“What kinds of butterflies can you find in North Dakota?”
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 North Dakota! 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. 🙂
Today, you’ll learn about 23 kinds of butterflies found in North Dakota.
#1. Red Admiral
- Vanessa atalanta
- Red Admirals have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.5 inches.
- 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 North Dakota!
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 North Dakota 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 1.75 to 2.5 inches.
- 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 North Dakota 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 3.5 to 4 inches.
- 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 North Dakota!
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!
- Limenitis archippus
- Viceroy butterflies have a wingspan of 2.5 to 3.25 inches.
- Their coloring is deep orange with black edges and veins and white spots on the black border.
- The caterpillar is a mix of green, brown, and cream colors. It has two “horns” on its head that look like knobby antennae.
The first thing you might notice about the Viceroy butterfly is that it’s almost identical to the Monarch! The easiest way to tell them apart is to look for the black line on the bottom wing. This line is present in Viceroys, but not Monarchs.
Even though these two butterflies are similar in appearance, their caterpillars look remarkably different. Viceroy caterpillars are greenish-brown, spiny, and certainly not as beautiful as Monarch caterpillars.
I think of them as the “ugly duckling” of caterpillars, but they’re one of the prettiest butterflies in North Dakota!
One other key difference between these two species is that Viceroys don’t migrate. Instead, the caterpillars roll up and hibernate in leaves and emerge during the next breeding season.
#5. White Admiral
- Limenitis arthemis arthemis
- White Admiral butterflies have a wingspan of 3 to 4 inches.
- 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 North Dakota 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.
#6. Mourning Cloak
- Nymphalis Antiopa
- Mourning Cloaks have a wingspan of 3 to 4 inches.
- 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 North Dakota.
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!
#7. Pearl Crescent
- Phyciodes tharos
- Pearl Crescent butterflies have a wingspan of 1.25 to 1.75 inches.
- Their coloring is bright orange with black borders, spots, and lines. The pattern created by the black markings is similar to lace.
- Caterpillars are dark brown with cream stripes and spines all over their bodies.
Look for Pearl Crescent butterflies in North Dakota near moist ground.
They prefer open, sunny habitats but many locations suit their needs, including forest edges, fields, meadows, and gardens.
The Pearl Crescent caterpillar’s preferred host is the Aster plant. Any flowering plants in your yard will attract this beautiful butterfly, but for best results, try to find one that’s native to your area.
When the caterpillars grow into butterflies, they will feed on the nectar of the Asters as well!
#8. Question Mark
- Question Mark butterflies have a wingspan of 2.25 to 3 inches.
- Their coloring is deep orange with black spots and a lavender edge.
- Caterpillars are gray to black with spines on the side and orange and cream stripes.
Look for Question Mark butterflies in moist woodland and forest edges. Their caterpillars’ preferred host plants are elm trees and nettle, so you’re most likely to see this species in areas with elm forests or thickets of nettle, or both.
Question Marks feature bright coloring on the upper side of their wings, but the lower side is mottled brown. This coloring helps to camouflage the butterflies, making them resemble a dead leaf while resting on branches.
Their name comes from a slight, light-colored marking on the underside of the wing. It takes some imagination, but this marking sort of looks like a roughly drawn question mark!
#9. Eastern Comma
- Eastern Comma butterflies have a wingspan of 2 to 2.5 inches.
- Coloring is orange with black mottling on the upper wings and primarily black with some orange spots on the lower wings.
- Caterpillars are black or greenish with a white stripe down the sides and white spines.
Eastern Comma butterflies live in deciduous forests, suburban yards, and parks.
Nettle and Elm Trees are the preferred hosts for their caterpillars. Adults are not attracted to flowers but instead feed on rotting fruit, carrion, and animal dung. So this most likely isn’t a species you’d want to attract to your yard! 🙂
However, they’re very prevalent, and your chance of seeing one is good.
Interestingly, Eastern Commas hibernate as adults instead of as caterpillars. During winter, they find shelter in log piles, tree hollows, and even some human-made shelters. Their mating season is early spring, and new generations of butterflies become active in early summer.
#10. Variegated Fritillary
- Variegated Fritillary butterflies have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.25 inches.
- The coloring of this species is tawny brown to burnt orange with black dots and lines. The outer edge of the wings is also lined in black.
- Caterpillars are reddish-orange, with white stripes that run the length of the body and black spines.
Look for these butterflies in North Dakota in meadows, open lots, and fields.
Plant flowers like butterfly weed, mint, and sunflowers to attract them to your garden. Ornamental plants like violets, pansies, and passionflower serve as hosts for their caterpillars.
The Variegated Fritillary’s chrysalis is one of the most beautiful of all the butterflies in North Dakota. This protective shell is where the caterpillar transforms into the adult butterfly. Its pearly white color and shiny gold spikes make it look like an expensive jeweled pendant!
#11. Great Spangled Fritillary
- Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies have a wingspan of 2.5 to 3.5 inches.
- 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 North Dakota 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.
#12. Aphrodite Fritillary
- Aphrodite Fritillary butterflies have a wingspan of 2 to 3 inches.
- Their coloring is bright yellow-orange with a network of black webbing and dots. On the underside of the wings, there are black-ringed blueish-white dots as well.
Look for Aphrodite Fritillaries in meadows, fields, and pastures in North Dakota.
The caterpillar’s host plant is violets, so any plantings of this flower will attract adult Aphrodite Fritillaries. They lay eggs on the ground near violet plants, and when the eggs hatch, the caterpillars crawl to the violets to hibernate.
Many flowers in a typical butterfly garden will also attract adult Aphrodite Fritillaries. Try planing milkweed, butterfly weed, thistles, or goldenrod if you’d like to see more of this species.
#13. Meadow Fritillary
- Meadow Fritillary butterflies have a wingspan of 1.5 to 2 inches.
- 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 North Dakota 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.
#14. Silver-Bordered Fritillary
- Silver-Bordered Fritillaries have a wingspan of 1.6 to 2.1 inches.
- 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 North Dakota.
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!
#15. Common Wood-Nymph
- Cercyonis pegala
- Common Wood-Nymphs have a wingspan of 2 to 3 inches.
- 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!
#16. Gray Hairstreak
- Gray Hairstreak butterflies have a wingspan of 1 to 1.5 inches.
- Their coloring is slate gray with a single bright orange spot on each lower wing. Below, their wings are light gray with a black and white stripe.
Look for Gray Hairstreak butterflies in open areas like roadsides, unused pasture, and rural meadows. Their caterpillars use many plants as hosts, so they’re common across many different habitats.
Gray Hairstreaks are one of a few butterflies in North Dakota with thin, long wing tails that resemble hairs.
This adaptation is a defensive strategy that draws predators away from the butterfly’s body. By mimicking a head with antennae and using its eyespots as a distraction, Gray Hairstreaks give themselves time to escape!
#17. Black Swallowtail
- Limenitis archippus
- Black Swallowtails have a wingspan of 2.5 to 4.25 inches.
- The coloring is black with rows of light yellow spots. It has one red-orange eyespot and several blue spots on each hind wing.
- Caterpillars are green with black bands containing yellow spots.
Black Swallowtails are one of the most common garden butterflies in eastern North Dakota.
They love flower nectar and frequently stop to drink on garden plants.
Their caterpillars use cultivated herbs like parsley and mint as host plants. They can sometimes be harmful to these plants if they feed too much, so keep an eye on your herb garden if you have Black Swallowtails around!
Black Swallowtails are excellent at mimicry, which is an evolutionary defense mechanism. They have developed markings similar to the Pipevine Swallowtail, which is toxic to most predators. In this way, Black Swallowtails can hide in plain sight!
#18. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
- Eastern Tiger Swallowtails have a wingspan of 3.5 to 5.5 inches.
- The coloring is variable based on sex. Males are always vibrant yellow with black stripes and borders. Females have two color forms:
- Light females are slightly darker yellow with more prominent black markings.
- Dark females are almost entirely black, with light blue speckling on the lower wings.
This species is one of the most striking butterflies in southeastern North Dakota!
The bright coloring and large wings of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail make it easy to see and identify.
You’ll most often spot this butterfly on its own, since it’s a solitary flier. If you’re lucky, though, you might see a group of male Eastern Tiger Swallowtails “puddling,” grouped together on a patch of wet ground to drink water.
This species loves flowers and is easy to attract to home gardens. Try planting tall-stalked flowers like phlox, ironweed, and lilac in your yard.
One amazing feature of this species is the defense strategy of its caterpillar. It has enormous eyespots and an enlarged head that make it look like a snake to predators! Its appearance definitely says “back off!” even though it’s really harmless.
#19. Cabbage White
- Pieris rapae
- Cabbage White Butterflies have a wingspan of 1.25 to 2 inches.
- 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 North Dakota.
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 North Dakota. 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.
#20. Orange Sulphur
- Colias eurytheme
- Orange Sulphur Butterflies have a wingspan of 1.5 to 2.5 inches.
- Their coloring is bright yellow-orange with black borders on the wings and irregular black spots.
Look for Orange Sulfur butterflies in North Dakota 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.
#21. Clouded Sulphur
- Colias philodice
- Clouded Sulphur butterflies have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.75 inches.
- 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 North Dakota!
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.
#22. Common Checkered-Skipper
- Burnsius Communis
- Adult wingspans are 0.75-1.25 inches.
- Their coloring is faded white with tan-colored bands and a black or brown edge on the hindwing. From above, they have a distinctive black and white checkered pattern.
- Females are darker in color.
- Males are extensively covered with long, bluish-white hairs on the body.
It’s easy to see how this butterfly in North Dakota got its name.
The Common Checkered-Skipper has a distinctive block pattern on its wings that looks like a checkerboard.
Common Checkered-Skipper Range Map
Its favorite host plant is Mallow, and it prefers pastures, open fields, and disturbed sites. This species is often seen next to roads.
Males search out a suitable female to mate with, and then she lays her pale green eggs on the soft parts of the hostplant. Once the caterpillar emerges, it feeds on the host plant and curls the leaves around it for winter protection.
#23. Checkered White
- Pontia Protodice
- Adult wingspans are 1-2 inches.
- Males are white dark grey markings on the forewings.
- Females are grayish-white with dark checkers on both the fore- and hindwings.
- Both sexes have white hindwings with gray, yellow, and brown markings.
Checkered White butterflies are common in North Dakota.
One of the most fascinating characteristics of this butterfly is its ability to use UV signals to communicate. These amazing insects can tell the difference between males and females of their species based on the UV radiation they give off! If a female notices that there are a lot of other females, she will migrate to a less dense population in hopes of attracting a mate.
Checkered White Range Map
Checkered White females lay their eggs on the host plants’ fruits and sometimes the stems. The larvae prefer to eat the flower or fruit of the host plant instead of the leaves. This butterfly prefers open and sunny areas like deserts and plains, and it’s often found in vacant lots, airports, railroads, and dry grassland.
Do you need more help identifying butterflies in North Dakota?
Try this field guide!
Which of these butterflies have you seen in North Dakota?
Leave a comment below!
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