Types of Butterflies
The types of butterflies native to the world's fields, forests and residential areas, present themselves to humans both formally and informally.
Formal butterfly presentations commonly follow traditional scientific typology rules, organized butterflies into families, subfamilies, genera and species based on a set of shared physical characteristics such as wing color or shape.
The global butterfly population currently consists of six families, with experts identifying anywhere between fifteen to nineteen thousand different species. Butterfly diversity reaches its high in the area from Mexico to the southern tip of South America.
|Butterfly Families and Species
Pieridae: Whites and Yellows
North America, a relatively less diverse butterfly region, hosts approximately seven hundred species, with representatives from all six families.
Hesperiidae (skippers): The skippers, the small brownish butterflies, also get characterized by their relatively large eyes and closed wings at rest. Spreadwing skippers are the general exception to that rule.
Sometimes mistaken for moths, their clubbed antennae help identify it as a butterfly. Common names for Hesperiidae species include longtails, flashers, cloudywings, flats, sootywings, duskywings and skipperlings.
Lycaenidae (gossamer-wings): Gossamer-wing butterflies, generally small in size, initially get grouped according to both color and wing appendages. Lycanidae subfamilies, for example, go by the common names, blues, coppers and hairstreaks.
Blue butterflies (Polyommatinae), for example, share the physical characteristic of males having blue wings. Wing color of females differs from blue to brown, depending on the species.
Often identification of blue butterflies begins with a close examination of the patterns present on the underside of the wings. The video provides views of a handful of blue butterfly species with the wings folded, highlighting those patterns.
The thin, tail looking appendage on the bottom of hairstreak butterfly wings, on the other hand, usually serves as the physical characteristic uniting that subfamily. Copper butterflies tend to have brown to copper shaded wings.
Nymphalidae (brush-footed butterflies): The brush-footed butterflies constitute the largest butterfly family, accounting for approximately thirty percent of all North American butterfly species.
Formally divided into eleven subfamilies, their common names such as admirals, fritillaries, checkerspots, ladies, crescents, commas and tortoiseshells ring a familiar note for most butterfly enthusiasts.
Many brush-footed butterfly species have wings with an orange color, making a close examination of their wing patterns necessary for proper identification.
The video at the top of the page presents nine separate brushfoot butterfly species, highlighting the many variations on the basic orange and brown wing patterns.
Monarch Butterflies, Queens and Soldiers, for example, similar looking species in the danaus genus can be distinguished from each other by their wing patterns.
Papilionidae (swallowtails): Swallowtail butterflies the dominant Papilionidae subfamily, can often be recognized by their larger than average size and the presences of extended appendages (tails) at the bottom of their wings.
Many, but not all swallowtail butterflies have black or yellow patterned wings.
Pieridae (whites and sulphurs): The white and sulphur (yellow) butterflies, easily spotted in the field, initially get identified and sorted into the family on account of their wing color. One of the most common white butterflies present in North American yards and gardens, the Cabbage White butterfly, raises young that feed on garden vegetables.
The short video clip of the Pine White butterfly typifies adult Pieridae behavior, nectaring on a flower.
Riodinidae (metalmarks): Primarily a tropical family, a small group of species populate areas along southern North America, especially the Southwest.
The links in the box point to articles providing additional, detailed coverage of butterfly families, genera and species. Collectively the articles present a compact, approximately fifty page North American butterfly field guide with videos.
© 2005-2012. Patricia A. Michaels.