North Dakota Butterflies: Pictures and ID Tips

picture of a Viceroy butterfly from a side view, part of the North Dakota butterflies series

Thanks for visiting North Dakota butterflies. For a Northern state, North Dakota hosts a fairly diverse population of about one hundred and fifty species.

The season tends to be a bit more condensed with less early and late season butterfly populations, so residents interested in maintaining butterfly gardens need to take that climate fact into account during their planning.

The North Dakota State University Extension Service suggests:

Most butterfly caterpillars feed on plant parts: leaves, flowers, buds or seeds. While nectar sources will attract many species of butterflies, providing larval food sources will augment local populations of widespread butterflies.

Even a simple choice of an ash, poplar, willow, birch or wild cherry tree in the back yard is sufficient to attract Canadian Tiger Swallowtails. Their caterpillars consume the leaves.

Viceroy butterflies, pictured above, also use willow trees as their larval host trees.

In addition to butterfly gardens, learning how to identify North Dakota butterflies adds to the typical outdoor adventure.

Butterfly identification anywhere usually begins with color. This introductory page divides North Dakota butterflies according to families, which unsurprisingly almost equals wing color.

Additional additional butterfly pictures, videos and identification help can be found by pressing the green butterfly button.

North Dakota Butterflies: Whites and Yellows

picture of a Checkered White butterfly
There’s a nice balance of whites and yellows in the state. The Checkered White is a native species that often uses weedy plants as caterpillar hosts. It might be confused with the Western White.

picture of a clouded sulphur butterfly, North Dakota butterflies
The yellow butterflies often dominate North Dakota fields because the caterpillars eat alfalfa and clover fields. Some residential areas with clover could see the presence of yellow butterfly species, otherwise, they are not usually considered the basic butterfly for a butterfly garden.

The large number of yellow butterfly species need to be tempered with the realization that most are stray or occasional visitors. Clouded sulphurs and Orange Sulphurs are the most common species. They have a state side presence.

Finding additional yellow butterflies during the season is always exciting.

Large Marble
Olympia Marble
Mustard White
Cabbage White
Checkered White
Western White
Spring White
Clouded Sulphur
Orange Sulphur
Queen Alexandra’s Sulphur
Southern Dogface
Cloudless Sulphur
Mexican Yellow
Little Yellow
Mimosa Yellow
Dainty Sulphur

Blues, Hairtreaks and Coppers

picture of a Rekirks blue
For a Northern tier state, North Dakota hosts a very nice variety of blues, coppers and hairstreaks.

Western Tailed-blues and Azures are probably the most wide spread of the species.

The picture shows a Reakirk’s Blue. Not shows is the side view with a more prominent pattern and a darker background color compared to the Tailed-Blues and the Azures. The top view of the male is decidedly blue in color.

picture of a Coral Hairstreak Butterfly, credit Benny Mazur, Flickr
About one-half of the state’s hairstreak butterflies, like the pictured Coral Hairstreak, have a state wide range.

That fact translates into multiple hairstreak butterfly sightings for the butterfly watching crowd.

picture of a Bronze Copper Butterfly, North Dakota butterflies
Gray Coppers and Bronze coppers are North Dakota’s most common copper butterfly species. The picture shows a Bronze Copper.

Eastern Tailed-Blue
Western Tailed-Blue
Spring Azure
Summer Azure
Silvery Blue
Reakirt’s Blue
Melissa Blue
Greenish Blue
Boisduval’s Blue
Shasta Blue
Lupine Blue
Arctic Blue
Sheridan’s Green Hairstreak
Juniper Hairstreak
Hoary Elfin
Western Pine Elfin
Coral Hairstreak
Acadian Hairstreak
Edwards’ Hairstreak
Banded Hairstreak
Striped Hairstreak
Gray Hairstreak
American Copper
Gray Copper
Bronze Copper
Ruddy Copper
Purplish Copper

Brush Footed Butterflies

picture of a Little Wood Satyr butterfly
The wide diversity of North Dakota brushfoots can be attributed to habitat diversity. Many of the checkerspots, commas, ladys and admirals can be found in gardens and residential areas.

Residents interested in planning a Monarch Butterfly garden should note that two milkweed species, the Showy Milkweed and Whorled Milkweed are native to all of North Dakota and would serve as great plants for Monarch caterpillars.

The Little Wood Satyr, pictured, lives around woodland edges and glades. Smaller than the Common Wood Nymph, they tend to be early season butterflies.

It has two conspicuous eyespots on the outer forewings, and it has a fairly wide distribution in the state.

Brush footed
American Snout
Gulf Fritillary
Variegated Fritillary
Great Spangled Fritillary
Aphrodite Fritillary
Regal Fritillary
Edwards’ Fritillary
Callippe Fritillary
Mormon Fritillary
Silver-bordered Fritillary
Meadow Fritillary
Red-spotted Purple
arthemis White Admiral
Astyanax’ Red-spotted Purple
Weidemeyer’s Admiral
Hackberry Emperor
Tawny Emperor
Silvery Checkerspot
Gorgone Checkerspot
Harris’ Checkerspot
Sagebrush Checkerspot
Pearl Crescent
Northern Crescent
Tawny Crescent
Texan Crescent
Brush footed
Common Buckeye
Question Mark
Eastern Comma
Satyr Comma
Green Comma
Hoary Comma
Gray Comma
Milbert’s Tortoiseshell
Compton Tortoiseshell
Mourning Cloak
California Tortoiseshell
Red Admiral
Painted Lady
West Coast Lady
American Lady
Northern Pearly-eye
Eyed Brown
Common Ringlet
Little Wood-Satyr
Red-disked Alpine
Ridings’ Satyr
Alberta Arctic
Uhler’s Arctic
Common Wood-Nymph
Mead’s Wood-Nymph
Small Wood-Nymph

Butterflies: Swallowtails

picture of a Giant Swallowtail
Canadian Tiger Swallowtails are the most common of the Swallowtail species.

On the other hand, Giant Swallowtails are not very common in North Dakota. Finding one is a great pleasure for butterfly enthusiasts of the state.

Be alert. It might be difficult to initially differentiate the Giant Swallowtail from other North Dakota swallowtail butterflies with dark wings. Black Swallowtails, for example, are fairly common in the western half of the state.

The easiest way to identify Giant Swallowtails is to look at the underside of the wings. Giant Swallowtails have yellowish colors.

  • Old World Swallowtail
  • Black Swallowtail
  • Anise Swallowtail
  • Canadian Tiger Swallowtail
  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
  • Two-tailed Swallowtail
  • Spicebush Swallowtail
  • Giant Swallowtail

Butterflies: Metalmarks

picture of a Mormon Metalmark butterfly
  • Mormon Metalmark