California means beaches. Most tourists already know that. Most tourists soon discover that California also means butterflies.
If visitors are attentive to detail, they can easily discover the full California butterflies story in a couple of days hiking..
For example, consider the state’s tree largest metropolitan areas.
Recent surveys in San Francisco (just the city limits) find thirty five different species. Further south the butterfly checklist for Los Angeles county has about one hundred different species listed (not counting the Skippers). San Diego County also lists approximately one hundred butterfly species.
The statement the California means butterflies is no exaggeration. California butterfly identification starts by identifying wing color.
This introduction to California butterflies lists the species and divides them to family. Space limitations mean only a few butterfly pictures can be added. Visitors seeking additional butterfly pictures and identification help can press the green butterfly button for more information.
California Butterflies: Whites and Yellows
The balance between the number of white butterfly species and yellow butterfly species in California speaks loudly for butterfly diversity in the state. Typically states have more of one than the other.
The multiple Orangetip and Marble butterfly species under the Whites listing explains most of the diversity in the category.
The first picture in this section shows a pair of California Marble butterflies. They are fairly common up and down the state because the larvae feed on the also very common mustard plants.
Here’s a picture of a Sara’s Orangetip. The colorful wings extend to both the top and bottom of the wings, with striking orange coloration on the top of the wings.
All the Orangetip butterflies, including the Sara’s Orangetip tend to be early flyers. In California they can begin being seen starting in February in the warmer areas of the state.
By June they begin appearing in the mountain areas, and then fade away for the remainder of the season.
California’s yellow butterfly species pretty much match up with the butterfly species of most Southwestern states.
While the state does not have an official state butterfly, the Southern Dogface is designated as the official state insect.
It is endemic to California and looks similar to the more common Southern Dogface.
Southern Rocky Mountain Orangetip
Queen Alexandra’s Sulphur
Large Orange Sulphur
Blues, Hairtreaks and Coppers
California butterflies also dazzle when it comes to the gossamer-wing category. Tourists will be greatly rewarded by keeping their eyes down, looking for these small butterflies on flowers and plants.
Over six dozen species have been documented up and down the state, and from the coastal areas to the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Butterfly diversity is weakest in the valley regions between the coast and mountains, along with the large metropolitan areas, primarily because of human encroachment on their territory. However, many gardens in these areas do support a few of the species. The picture shows a California Hairstreak.
The next group starts off the blue butterflies.
Eastern Tailed Blue
Sierra Nevada Blue
Western Pygmy Blue
Western Tailed Blue
Here’s a list of all the gossamer-wingbutterflies. Larger pictures and descriptions are available by pressing the butterflies button.
Great Purple Hairstreak
Western Green Hairstreak
Coastal Green Hairstreak
‘Alpine’ Sheridan’s Hairstreak
Sheridan’s Green Hairstreak
Desert Green Hairstreak
Western Pine Elfin
Mountain Mahogany Hairstreak
Sagebrush Sooty Hairstreak
Western Square-dotted Blue
Rocky Mountain Dotted-Blue
E Pallid Dotted-Blue
Melissa Blue (includes Karner Blue)
San Emigdio Blue
Sierra Nevada Blue
Brush Footed Butterflies
Almost all visitors to the Golden State can easily photography at least a dozen Brush Footed butterflies during their state. These are the larger butterflies, often with orange color wings that visit the flowers of gardens around hotels, parks and residential areas in the cities.
With almost six dozen different Brush Footed Butterflies documented in California, any visitor can capture a phone filled with butterfly pictures by traveling a short distance and taking a hike in some of the still undeveloped areas of the state. The picture shows a Green Comma butterfly.
Great Spangled Fritillary
Great Basin Fritillary
West Coast Lady
Great Basin Wood-Nymph
The presence of both Parnassian and Swallowtail butterflies also attests to the state’s wonderful butterfly diversity. The two Parnassian species are only found in the mountain areas. Visitors will be greeted by multiple swallowtail species even in the larger urban environments.
- Clodius Parnassian
- Sierra Nevada Parnassian
- Rocky Mountain Parnassian
- Pipevine Swallowtail
- Polydamas Swallowtail
- Old World Swallowtail
- Black Swallowtail
- Anise Swallowtail
- Indra Swallowtail
- Western Tiger Swallowtail
- Pale Swallowtail
- Two-tailed Swallowtail
- Giant Swallowtail
California Butterflies: Metalmarks
While they do not count any of the more colorful and flashy looking Metalmarks as part of the California butterflies tradition, the state does host a healthy five different species. The picture shows a Fatal Metalmark.
- Fatal Metalmark
- Wright’s Metalmark
- Mormon Metalmark
- Behr’s Metalmark
- Sonoran Metalmark
- Palmer’s Metalmark