California Butterflies: Pictures and Butterfly Identification Help

Fifty years of managing their blue butterfly population means most Californians have grown up with them. California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, for example, highlights their five federally endangered blue butterflies:

  • Smith’s blue butterfly
  • El Segundo blue butterfly
  • Palos Verdes blue butterfly
  • Mission blue butterfly
  • Lotis blue butterfly
Most butterfly experts note that blue butterfly population pressures extend beyond the state’s borders for a variety of reasons including loss of habitat fit for their larval hosts.

The video of the dotted-blue butterfly at the top of the page highlights two interesting points. Blue butterflies generally relax among people, even to the point of ignoring a camera lens three inches away filming their activity. That relaxed attitude helps researchers better understand their habits, including ant association. Knowing that helps with improving their habitat for long term sustainability.

Second, the video demonstrates the ease of filming and/or photographing them for identification purposes.

This introduction to California butterflies focuses on providing pictures and ID tips along family lines because physical features such as wing colors and patterns generally define them.

Readers seeking additional butterfly videos, pictures and ID tips can press the green butterfly button for more information.

Blues, Hairtreaks and Coppers

picture of a Pygmy blue butterfly
Over six dozen species gossamer-wing butterflies inhabit all corners of California. Almost half of them are blue butterflies. The approximately ten species with dotted-blue in the name will definitely cause some identification confusion because of their similar look, especially the presence of the row of orange spots along the side of the bottom wing. In those instances, associated a dotted-blue with a specific location can help with identification to the species level.

The picture at the top of this section shows the Pygmy blue. While a side view normally provides a great identification clue for the species, it’s also not difficult to notice its very small size.

picture of a
Top and side views of a butterfly normally improves species identification confidence. The side view of this next butterfly, for example, shows a row of orange spots along the side of the bottom wing, similar to the dotted blues. However, the presence of the blue fluorescent color along the orange spots (see arrow) helps distinguish them.

picture of the top view of the wings of an Acmon blue butterfly
The top view of the wings shows the same row of orange dots along the bottom wings. In this case, the butterfly in question could be either an Acmon blue or a Lupine blue. Again, geography normally separates the species. In some cases their range overlaps creating identification confusion. The brown wings also denote a female. Wing color on the top is blues for males.

picture of a Melissa blue butterfly
Melissa blue butterflies can initially be identified by the presence of orange spots along the edges of both the top and bottom wings.

picture of a California Hairstreak butterfly, part of the California butterflies section
Generally hairstreak butterflies can be initially identified by the presence of protruding hairs on the bottom of the wings. Wing color can vary from green to purple to shades of brown. Even the slightest patterns on the side of the wings can be sufficient for identification.

The picture shows a California Hairstreak.

picture of a Hedgerow Hairstreak, part of the California butterflies collection
The size view of the Hedgerow hairstreak shows a slightly different pattern than the California hairstreak.

Golden Hairstreak
Great Purple Hairstreak
Western Green Hairstreak
Coastal Green Hairstreak
‘Alpine’ Sheridan’s Hairstreak
Sheridan’s Green Hairstreak
Desert Green Hairstreak
Nelson’s Hairstreak
Thorne’s Juniper
Muir’s Hairstreak
Juniper Hairstreak
Thicket Hairstreak
Johnson’s Hairstreak
Brown Elfin
Moss’ Elfin
Desert Elfin
Hoary Elfin
Western Pine Elfin
Sky-blue Groundstreak
Coral Hairstreak
California Hairstreak
Sylvan Hairstreak
Banded Hairstreak
Gold-hunter’s Hairstreak
Mountain Mahogany Hairstreak
Hedgerow Hairstreak
Behr’s Hairstreak
Sooty Hairstreak
Sagebrush Sooty Hairstreak
Silver-banded Hairstreak
Gray Hairstreak
Avalon Scrub-Hairstreak
Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak
Leda Ministreak
Marine Blue
Western Pygmy-Blue
Eastern Tailed-Blue
Western Tailed-Blue
Echo Azure
Arrowhead Blue
Silvery Blue
Sonoran Blue
Small Dotted-Blue
Western Square-dotted Blue
Central Dotted-Blue
Bernardino Dotted-Blue
Intermediate Dotted-Blue
Ellis’ Dotted-Blue
Bauer’s Dotted-Blue
Pacific Dotted-Blue
Rocky Mountain Dotted-Blue
Mojave Dotted-Blue
E Pallid Dotted-Blue
Ceraunus Blue
Reakirt’s Blue
Anna’s Blue
Melissa Blue
Greenish Blue
San Emigdio Blue
Boisduval’s Blue
Shasta Blue
Acmon Blue
Lupine Blue
Veined Blue
Sierra Nevada Blue
Cassiope Blue
Friday’s Blue
Tailed Copper
American Copper
Lustrous Copper
Great Copper
Edith’s Copper
Gorgon Copper
Ruddy Copper
Blue Copper
Purplish Copper
Lilac-bordered Copper
Mariposa Copper
Hermes Copper

Brush-footed Butterflies

picture of a Green Comma butterfly, part of the California butterflies collection
With the exception of the arctics, wood-nymphs and satyrs, almost all of the six dozen brush-footed butterflies can initially be identified by the orange wing color. The various groups such as fritillaries, crescents and commas can also be initially identified by wing shape.

The picture shows a butterfly with orange wings with somewhat ragged edges. That identifies the butterfly as a Comma butterfly. The wing pattern further identifies it as the Green Comma.

picture of a group of monarch butterflies at monarch grove butterfly sanctuary
Seeing groups of Monarch butterflies at the wintering spots makes for easy identification. The queens and viceroys look similar and wing patterns can easily help solve most ID questions.

picture of an American Lady butterfly
The lady butterflies share similar wing shapes and colors. The red arrow on the picture points to a white dot on the upper wing. That’s a good field identification clue for the American lady.

Experts have discussed the difficulties of identifying greater fritillaries since the days of their first discovery in the United States. Other fritillaries such as the Gulf and Variegated have wing patterns that are sufficiently different to make identification fairly straight forward.

Brush footed
American Snout
Gulf Fritillary
Zebra Heliconian
Variegated Fritillary
Mexican Fritillary
Great Spangled Fritillary
Nokomis Fritillary
Coronis Fritillary
Zerene Fritillary
Callippe Fritillary
Great Basin Fritillary
Unsilvered Fritillary
Northwestern Fritillary
Hydaspe Fritillary
Mormon Fritillary
Pacific Fritillary
Lorquin’s Admiral
Weidemeyer’s Admiral
Arizona Sister
California Sister
Hackberry Emperor
Blackened Bluewing
Dotted Checkerspot
Arachne Checkerspot
Leanira Checkerspot
California Patch
Bordered Patch
Hoffmann’s Checkerspot
Rockslide Checkerspot
Sagebrush Checkerspot
Gabb’s Checkerspot
Northern Checkerspot
Tiny Checkerspot
Brush footed
California Crescent
Mylitta Crescent
Phaon Crescent
Pearl Crescent
Field Crescent
Texan Crescent
Edith’s Checkerspot
Chalcedon Checkerspot
Anicia Checkerspot
Colon Checkerspot
Common Buckeye
Tropical Buckeye
Satyr Comma
Green Comma
Hoary Comma
Gray Comma
Oreas Comma
Milbert’s Tortoiseshell
Compton Tortoiseshell
Mourning Cloak
California Tortoiseshell
Red Admiral
Painted Lady
West Coast Lady
American Lady
Common Ringlet
Ridings’ Satyr
Chryxus Arctic
Great Arctic
Common Wood-Nymph
Mead’s Wood-Nymph
Great Basin Wood-Nymph
Small Wood-Nymph

California Butterflies: Whites and Yellows

picture of a pair of California Marble butterflies, part of the California butterflies section
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.

picture of a Sara's Oragnetip butterfly
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.

picture of a California Dogface butterfly, the state insect of California
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.

Desert Orangetip
Pacific Orangetip
Stella Orangetip
Southern Rocky Mountain Orangetip
Southwestern Orangetip
Gray Marble
Large Marble
Desert Marble
California Marble
Pine White
Margined White
Cabbage White
Becker’s White
Checkered White
Western White
Spring White
Clouded Sulphur
Orange Sulphur
Western Sulphur
Queen Alexandra’s Sulphur
Harford’s Sulphur
Sierra Sulphur
Southern Dogface
California Dogface
Cloudless Sulphur
Large Orange Sulphur
Orange-barred Sulphur
Lyside Sulphur
Boisduval’s Yellow
Mexican Yellow
Little Yellow
Mimosa Yellow
Sleepy Orange
Dainty Sulphur

Butterflies: Swallowtails

picture of an Anise Swallowtail
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

picture of a Fatal Metalmark
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