Illinois Butterflies: Pictures and Butterfly Identification Help

Fun fact: Illinois butterflies constitute less than ten percent of the total Illinois Lepidoptera population. Of the approximately 2000 butterfly and moth species in the state, about 150 of them are butterflies.

Fans of the Lepidoptera population continue to have multiple choices for their species identification goals. In the butterfly group, for example, around sixty five species get placed in the skipper butterfly category and a subset of butterfly fans focus on identifying them. The video at the top of the page, for example, shows the Silver-spotted skipper, one of the most wide ranging skippers in the United States.

It’s larger than average size along with the distinct wing markings on both the top and bottom of the wings make it easy to identify. Otherwise, as a group, the skippers tend to be the most difficult group to identify because they share similar physical characteristics of brown wing shades with different lighter patterns on the wings.

Skipper enthusiasts at the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network cover the state and suggest six additional regional skipper butterflies that are also common across all or almost all of Illinois.

  • Zabulon Skipper
  • Least Skipper
  • Tawny Edge Skipper
  • Peck’s Skipper
  • Fiery Skipper
  • Wild Indigo Duskywing
They also suggest taking a few moments with the camera to obtain pictures of both wing tops and bottoms to help with identification.

Taken as a whole, the more colorful butterflies are much easier to identify, due mainly to the fact that originally physical features such as wing color and patterns grouped butterflies by family. Recent DNA research does help clarify identification in a few genera where species and subspecies identification causes confusion.

This introduction to Illinois butterflies provides identification tips for species in the remaining butterfly families based on physical characteristics.

Populations of different species will differ slightly from area within the state. In the greater Chicago area, for example, butterfly gardens can sprout up almost anywhere because the larvae or pupa of about twenty different species overwinter, ready to transform into butterflies as the warmer weather moves in. The Silver-spotted skipper in the video is one such butterfly.

Visitors interested in additional butterfly video, pictures and identification help can press the green butterfly button for more information. Garden Butterflies provides additional information on plant associations for brush-footed butterflies.

Illinois Butterflies – Brush-footed Butterflies

picture of a Monarch butterfly, the Illinois state butterfly
The large and colorful wings of many brush-footed butterflies make them back-yard garden favorites. One such butterfly, the popular Monarch Butterfly, pictured, is the state’s official state butterfly.

State wide action continues to be taken to reverse the downward pressures on local Monarch populations. Recent estimates suggest the populations have decreased as much as eighty percent over the past few decades. Public and private sector actors continue to promote the use of Milkweed in the garden to provide larval host plants.

picture of an American painted Lady
Fritillary and lady butterflies also fit the large and colorful Brush-footed butterflies group. Keep an eye out for the Painted Lady in the picture. It is one of the most common butterflies in the world, often refereed to as the Cosmopolitan butterfly. Its global range can be attributed to the fact that the caterpillars are not picky eaters and will feed from many host plants.

picture of Little Wood Satyr butterfly, Illinois butterflies
The group of butterflies with common names such as wood-nymph and satyr can initially be identified by a wing color with various shades of brown. The presence of eye-spots on the wings makes identification fairly straight forward.

It’s also interesting to note that whether one visits Chicago in the North or the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois, there will be a fairly decent wood-nymph presence. The picture shows a Little wood-satyr.

picture of Silvery checkerspot butterfly
Comparing the size of different brush-footed butterflies also helps the identification task move forward. Checkerspots tend to be medium sized butterflies with wing spans less than the milkweed and lady butterflies. Small size and the presence of large dark wing borders contrasting with the orange wing color make them fairly easy to identify.

Brush footed
American Snout
Gulf Fritillary
Zebra Heliconian
Variegated Fritillary
Diana Fritillary
Great Spangled Fritillary
Aphrodite Fritillary
Regal Fritillary
Silver-bordered Fritillary
Meadow Fritillary
Red-spotted Purple
Hackberry Emperor
Tawny Emperor
Silvery Checkerspot
Gorgone Checkerspot
Harris’ Checkerspot
Pearl Crescent
Northern Crescent
Texan Crescent
Baltimore Checkerspot
Brush footed
Common Buckeye
White Peacock
Question Mark
Eastern Comma
Green Comma
Gray Comma
Milbert’s Tortoiseshell
Compton Tortoiseshell
Mourning Cloak
California Tortoiseshell
Red Admiral
Painted Lady
American Lady
Tropical Leafwing
Goatweed Leafwing
Northern Pearly-eye
Creole Pearly-eye
Eyed Brown
Appalachian Brown
Gemmed Satyr
Little Wood-Satyr
Carolina Satyr
Common Wood-Nymph

Butterflies: Whites and Yellows

picture of a Cloudless Sulphur butterfly, part of the Illinois butterfly collection
Pieridae is the formal name of the family that consists of the butterflies with white wings and yellow wings.

Yellow butterflies dominate the Illinois butterfly list. The Clouded Sulphur and Cloudless Sulphur are probably the most common yellow butterfly species in the north, including the Chicago region.

The picture shows a cloudless sulphur butterfly.

picture of a side view of a Sleepy Orange butterfly, part of the Illinois butterfly collection
Sleepy orange butterfly wing color can change shades depending on the season. The side view shows a darker shade, indicating the transition to a fall or winter form.

picture of a Cabbage White Butterfly
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Cabbage White butterflies are the most common white butterflies in Illinois. Their caterpillars feed on plants from the cabbage family.

picture of a male and female Checkered White butterflies
Checkered white butterflies also feed on plants in the cabbage family. The white winged butterfly in the picture is the male.

Olympia Marbles are small butterflies of prairies and open forests. Larvae feed on a few plants in the mustard family. They are early bird butterflies, flying for only one month in the year.

Falcate Orangetip
Olympia Marble
Cabbage White
Checkered White
Clouded Sulphur
Orange Sulphur
Southern Dogface
Cloudless Sulphur
Orange-barred Sulphur
Mexican Yellow
Little Yellow
Sleepy Orange
Dainty Sulphur

Blues, Hairtreaks and Coppers

picture of a Harvester butterfly
General physical feature identification rules exist for members of the Lycaenidae family, best known by their common names, blues hairstreaks and coppers. Blue butterflies generally have blue wings. Hairstreaks generally can be identified by the presence of protruding hairs on the bottom of their tails. Copper butterflies generally have copper color wings.

As rules of thumb, they work fairly well for initial butterfly identification. There are also exceptions to the physical identification rules for a few of the species.

Consider the picture of the Harvester butterfly at the top of this section. Copper color wings and the lack of protruding hairs might suggest a copper butterfly. It’s actually the only species in the Miletinae subfamily, and related to all three other groups. Finding one in the garden provides an extra bonus because their caterpillars , unlike all other butterflies in the United States, feed on aphids rather than plants.

picture of a Bronze Copper butterfly
The picture shows a Bronze Copper. They can most often be found near areas with water, including roadside ditches and ponds across the state.

picture of a Summer Azure butterfly
The Eastern Tailed-blue and Azures are the most common of the Illinois blue butterflies. Mostly because their larvae have flexible diets of common plants such as peas. Eastern tailed-blues also go against the standard identification rules of thumb for the group because of the presence of protruding hairs on the bottom of the wings, similar to the hairstreaks.

The picture shows a Summer Azure, fairly easy to identify by the chevron markings on the wings.

picture of a Banded Hairstreak, credit Andy Rego, Flickr
Like most states, Illinois has a large number of hairstreak butterflies. They are the ones with the small extension or tail feature on the wings.

Most of the species are regional oriented. The Gray Hairstreak bucks that trend and is the most common hairstreak species in the United States.

The picture shows a Banded Hairstreak. They are very common in the eastern part of the United States. Their larvae consume leaves on a few common trees such as oak, walnut and hickory.

Marine Blue
Eastern Tailed-Blue
Spring Azure
Summer Azure
Dusky Azure
Silvery Blue
Reakirt’s Blue
Great Purple Hairstreak
Juniper Hairstreak
Hoary Elfin
Frosted Elfin
Henry’s Elfin
Eastern Pine Elfin
Oak Hairstreak
Ontario Northern
Coral Hairstreak
Acadian Hairstreak
Hickory Hairstreak
Edwards’ Hairstreak
Banded Hairstreak
Striped Hairstreak
Red-banded Hairstreak
Gray Hairstreak
White-M Hairstreak
American Copper
Gray Copper
Bronze Copper
Purplish Copper

Butterflies: Swallowtails

picture of a Zebra Swallowtail
The picture shows an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. They are very common because a variety of trees such as apple trees and cherry trees serve as larval hosts.

Since they are basically the only swallowtail species in Illinois with yellow wings, identification is fairly straight forward. There’s always a catch. Some females have a dark form. They can be identified by the absence of white spots on the abdomen.

Pipevine Swallowtails might be the least common in Illinois. Zebra Swallowtails can be found wherever the Pawpaw tree grows. It’s the larval host tree.

  • Pipevine Swallowtail
  • Zebra Swallowtail
  • Black Swallowtail
  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
  • Spicebush Swallowtail
  • Giant Swallowtail