easily the most recognized butterfly in British Columbia!
They are famous for their color pattern and migration. Look for Monarchs anywhere there is milkweed, which is the only food source their caterpillars eat.
Most people are familiar with the declining population of Monarchs. However, you might not know that this indicates an overall population decline of many other pollinating species like bees. Planting local milkweed species to attract Monarchs will also help these other species.
During migration, usually in mid-September, you may even see groups of hundreds flying south!
#4. White Admiral
- Limenitis arthemis arthemis
- White Admiral butterflies have a wingspan of 7.5 to 10 centimeters.
- This species’ coloring is black with a bright white band on the center of the upper wings.
- Their caterpillars are mottled brown, cream, and yellow, with lumpy, angular body sections and twig-like horns.
What’s amazing about White Admirals is even though they look wildly different from Red-Spotted Purple butterflies, they’re actually the same species!
Red-Spotted Purple butterflies in British Columbia changed color to mimic another species. Since the mimic species isn’t as widespread, the White Admiral butterfly with its original coloring is still present.
Besides their appearance, almost everything about these two subspecies is similar. For example, their caterpillars use willow, aspen, and birch trees as hosts.
To attract White Admirals, try putting a cut orange or banana in a suet cage in your yard. Instead of nectar, White Admiral butterflies eat carrion, sap, and rotting fruit.
They’re most active from April to October, which is their mating season.
Crescents, Commas, and Anglewings
Named for the tiny markings on the undersides of their wings, these butterflies are known for their intricate designs.
#5. Mourning Cloak
- Nymphalis Antiopa
- Mourning Cloaks have a wingspan of 7.5 to 10 centimeters.
- The coloring is black with an iridescent sheen. A yellow border and a row of purple spots mark the outer edge of the wings.
- Caterpillars are black with white specks and a row of red spots on the back.
Mourning Cloak butterflies are most often found near deciduous forests. However, their habitat includes many developed areas like suburban yards, parks, and golf courses.
You might have a hard time finding this butterfly in British Columbia.
Even though it’s fairly widespread, its preference for cold weather and solitary habits make it hard to spot even for an avid butterfly enthusiast! In addition, it’s so well-camouflaged when its wings are folded that you might miss one right in front of you.
Mourning Cloaks are often the first butterflies to become active in the spring! In fact, some adults are even active through winter on warm days, when snow is still on the ground.
They’re also one of the longest-lived butterflies around, with some individuals living up to ten months!
Fritillaries are some of the most abundant butterflies in British Columbia. They have a checkerboard type pattern and are usually shades of orange and black.
#6. Great Spangled Fritillary
- Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies have a wingspan of 6 to 9 centimeters.
- Their coloring is orange with black lines and dots that form a web-like pattern on their wings. In addition, the undersides of their wings have silvery white dots outlined in black.
The Great Spangled Fritillary is one of many butterflies in southern British Columbia that prefers open, sunny areas like pastures and meadows.
It’s not uncommon to see hundreds of them in large milkweed or violet fields!
This species doesn’t migrate; instead, its caterpillars hibernate over winter and emerge in the spring. That happens around the same time as the new growth on their host violet plants appears.
Interestingly, male Great Spangled Fritillaries die weeks before females, right after mating. The females then feed for another two to three weeks and lay eggs before also dying off.
#7. Meadow Fritillary
- Meadow Fritillary butterflies have a wingspan of 4 to 5 centimeters.
- Their coloring is yellow-orange with dusky black splotches. The underside of their wings is muted in color and looks like a dead leaf, which is used for camouflage.
Meadow Fritillary butterflies in northeastern British Columbia have the scientific name Boloria bellona, which is in the brush-foot family. That’s sometimes confusing since a European butterfly has the same name, but the two species are only distantly related!
Our Meadow Fritillaries are active throughout the summer and very common in their range, so this is an excellent butterfly to attract to your garden.
Aster flowers like Black-eyed Susans, daisies, and sunflowers are popular picks to attract them.
#8. Silver-Bordered Fritillary
- Silver-Bordered Fritillaries have a wingspan of 4 to 5 centimeters.
- Their coloring is bright orange with irregular black markings. The wings have a thin white edge and a thick black border with orange dots inside. The underside of the wing has metallic, silvery dots along the edge, which is how this species got its name.
Silver-Bordered Fritillaries are small, rare butterflies in southern British Columbia.
Their preferred habitat is wet grassland, which is often turned into agricultural fields. This habitat disruption has caused a decline in the population of the Silver-Bordered Fritillary.
Despite these challenges, you can still attract Silver-Bordered Fritillaries to your garden by planting violets for their caterpillars or thistle as a nectar flower.
They typically fly low to the ground in jerky, fast movements, so keep your eyes on the grass and look out for streaks of orange!
Satyrs & Snouts
Satyr butterflies prefer cool, shady areas with less sunlight than other butterflies in British Columbia. There are estimated to be over 2,400 distinct species!
#9. Common Wood-Nymph
- Cercyonis pegala
- Common Wood-Nymphs have a wingspan of 5 to 8 centimeters.
- Coloring can vary greatly, but generally, this species is shades of brown with dark eyespots.
- Caterpillars are yellow-green with dark green stripes and white hairs.
Common Wood-Nymphs are found in many different habitats, including open forests, meadows, agricultural fields, and salt marshes. Their caterpillars hatch late in fall and hibernate through the winter.
Look for this species in late summer and early fall since it’s most active this time of year.
Adult Common Wood-Nymphs occasionally eat flower nectar but prefer to feed on rotting fruit or decaying plants.
This is one of few species whose host plant (which the caterpillar eats) is grass. Kentucky Bluegrass, one of its favorites, is also a popular lawn grass. So, you may not even need to plant anything new to attract this species!
These brightly colored, delicate-looking butterflies in British Columbia are some of the prettiest to look at!
- Celastrina ladon
- Azure Butterflies have a wingspan of 2 to 4 centimeters.
- Their coloring is dusky gray to cornflower blue, with spots and stripes in shades of gray. Females of this species tend to be darker and less colorful.
Azure butterflies in British Columbia are found in open woodlands, forest edges, roadsides, and hiking trails.
They’re one of the most widely-seen species in our area and very abundant within their range.
It’s common to see Azure butterflies before spring flowers are even in bloom! Azures are part of the Gossamer-Winged butterfly family, which gets its name from their wings’ fringed, fabric-like texture.
Three additional Azures have recently been given species status:
- Summer Azure, Celastrina neglecta, is usually found later in the year and has more vibrant coloring than its early cousin.
- Appalachian Azure, Celastrina neglectamajor, has a smaller range but is the largest Azure butterfly.
- Dusky Asure, Celastrina nigra, is the least vibrant, often with no blue or ashen gray-blue wings.
#11. Coral Hairstreak
- Coral Hairstreaks have a wingspan of 2 to 4 centimeters.
- Their coloring is light grayish-brown with an outer row of coral spots ringed in black. They also have a second row of smaller black spots ringed in white.
You’re unlikely to mistake a Coral Hairstreak with any other butterfly in British Columbia!
Its coloring, both on the wings and its body, makes it unique among small butterflies.
Coral Hairstreaks prefer brushy fields and woodland edges with plenty of dense shrubs. Adults are especially attracted to milkweed blossoms for their nectar and as a place to perch.
Coral Hairstreak caterpillars use wild cherry and American plum trees as their hosts and feed on the fruits of these trees.
#12. American Copper
- American Copper butterflies have a wingspan of 2 to 4 centimeters.
- Their coloring follows a distinct pattern: the upper wings are orange with black spots and a gray border, and the lower wings are inverted, with a gray middle and a black and orange border. The underside of both wings is light gray with tiny black flecks.
- Caterpillars are light green and sometimes have a pinkish tint along their sides. They’re covered with fine, downy hairs.
American Coppers go by many other names around the world!
Also known as Little Coppers, Common Coppers, and other regional names, this species is one of the most widespread butterflies.
American Coppers can withstand many different climates, from the long, cold winters of the far north to humid, hot weather near the equator. American Copper butterflies are ordinarily active from June to September, but this season is longer in warmer areas.
To attract this species to your garden, try planting hawkweed or butterfly weed – these are the adults’ favorites for nectar.
Whites & Sulphurs
These small, unpatterned butterflies are common in British Columbia and often the first sign that spring has arrived.
#13. Cabbage White
- Pieris rapae
- Cabbage White Butterflies have a wingspan of 4 to 6 centimeters.
- The wings are light greenish to white, with black wing tips and black dots in the center of each wing. Males have one black dot on each side, and females have two.
- Caterpillars, sometimes called Cabbage Worms, are dark green with a light green stripe along the back.
Cabbage White butterflies are well-suited to almost any habitat in British Columbia.
The only areas they avoid are dense forests with little room to fly. You can even see this species if you live in the city since they often live in very large metropolitan areas!
Look for Cabbage Whites in the summer, when they are most active and breeding. Their caterpillars, sometimes called Cabbage Worms, are a pest because they often overtake and eat cabbage, kale, nasturtium, and other brassica plants.
If you have a vegetable garden and see Cabbage Whites, you should pay extra attention to your plants to ensure these hungry insects don’t ruin them! In fact, Cabbage White butterflies are invasive in British Columbia. This non-native species was transported here through the food and agricultural trade.
Since it’s so well-suited to our climate, its population has exploded and it’s now considered one of the most damaging invasive species to crops.
#14. Orange Sulphur
- Colias eurytheme
- Orange Sulphur Butterflies have a wingspan of 4 to 7 centimeters.
- Their coloring is bright yellow-orange with black borders on the wings and irregular black spots.
Look for Orange Sulfur butterflies in southern British Columbia along sunny roadsides, meadows, and gardens.
Its preferred food and host plant is Alfalfa, which is how it got the nickname “Alfalfa butterfly”.
The easiest way to recognize an Orange Sulphur is by its flight pattern. They have an erratic, jerky flying style and usually stay low to the ground.
You’re likely to see this abundant and widespread species in urban and suburban environments during the spring and summer.
#15. Clouded Sulphur
- Colias philodice
- Clouded Sulphur butterflies have a wingspan of 4 to 6 centimeters.
- This species has two color forms, one white with a light green cast, and one yellow. Both morphs have a red-ringed eyespot and pinkish borders on the wings.
Clouded Sulphurs are some of the most common butterflies in British Columbia!
This is because they’re prolific breeders and are at home in almost any habitat.
Look for them along roadsides, parks, and home gardens. They are often found in the same area as their closely related cousins, the Orange Sulphur. However, the erratic, jerky flight style of Orange Sulphurs set them apart from most other butterfly species. To properly identify a Clouded Sulphur, look for a “wobbly” flying butterfly.
There are two distinct morphs of the Clouded Sulphur. The white morph is primarily white with a greenish tint, and the yellow morph is almost entirely yellow. Interestingly, ONLY females display the white color morph, and males are always yellow.
#16. Anise Swallowtail
- Papilio Zelicaon
- Adult wingspans are 2-3 inches.
- Their coloring is yellow with black bands on the edges of their forewings. The body is mainly black, with lateral yellow stripes along the abdomen.
- Their hindwings are largely yellow, with a yellowish orange eyespot.
Anise Swallowtails prefer open areas both inland and on the coast. These butterflies in British Columbia aren’t picky about where they live!
They use a mating strategy called “hill-topping.” This is where a male perches on a mountain cliff, hilltop, or high foliage and waits for a female to find him. That’s one way to conserve your energy while finding a partner!
Anise Swallowtail males are aggressive, especially when breeding, and they defend their territory by attacking other males to secure a potential mate.
#17. Western Tiger Swallowtail
- Papilio Rutulus
- Adult wingspans are 3-4 inches.
- Their wings are bright yellow with broad black stripes along the edges. Four black stripes run parallel across each forewing from the front to the back.
- From above, the hindwings are yellow with black stripes and orange and blue spots near the tail.
Look for these butterflies in British Columbia near water.
Western Tiger Swallowtails prefer being close to rivers, streams, and lakes, and they’re often seen in gardens, roadside meadows, canyons, and parks.
Western Tiger Swallowtail Range Map
To find a mate, males flutter around hilltops or canyons looking for a female. After mating, the female will deposit her eggs on the leaves of a host plant, usually a willow, cottonwood, or aspen tree. When the caterpillars appear, they instinctively seek shelter in the tree’s foliage.
As a deterrent against predators, the caterpillar has two large spots on its tail that look like eyes. They also have a forked organ called a Stinkhorn or Osmeterium, which produces a foul smell to keep predators away.
#18. Two-Tailed Swallowtail
- Papilio Multicaudata
- Adult wingspans are 3-6.5 inches.
- From above, their coloring is yellow with black stripes. The hindwings have blue marks and a tiny orange eyespot, as well as thin black stripes and two tails per wing.
- Females have additional blue markings and a brighter yellow color.
Two-Tailed Swallowtail butterflies in British Columbia prefer areas with open space and plenty of sunlight. Look for them in foothills, canyons, valleys, woodlands, roadsides, parks, cities, and suburb gardens.
Males of this species spend their entire life finding a female to mate with due to their short lifespan. If it takes a long time to find a mate, males search for nutrients in rotten material, dirt, and sometimes feces, an odd behavior called mud puddling.
Although it’s one of the most recognizable features, the Two-tailed Swallowtail doesn’t need its tails to fly. Instead, they’re often used to escape predators. When a predator attacks the Swallowtail and grabs onto its tails, they break off, and the butterfly can escape.
Do you need more help identifying butterflies in British Columbia?
Try this field guide!
Which of these butterflies have you seen in British Columbia?
Leave a comment below!
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