Rhode Island Butterflies: Pictures and Butterfly Identification Help

A small state in the north means Rhode Island butterflies number a bit less than the average for other states with larger territories.

The good news for Rhode Island butterfly enthusiasts is that with very few exceptions, taking pictures or videos of butterflies works great for butterfly identification.

This introduction provides a list of the butterflies along with a handful of pictures. Additional butterfly pictures, videos and identification help can be found by pressing the green butterflies button.

Blues, Hairstreaks and Coppers

picture of a Summer Azure butterfly
The video at the top of the page introduces the group of butterflies commonly called blues, hairstreaks and coppers. The common names refer to easily identified physical features of the species. For example, a quick look at the video shows a Gray hairstreak with protruding hairs or tails on the bottom of the wings. Generally speaking that’s a first good field identification clue for all the hairstreak species.

Think of this type of butterfly identification tip as a rule of thumb. For example, there is a small blue butterfly, the tailed blue that also shows the protruding hairs. Other blue and copper Rhode Island butterflies do not have the tails.

Picture number one depicts the Summer azure and highlights another good field identification clue, a close up of the pattern on the side of the wings when folded. Depending on the season, one of the Azure butterflies can be regularly seen.

picture of a Coral Hairstreak butterfly
When it comes to hairstreaks, similar identification clues work great. They may be physically small butterflies found on brush, flowers and ground level, nonetheless, a close-up picture of the side wings (and hopefully the top of the wings) means there’s a high degree of confidence for an accurate species identification. for the hairstreaks.

The large number of hairstreak butterfly species also means that a few might show up throughout the season to season.

Most of the Elfins have a brown wing color. The Juniper Hairstreak has a good deal of green color on the wings. Frosted Elfin are listed as Critically Imperiled for the state due to their very limited presence.

The picture shows a Coral Haristreak.

picture of an American Copper butterfly
The American Copper Butterfly is the most common of the Copper butterfly species. Both the Bog and Bronze coppers were designated as species of concern in need of some conservation efforts to maintain a stable population.

Eastern Tailed-Blue
Spring Azure
Northern Azure
Summer Azure
Hessel’s Hairstreak
Juniper Hairstreak
Brown Elfin
Hoary Elfin
Frosted Elfin
Henry’s Elfin
Eastern Pine Elfin
Oak Hairstreak
Coral Hairstreak
Acadian Hairstreak
Hickory Hairstreak
Edwards’ Hairstreak
Banded Hairstreak
Striped Hairstreak
Red-banded Hairstreak
Gray Hairstreak
White-M Hairstreak
American Copper
Bronze Copper
Bog Copper

Rhode Island Butterflies: Whites and Yellows

picture of a female Cabbage White butterfly, part of the Rhode Island butterflies collection
Most states in the Northeast have more yellow butterflies than white butterflies in the Pieridae family. The listed species that appear after this introduction highlights the fact that Rhode Island follows that trend.

Unless you are a very butterfly fortunate person in Rhode Island, the Cabbage White begins and ends the white butterfly conversation. Females like the one in the picture have two spots per wing. Males have one spot per wing. They can be plentiful in back yards where plants in the cabbage family grow because that’s the caterpillar host plant.

The other species are either accidental tourists or have only a historic presence.

picture of a sleepy orange butterfly, part of the Rhode Island butterflies collection
The remaining group, the yellow butterflies can initially be identified by wing color. Wing shape and pattern represent the next identification step.

The picture shows a Sleepy Orange butterfly. Residents want to know if you’ve seen this butterfly. There are historical records of sightings, but the most recent butterfly lists omit the species.

Rhode Islanders will most likely see the Clouded Sulphur and Orange Sulphur.

Mustard White
Cabbage White
Checkered White
Clouded Sulphur
Orange Sulphur
Cloudless Sulphur
Orange-barred Sulphur
Little Yellow
Sleepy Orange

Brush Footed Butterflies

picture of a question mark butterfly
Rhode Island gardens are filled with Brush Footed butterfly species from spring to fall. They mostly have orange color in the wings. The picture shows a Question Mark butterfly.

Following the rule of thumb orange color wings, species such at the Great Spangled Fritillary, Pearl Crescent and American Lady are common in fields and forest areas. The crescents represent the smallest of the orange wing species and can be found close to ground level.

Violets are great for attracting Fritillary butterflies to the garden year after year. They serve as larval host plants. Identifying some of the greater fritillaries has caused confusion among professionals and butterfly enthusiasts since the days when butterfly identification in the United States began. They all share similar physical characteristics such as wing colors and patterns. These identification issues apply to both intra-species and inter-species questions.

Professionals tend to gather large groups of fritillaries in one area and then compare and contrast physical factors to determine species. The rise of DNA research has also helped clarify species and subspecies questions. Variegated and Meadow fritillaries tend to be easier to identify due to their size and wing patterns.

A nice purple flower in the garden is all anyone needs to attract the Pearl Crescent to the back yard. It serves as a host for the caterpillar.

Almost any nectar flowers will attract the American Lady to the garden. They migrate in large numbers from South to North after the breeding season, and they are looking for a nice summer vacation home.

picture of a Milbert's tortoiseshell butterfly, Rhode Island butterflies
Other brush foot straddle the line between orange and brown wing color. The Milbert’s tortoiseshell brown wings serve as a backdrop for bright and wide yellow and orange bands.

picture of an American Snout butterfly, Rhode Island butterflies
The American Snout mostly shows shades of brown colors in the wings. The elongated nose makes for a very easy identification.

picture of a Hackberry Emperor butterfly, Rhode Island butterflies
It might be a little known fact that landscaping for trees helps to build a butterfly garden. The Hackberry Emperor, for example, gets it’s name from the fact that the larvae feed on the leaves of a variety of hackberry trees.

Interestedly enough, so do the American Snout caterpillars.

Wood-nymphs and Satyrs also have brown wing color in a variety of shades. Often the eye spots on the side of the wings when folded serves as the best field identification clue.

Brush footed
American Snout
Variegated Fritillary
Great Spangled Fritillary
Aphrodite Fritillary
Regal Fritillary
Atlantis Fritillary
Silver-bordered Fritillary
Meadow Fritillary
Red-spotted Purple
arthemis White Admiral
Astyanax’ Red-spotted Purple
Hackberry Emperor
Silvery Checkerspot
Harris’ Checkerspot
Pearl Crescent
Northern Crescent
Baltimore Checkerspot
Common Buckeye
Brush footed
Question Mark
Eastern Comma
Green Comma
Gray Comma
Milbert’s Tortoiseshell
Compton Tortoiseshell
Mourning Cloak
Red Admiral
Painted Lady
American Lady
Northern Pearly-eye
Eyed Brown
Appalachian Brown
Common Ringlet
Little Wood-Satyr
Common Wood-Nymph

Rhode Island Butterflies: Swallowtails

picture of a Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly
  • Pipevine Swallowtail
  • Zebra Swallowtail
  • Black Swallowtail
  • Canadian Tiger Swallowtail
  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
  • Spicebush Swallowtail
  • Giant Swallowtail

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail will be the most commonly seen swallowtail butterfly in Rhode Island. Folks with Black Cherry trees and Tulip Trees in the yard also provide the necessary larval plant hosts.

The picture shows a Spicebush Swallowtail and they are present where ever Spicebush grows in the state.