27 Common Butterflies Found in South Dakota! (ID Guide)

What kinds of butterflies can you find in South Dakota?”

Common Butterflies in South 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 South 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. 🙂

27 kinds of butterflies in South Dakota.


#1. Red Admiral

  • Vanessa atalanta

Types of Butterflies found in South Dakota

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South 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 South Dakota that’s easy to observe, you’re in luck! Red Admirals are very calm and easy to approach and frequently land on humans!


#2. Painted Lady

  • Vanessa cardui

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South 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.


#3. Monarch

  • Danaus plexippus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South 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!


#4. Viceroy

  • Limenitis archippus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South 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. Red-Spotted Purple

  • Limenitis arthemis astyanax

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Red-Spotted Purple butterflies have a wingspan of 3 to 4 inches.
  • Coloring is iridescent blackish-blue, with rows of spots on the outer edge of the wings. The spots are commonly orange or red, but in some morphs, the spots are light blue. The undersides of the wings are sooty black.
  • Caterpillars are mottled brown, cream, and yellow, with lumpy, angular body sections and twig-like horns.

Red-Spotted Purples are one of the most beautiful butterflies in eastern South Dakota!

Their shimmery, dark-purple wings and bright red-orange spots allow them to stand out – and amazingly, this is actually their main defense against predators! They developed their coloring to mimic the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly.

What’s amazing about Red-Spotted Purple butterflies is that members of the same species can look completely different. In the northern part of its range, where there are no Pipevine Swallowtail, this same butterfly is called the White Admiral!

Instead of nectar, Red-Spotted Purple butterflies eat carrion, sap, and rotting fruit. To attract them, try putting a cut orange or banana in a suet cage in your yard. You’re most likely to see them during their active season from April to October.


#6. Mourning Cloak

  • Nymphalis Antiopa

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South 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

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South 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

  • Polygonia interrogationis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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

  • Polygonia comma

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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. Common Buckeye

  • Junonia coenia

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Common Buckeye butterflies have a wingspan of 2 to 2.5 inches.
  • Their coloring is brown with orange bars. Black and white rings outline three to four prominent eyespots with middles in blue, magenta, orange, and green shades.
  • Caterpillars are dark brown to black with stripes along the back and sides and spines around the entire body.

Common Buckeyes prefer open spaces like pastures, old fields, and roadsides in southeastern South Dakota. Although they’re hard to approach and wary of predators, they fly low to the ground and will often perch long enough for you to snap a photo.

In the southern U.S., Common Buckeyes don’t have a specific mating season. Since they can live in the southern climate all year, they continually reproduce.

Common Buckeyes in northern states migrate south for the winter and return in the spring for mating. These northern individuals can produce two to four generations each season!


#11. Variegated Fritillary

  • Euptoieta claudia

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South 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 South 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!


#12. Great Spangled Fritillary

  • Speyeria cybele

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South 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.


#13. Aphrodite Fritillary

  • Speyeria aphrodite

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South 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.


#14. Common Wood-Nymph

  • Cercyonis pegala

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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!


#15. Eastern Tailed-Blue

  • Cupido comyntas

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Eastern Tailed-Blue butterflies have a wingspan of 0.75 to 1 inch.
  • Males and females have very different coloring on their upper wings. Males are brilliant blue with a brown border and white edges, and females are grayish-brown with white edges. Both sexes have one or two small orange spots above the wing tails.

Look for Eastern Tailed-Blue butterflies in South Dakota in vacant lots, pastures, and home gardens.

They’re one of our most abundant species and easily attracted to flowers.

The easiest way to identify Eastern Tailed-Blues is by their hair-like tails on each of the hind wings. But, these often break off, so you may find some individuals without tails.

The silvery-blue color of the underside of their wings is another good sign that you’ve found an Eastern Tailed-Blue.


#16. Gray Hairstreak

  • Strymon melinus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South 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

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South 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

  • Pamilio glaucus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South 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

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South 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 South 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

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South 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

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South 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

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South 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. Sachem

  • Atalopedes Campestris

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adult wingspans are 1-1.5 in.
  • The Male’s forewings are dull orange with brown edges. The hindwings are shadowy yellow with a unique brown area on its edge and a band of pale spots.
  • The Female’s forewings are dark brown, with the center of the wing dull orange. The forewing’s edges have black patches and white windows. Their hindwings are brown with pale spots in a V shape.

Sachems prefer wide open spaces with full sun. Their habitat includes pastures, fields, suburban lawns, and gardens.

The male plays a laid-back role in the mating prosses and perch near or on the ground while waiting for an interested female. Once a female chooses and mates with a male, she lays her eggs on dry blades of grass. The Sachem caterpillar roles itself in leaves for protection and feeds on blades of grass.

One of the easiest ways to recognize this skipper is to look at its flight pattern. The Sachem has a zippy, whirling way of flying, similar to the Whirlabout and the Fiery Skipper. Lepidopterists often call these three species the “three wizards,” because they often look like they’re casting spells!


#24. Silver-Spotted Skipper

  • Epargyreus Clarus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adult wingspans are 1.75-2.25 inches.
  • They have a large silver patch on the central part of the hindwing.
  • From above, the wings are dark brown with a golden-orange band. From below, they look much the same with frosted lavender edges.

These skippers in South Dakota have a fascinating appetite!

Silver-Spotted Skippers have long tongues that they use to feed on everything from mud, flowers, and sometimes even animal feces. Due to their appetite, they prefer being near the edges of forests where nectar is abundant.

Males of this species perch on tree limbs or elevated vegetation until he notices a female. Then he begins a jerky flight to investigate and attract the female. After they have mated, the female lays her eggs on a host plant.

Silver-Spotted Skipper caterpillars are just as unique as their adult form. For protection, the caterpillar cuts a flap into a leaf, rolls it to form a tube, and then secures it with silk. The leaf tube provides the caterpillar protection during the day until it comes out at night to feed. In addition, when the caterpillar is threatened, it regurgitates a bitter green chemical and flings its scent away to confuse predators!


#25. Checkered White

  • Pontia Protodice

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South 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.


#26. Two-Tailed Swallowtail

  • Papilio Multicaudata

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South Dakota 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.


#27. Weidemeyer’s Admiral

  • Limenitis Weidemeyerii

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adult wingspans are 2.25-3.75 in.
  • Their coloring is white and black with a row of white dots spread across the wing. Seen from below, the Weidemeyer’s Admiral is brown with white shapes on the wings.

It can be hard to spot this shy butterfly in South Dakota!

Weidemeyer’s Admirals prefer forests that seasonally shed leaves. This unique, easily spooked butterfly is also found near canyons, shrubby streams, and ravines.

Males are territorial and spend most of the day waiting to intercept a female. They perch six to eight feet above the ground on trees or shrubs and attack other males who come too close. Occasionally the male will patrol his territory to find a female.

After mating, the female will find a suitable host plant and lay her eggs on the tip of its leaves. The Weidemeyer’s Admiral is easily identified due to the unique patterns on its wings that look like military insignia.


Do you need more help identifying butterflies in South Dakota?

Try this field guide!


Which of these butterflies have you seen in South Dakota?

Leave a comment below!


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