Brush-footed Butterflies (Nymphalidae)
The two hundred plus native brushfoot species (family Nymphalidae) represent approximately thirty percent of the total number of North American butterfly species.
The family's large size translates into an abundance of butterfly stories, from tales about long range migratory species such as Monarchs and Red Admirals, to updates on the mass migration patterns of species such as American Snouts and California Tortoiseshells.
Somewhere along the way the story of the brushfoots gets retold as the four legged butterflies because of the reduced size of their front legs.
Formally, North American brushfoots divide into eleven subfamilies, with some, such as the True Brushfoots, Satyrs and Fritillaries, having relatively high species numbers, along with a continent wide presence.
The following slide show highlights over twenty different butterfly species in the True Brushfoot subfamily (Nymphalinae).
Anartia: Four Peacock butterfly species (Anartia) fly in the United States.
Checkerspots: Typically the checkerspot nickname applies to species in five different genera. The Chlosyne genus, which also includes the patch butterflies, a group without a checkerboard wing pattern.
Chlosyne: Twenty separate Chlosyne species, going by the name checkerspot or patch, find a home on North American soil. Chlosyne checkerspots tend to have a northern range while patches tend to range across southern environments.
Crescents: Two genera, Anthanassa and Phyciodes account for the vast majority of the North American Crescents, with the Phyciodes more broadly distributed.
Junonia: Three Junonia species, collectively called buckeyes, call North America home.
Tortoiseshells: Tortoiseshell is the common name given to brushfoot butterflies in two genera, Aglais and Nymphalis.
Vanessa: Four native Vanessa species, the American Lady, Painted Lady, Red-Admiral, West Coast Lady, live in North America.
Polygonia: With the exception of the Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis), the seven native North American comma species (Polygonia) display a white comma mark on the middle of the lower wing.
Siproeta: Malachite Butterflies.
The White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae), the most common Anartia species, inhabits the southernmost areas of Arizona, east to Florida. Strays can be found in the Southeast and Midwest.
Caterpillars feed on Water hyssop and Wild Petunia plants. Adults nectar on flowers in the vicinity of the caterpillar plants.
The Banded Peacock (Anartia fatima), year round resident of the Lower Rio Grand Valley of Texas, also strays to Southern Arizona.
The white and red stripe pattern on dark wings makes it easy to identify. Caterpillars feed on wild Petunias (Ruellia).
The Variable Checkerspot (Euphydryas chalcedona), also called the Chalcedon Checkerspot, shown in the top picture, takes on a couple of different color patterns. The dominant wing color on the top can be either a dark or black color combined with red spots on the sides of the wings.
Another version of the Variable Checkerspot has brown and orange color wings. Both versions display the white, or off white patterns on the wing to contrast with the darker wing colors.
The Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia), the most widespread of the five patch species, inhabits areas of the Southwest, Midwest and South Texas.
It's a medium sized butterfly with a variable wing pattern. The most common forms have black wings and a orange to yellow band running along both the top hind wing and fore wing. White spots are visible along the wing borders.
Caterpillars feed on plants in the sunflower family and adults nectar from a variety of flowers. Their adaptability to a variety of food and nectar sources partially explains their wide range.
The Crimson Patch (Chlosyne janais), a late summer and fall butterfly of South Texas and New Mexico, sports red patches on otherwise dark wings.
Compare a side view of the Crimson Patch with a side view of the Rosita Patch. The dark spots on the yellow patch of the hindwing are a very good field identification clue.
Caterpillars feed on a variety of honeysuckle plants (Anisacanthus), whose flowers attract hummingbirds. Adults nectar on a variety of flowers.
Rosita Patch (Chlosyne rosita), a tropical species occasionally visit the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
A top view shows it to be closely similar to the Crimson Patch, black wings with an orange to reddish patch on the hind wing.
The side view, pictured below, provides the best field identification clue. The yellowish patch on the hind wing lacks the dark spots that are present in the Crimson Patch.
The Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) deserves its name because with the exception of some areas in the extreme Pacific Northwest, it ranges across much of North America.
The brown wings with colorful eye spots make it a fairly easy butterfly to identify.
Caterpillars feed on a variety of snapdragons, plantains and wild petunias.
The Mangrove Buckeye (Junonia genoveva) has the smallest range of the three.
Their caterpillars eat the leaves of Black Mangrove trees, a staple along Florida coastal areas.
Since Black Mangroves are also found along much of the coastal areas of the Gulf Coast, a changing climate could potentially spur migration of the Mangrove Buckeye to those areas.
The California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica) (pictured), the Compton Tortoiseshell and Mourning Cloak represent the Nymphalis genus.
California Tortoiseshells are Western butterflies, one of many orange brushfoot species, and one of the first spring arrivals. The black border that surrounds the wings is one helpful identification trait.
During certain years, California Tortoiseshell populations erupt, and large numbers, often reaching the thousands range, migrate. At these times, a mile long drive along a Western mountain pass might mean driving through a group of ten thousand Tortoiseshells.
The caterpillars feed on lilac plants.
The Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), although in the same genus as the California Tortoiseshell, looks substantially different.
The caterpillars feed on leaves from a variety of trees, including willow and elm, which partially explains it wide spread distribution.
Many adults hibernate during the winter, becoming one of the first species seen when the weather warms during spring.
Milbert's Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti), one of two Aglais species is predominantly a northern species, inhabiting marsh areas in Alaska, Canada and the northern United States.
Yellow and orange coloration spice up otherwise dull brown wings.
The caterpillars feed on stinging nettles and adults enjoy nectaring on fruit, sap and occasionally flowers.
Identifying the American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) starts by looking for the white spot on the upper wing.
West Coast Lady
The West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella). Note the absence of a white dot on the wings. The bottom of the wings also shows a pattern of four blue dots circled in black, another field identification mark.
From a distance, the Painted Lady looks to have black or dark dots on the bottom of the wing, with no white dot on the forewing.
The Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), one of four different butterflies in the Vanessa genus, can be found in fields, forests and cities around the United States.
Contrary to the name, they do not belong to the Limenitidinae subfamily of Admirals and their relatives, however, the red stripe on the forewing show a resemblance to the stripes in Admiral butterflies.
The caterpillars feed on plants in the nettle family, a very common group of plants. Rotten fruit is the preferred food for adults.
The Field Crescent butterfly (Phyciodes pulchella), a common West Coast Phyciodes species, live at both high and low elevations.
Caterpillars feed on plants in the aster family, and adults nectar on a variety of flowers.
Because of the abundance of aster plants in the Western United States, Field Crescents can be found through much of the spring, summer and early fall, depending on their geographic location.
The Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta), one of the smaller crescent butterflies in the United States, live in both fields and residential settings of Western North America.
The picture shows the species enlarged by a factor of two in order to highlight the predominant orange wing pattern.
The Texan Crescent (Anthanassa texana), the most widely established of the Anthanassa crescents, is a medium sized butterfly with a predominant black wing color with orange and white pattern marks.
The typical black dots bordering the bottom of the wings on Phyciodes species is absent.
Texan Crescents are found in Southern states from Florida to California. A small Midwest population also exists.
The Green Comma (Polygonia faunus), pictured at the top of the page inhabits forest areas in the West, Upper-Midwest and New England.
Dark borders on both the top and bottom wings often serve as the first identification clue. The black spot in the middle of the bottom wing (and below two additional black spots) serves as the second identification clue.
The Satyr Comma (Polygonia satyrus), picture two, inhabits woodland areas from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast.
The presence of multiple black spots on both the top and bottom wings, along with a light border on the lower wing serve as good field identification clues.
It is one of the only comma species found at lower elevations near the caterpillar host plant, stinging nettle. Adults overwinter in their territory and re-emerge during early spring.
The Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis), picture three, another primarily Western species, also maintains a small population in northern New England.
The two black spots on the bottom wing, along with the light brown and mustard wing border, serve as the basic identification clues.
The bottom picture shows a side view. Like other comma species, they live in and around forested areas. Often they can be found nectaring near streams.
Some experts differentiate between the Eastern and Western species, calling the Western species Zephyr Commas.
The Malachite (Siproeta stelenes), a large neotropical brushfoot butterfly, represents the genus in North America.
The green and black wings take on the color of the malachite mineral as it appears naturally in stones found on the ground or refined for jewelry settings.
While abundant in Central America and Mexico, its range is limited to southern Florida and South Texas. It occasionally flies north as far as Kansas.
The caterpillars feed on leaves from plants in the wild petunia family, Ruellia L. Rotten fruit is the preferred food for adults.
© 2006-2014 Patricia A. Michaels.