North Carolina Butterflies: Pictures and Identification Help

North Carolina hosts about one hundred and seventy five butterfly species and with a few exceptions, size, wing color, patterns and shape are all that’s needed to identify them.

Beginning with wing color, this introduction to North Carolina butterflies divides them into families because wing color often corresponds with family.

Please press the green butterflies button for additional pictures and information.

Blues, Hairtreaks and Coppers

picture of an Eastern-tailed Blue butterfly
The common names blues, hairstreaks and coppers refers to wing color and physical features. For example, the Great Purple Hairstreak in the video at the top of the page shows the hairlike protrusions at the bottom of the wing that separates the hairstreaks from the other two groups. It’s important to note that not all hairstreaks have purple wings.

Of course, no differentiation of the gossamer wing butterflies is perfect. The Eastern-tailed blue, pictured, for example, has a hair like appendage at the bottom of the wing similar to hairstreaks. North Carolina’s Coral Hairstreak does not have that hair like appendage.

Keeping those caveats in mind, the state does support a nice and diverse population of blues, coppers and hairstreaks that are listed below.

picture of a Banded Hairstreak, North Carolina butterflies
Hairstreaks in North Carolina can be as brightly colored as the great purple hairstreak in the video at the top of the page. Many can also have wing colors in various shades of brown, accompanies by a wing pattern of some type.

The picture shows one such species, the Banded Hairstreak.

Most of the hairstreaks have a limited distribution. The Gray, Red-banded and White-M are probably the most widely distributed species in the state.

Eastern-tailed Blues and Summer Azures are the most common of the North Carolina blue butterflies.

Eastern Tailed-Blue
Spring Azure
Summer Azure
Dusky Azure
Appalachian Azure
Holly Azure
Silvery Blue
Ceraunus Blue
Great Purple Hairstreak
Hessel’s Hairstreak
Juniper Hairstreak
Brown Elfin
Frosted Elfin
Henry’s Elfin
Eastern Pine Elfin
Oak Hairstreak
Coral Hairstreak
Hickory Hairstreak
Edwards’ Hairstreak
Banded Hairstreak
King’s Hairstreak
Striped Hairstreak
Red-banded Hairstreak
Gray Hairstreak
White-M Hairstreak
Early Hairstreak
American Copper

North Carolina Butterflies: Swallowtails

picture of an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, state butterfly of North Carolina and part of the North Carolina butterflies collection
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, the official state butterfly naturally tops the list of North Carolina swallowtails. They come in both dark and light forms and are common in most of the state.

picture of a Black Swallowtail butterfly
Wing pattern can also help with swallowtail identification. Black swallowtail identification starts by noting that males have two lines of yellow dots. Blue dots between the yellow dots may be absent. Females show a less definite inner line of yellow with separate spot near tip of wing.

They are very common across North Carolina because the larval host plant is the very common parsley.

The Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail and Palamades Swallowtail have the least distribution in the state. Otherwise, the remaining species can be found in most areas of the state.

  • Pipevine Swallowtail
  • Zebra Swallowtail
  • Black Swallowtail
  • Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail
  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
  • Spicebush Swallowtail
  • Palamedes Swallowtail
  • Giant Swallowtail
Wing color varies among the different species and often times moving from wing pattern to abdomen pattern aides in identification.

Landscaping with flowers, shrubs and trees can attract butterflies to the yard. For example, Spicebush attracts Spicebush Swallowtails and Palamedes Swallowtail. Pawpaw attracts the Zebra Swallowtail.

See your local garden club or nursery for native plants suited for your particular yard and garden.

North Carolina Butterflies: Whites and Yellows

picture of a Cloudless Sulphur, North Carolina butterflies
Most North Carolina butterfly enthusiasts spend a lifetime trying to differentiate between the Clouded Sulphur, Orange Sulphur and Cloudless Sulphur. First, the only real difference between the Clouded and Orange Sulphur is the presence of more orange on the top of the wing for Orange Sulphurs. In instances where a butterfly is old and has lost wing color that can be difficult.

The Cloudless Sulphur pictured has a more busy pattern on the side wing.

picture of a Sleepy Orange butterfly
Like the other butterfly species, yellow butterfly identification can be straight forward, based on wing color and patterns. The Sleepy Orange butterfly (pictured) tends to be a medium sized member of the family. The Little Yellows and Dainty Sulphurs rank as the smallest yellow butterflies in the state.

In the white butterflies category, the Falcate Orangetip and Cabbage White are the only two common species throughout the state. In fact, the name Cabbage White refers to the caterpillar’s host plant, making them the most common white butterfly in residential areas.

Falcate Orangetip
Olympia Marble
West Virginia White
Cabbage White
Checkered White
Great Southern White
Clouded Sulphur
Orange Sulphur
Southern Dogface
Cloudless Sulphur
Large Orange Sulphur
Orange-barred Sulphur
Barred Yellow
Little Yellow
Sleepy Orange
Dainty Sulphur

Brush Footed Butterflies

picture of a Queen butterfly
With a few exceptions such as the Wood Nymphs and Satyrs, most of the brush footed butterflies can initially be recognized by the orange wing color. The picture shows the queen butterfly.

picture of a Painted Lady butterfly, North Carolina butterflies
North Carolina’s two Lady butterfly species look very similar from a top view of the wings. Orange wing color with black and white patterns. The presence of a small white spot on the edge of the orange portion of the top wings means the butterfly is the American lady. The picture shows no such spot on the wings, suggesting it’s the painted lady butterfly.

picture of a Red Admiral butterfly
Some people might be unaware of the fact that the Red Admiral also fits into the genus. While the bright red to orange bands in the wing keep pace with the brush footed family, the top view of the butterfly shows how both the wing color and pattern differ from it’s closest relatives.

picture of a Hackberry Emperor butterfly
Like many Southern states, North Carolina has a very diverse brush footed butterfly population. Many of the species easily take to back yard butterfly gardens. Hackberry Emperors, for example, can be found wherever the caterpillar host plant, Hackberry, grows.

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