30 Butterfly Species in Kentucky

Welcome to the fascinating world of Kentucky butterflies. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll discover 30 unique butterfly species found in Kentucky.

We’ll delve into each species’ unique characteristics, behaviors, and habitat to enrich your understanding.

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

The Spicebush Swallowtail is an attractive butterfly species that is common in the Bluegrass state. Being bold yet meek, it adds charm to the Kentucky’s biodiversity.

Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Habitat: They thrive in hardwood forests. However, you might spot one in meadows or gardens.
  • Appearance: A glossy black body with iridescent blue on the hindwings.
  • Size: Average wingspan ranges from 3.5 to 4.5 inches (8.9 to 11.4 cm).
  • Diet: Caterpillars feast on the spicebush and sassafras. The adults feed on nectar from various flowers.
  • Reproduction: Females lay pale-green eggs on the leaves of host plants.
  • Lifespan: Adults live for around a month. However, the pupae overwinter for up to 8 months.
  • Host Plants: Spicebush, tulip tree, sweetbay,m, and sassafras.

Original in its appearance and behavior, the Spicebush Swallowtail is indeed a nature’s canvas.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

The Common Buckeye is an eye-catching butterfly, rich in color and design.

Common Buckeye butterfly

Here’s what you need to know about them:

  • Habitat: You often see them in open, sunny areas. They love fields, gardens, and roadsides.
  • Appearance: Brown wings with conspicuous eyespots make them easy to spot. Their striking pattern wards off potential predators.
  • Size: These butterflies are quite large, their wingspan ranges from 1.5-2.75 inches (38-70mm).
  • Diet: They feed mainly on nectar from flowers. As caterpillars, they consume plants like plantains.
  • Reproduction: Females lay single eggs on host plants. After two weeks, caterpillars transform into a chrysalis.
  • Lifespan: They have a brief life, typically living 3-4 weeks in the adult stage.
  • Host Plants: The caterpillars prefer plants like snapdragons, ruellia, and plantains. As adults, they nourish themselves on nectar from variety of flowers.

Eastern Tailed Blue (Everes comyntas)

This delicate species is a delight to watch. Its tiny body dances across the sky in a display of unmatched elegance. Let’s explore what makes the Eastern Tailed Blue so special.

Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly

  • Habitat: You can find this butterfly in fields, along roadsides, and in gardens.
  • Appearance: It has greyish-blue wings with small tails on each hind wing.
  • Size: Generally, its wingspan measures between 0.75 and 1.25 inches (1.9 to 3.2 cm).
  • Diet: As adults, their diet primarily consists of flower nectar.
  • Reproduction: Females lay single eggs on host plants which then hatch into caterpillars.
  • Lifespan: They live for a few weeks as adults.
  • Host Plants: The plants favored by the larvae include different species of legumes.

Make sure you take a moment to admire the Eastern Tailed Blue the next time you see it. It is a lovely butterfly, and its presence is a good indicator of a healthy environment.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Meet the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, easily distinguishable by its large size and striking coloration.

eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: They adore the deciduous woods and nearby fields but can just as well be found in gardens or city parks.
  • Appearance: They possess bright yellow wings with black tiger-stripe markings. The males and females can be distinguished by the presence of blue spots on the female’s hindwings.
  • Size: This species boasts a wingspan of 3.1 to 5.5 inches (80 to 140mm), making it one of the larger butterfly species in Kentucky.
  • Diet: Adults are attracted to the nectar from flowers such as milkweed and phlox, while the caterpillars munch on the leaves of deciduous trees.
  • Reproduction: Females lay green spherical eggs on host plants where the caterpillar feeds and grows.
  • Lifespan: Adults live for about a month in the warm season.
  • Host Plants: Caterpillars feed on the leaves of various trees, with favorites being tulip tree, wild cherry, and magnolia.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

The Viceroy species, scientifically known as Limenitis archippus, is an integral part of Kentucky’s butterfly population.


  • Habitat: These butterflies commonly inhabit wet, marshy areas where their preferred host plants, willows, and cottonwoods, are abundant.
  • Appearance: They are remarkably similar to the Monarch butterfly with their orange and black patterned wings, but can be distinguished by a black line crossing their hind wings.
  • Size: These fluttering marvels measure around 2.5 – 3.1 inches (6.4 – 7.9 cm) in wingspan.
  • Diet: Adult Viceroys favor nectar from flowers like milkweed and aster, while the caterpillars prefer leaves of willows and poplars.
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs singularly on the apex of the leaves of host plants.
  • Lifespan: They typically live for about two weeks in their adult form.
  • Host Plants: Viceroys caterpillars are generally found on willows, aspens, and cottonwood plants.

Undoubtedly, the Viceroy is a butterfly species of note in Kentucky due to its appearance and habits.

Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)

The Cabbage White is quite a common sight in Kentucky.


  • Habitat: Cabbage Whites thrive in open areas, gardens, and fields.
  • Appearance: They flaunt off-white wings with subtle veins. The wings have small dark spots, with a darker outline on females.
  • Size: Adults measure between 1.3-2.2 inches (3.3-5.6 cm) in wingspan.
  • Diet: Nectar is the primary diet for adult Cabbage Whites, although the larvae feed on Brassica plants.
  • Reproduction: Females lay single, yellowish eggs on the undersides of host leaves.
  • Lifespan: On average, a Cabbage White lives for about two weeks.
  • Host Plants: Brassica and nasturtium plants serve as the main host plants for the larvae of this species.

Despite their beauty, Cabbage Whites are often deemed pests due to their tendency to ravage vegetable crops, namely cabbages, hence their name.

Nonetheless, their unassuming elegance adds charm to Kentucky’s colorful butterfly fauna.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

The Monarch is one of the most distinctive and well-known butterfly species in Kentucky. Notorious for its lengthy migrations, the Monarch is a fascinating creature.


  • Habitat: Monarchs inhabit a wide range of environments including fields, meadows, and residential areas. They’re also commonly seen in towns and cities.
  • Appearance: Known for their vibrant coloring, Monarchs have vivid orange wings with black veins and margins. They are known for their distinctive white spots in the margins.
  • Size: With a wingspan ranging from 3.5 to 4 inches (8.9 to 10.2 cm), Monarchs are quite a sight.
  • Diet: The adults sip nectar from various flowers while the caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves of the milkweed plant.
  • Reproduction: The female Monarch lays her eggs on the underside of the milkweed plant’s leaves.
  • Lifespan: In non-migratory populations, Monarchs usually live for 2 to 6 weeks. The migratory generation can live up to 8 months.
  • Host Plants: The primary host plant for the Monarch is the milkweed. The caterpillars feed solely on milkweed leaves.

Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma)

The Eastern Comma is a fascinating small butterfly that calls Kentucky home.

Eastern Comma butterfly

  • Habitat: It thrives in various environments such as forests, wetlands, and even residential regions.
  • Appearance: Interestingly, this species gets its name from the white comma-like marking on the underside of its wings. The upperside is orange-brown dotted with dark black spots.
  • Size: These butterflies are quite small, with a wingspan of about 4.5 cm (1.8 inches).
  • Diet: Adults are known to feed on tree sap, rotting fruits, and occasionally nectar.
  • Reproduction: Their mating season typically falls in the spring, with females laying single eggs on host plants.
  • Lifespan: Notably, adults can live for several weeks, with those that hibernate living up to 9 months.
  • Host Plants: The larvae feed on a variety of plants, however, the favorite ones are usually nettle species.

These dainty butterflies add a touch of nature’s mystery to the Kentucky landscape.

Baltimore (Euphydryas phaeton)

The Baltimore, or Euphydryas phaeton, is a remarkable butterfly species found in Kentucky’s ecological niche.

The creature’s Habitat is typically damp and marshy areas, often seen fluttering near their food source.

Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly

  • Habitat: Known to prefer marshy areas, open woods, and meadows.
  • Appearance: Their wing design is truly noteworthy, possessing bright orange, black & white pattern that screams uniqueness.
  • Size: It stretches between 1.8 to 2.6 inches (4.5 to 6.6 cm) when fully spread.
  • Diet: Larvae primarily feed on plants from the snapdragon family, while adults sip on flower nectar.
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs in clusters, which hatch to caterpillars and undergo metamorphosis.
  • Lifespan: They live for an average of 7-10 days in their adult life.
  • Host Plants: Typically, they lay their eggs on the turtlehead plant. The caterpillars feed on leaves of these plants post-hatching.

The Baltimore butterfly is a vibrant part of Kentucky’s biodiversity, bringing a dash of color and vivacity to the state’s open woods and marshes.

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

The Great Purple Hairstreak is a captivating species worth noting.

Great Purple Hairstreak, Atlides halesus corcorani

  • Habitat: This species often resides in wooded areas, particularly in deciduous forests or urban parks.
  • Appearance: As suggested by its name, this butterfly is famed for its striking purple wings, boasting a metallic blue body adorned with ornamental red spots.
  • Size: It typically measures from 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 to 3.8 cm) in wingspan, considered quite petite compared to other butterfly species.
  • Diet: The Great Purple Hairstreak, like many other butterflies, sips nectar from a range of flowering plants.
  • Reproduction: Females generally lay eggs individually on the buds of their preferred host plants.
  • Lifespan: This butterfly’s lifespan usually spans from several weeks to a couple of months, typically longer in captivity.
  • Host Plants: It’s particularly tame to the mistletoe plant, where larvae find their primary food source.

The Great Purple Hairstreak is undoubtedly a gem among the butterfly species dwelling in Kentucky.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

The Painted Lady, or Vanessa cardui, is one of the most widespread butterfly species you’ll encounter in Kentucky.

painted lady butterfly

  • Habitat: They are adaptable, being found in a variety of environments, from wastelands to gardens.
  • Appearance: The upper wing is orange-brown with darker spots. The lower wing boasts a series of 5 small submarginal eyespots.
  • Size: Painted Ladies have a wide wingspan of around 2 to 2.9 inches (5.1 – 7.3 cm).
  • Diet: Adults feed on nectar from a variety of plants including aster, cosmos, blazing star, ironweed, and joe-pye weed.
  • Reproduction: Females lay tiny, pale green eggs on the upper leaves of host plants.
  • Lifespan: On average, they live for 2 weeks in the wild. In captivity, they can live up to a month.
  • Host Plants: Thistles are the most common host plant for their caterpillars. However, they can be found on hollyhock and sunflower too.

Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

The Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis), a unique butterfly species, finds residence across the plentiful habitats in Kentucky.

Question Mark butterfly

  • Habitat: They prefer woodland edges, city parks and gardens where their host plants thrive.
  • Appearance: These butterflies get their name from the silver-white question mark visible on the underside of their hind wings. Their upperside is orangish-brown, with a warm winter form that is darker.
  • Size: The wingspan ranges from 2.25-3 inches (5.7-7.6 cm) making them a noticeable presence.
  • Diet: Adult butterflies feast on sap flows, rotting fruit and occasionally nectar, while caterpillars eat mostly nettles and elms.
  • Reproduction: Females lay their eggs one at a time on their host plants.
  • Lifespan: Adults usually live for a few weeks, but some winter-form adults can live up to 9-10 months.
  • Host Plants: The primary host plants include American elm, nettles, and rotting fruit and sap flows for the adults.

The Question Mark butterfly is in itself a symbol of Kentucky’s diverse and vibrant ecosystems.

Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis)

The Red-spotted Purple or Limenitis arthemis is another butterfly species found across Kentucky.

Red-spotted Purple butterfly

  • Habitat: These butterflies prefer shady woodland regions and areas near rivers or streams.
  • Appearance: They are stunning butterflies with a blue and black upper side and a series of red spots lining the lower wings.
  • Size: The wingspan is about 2.5 to 4 inches (approx. 6.4 to 10.2cm) in full adult size.
  • Diet: Adults feed on fermenting fruit, sap, and animal droppings for nutrients.
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs on host plant leaves, where larvae feast upon hatching.
  • Lifespan: The adults survive for around 2 weeks, and the whole life cycle is about a year.
  • Host Plants: For host plants, they often use the willow, poplar, and cherry trees for laying eggs.

This butterfly is a sight to behold with its colorful wings filled with hues that truly make it a living art piece.

Aphrodite Fritillary (Speyeria aphrodite)

The Aphrodite Fritillary, or Speyeria aphrodite, is a captivating butterfly species that you can spot within the vibrant landscapes in Kentucky.

Aphrodite Fritillary butterfly

  • Habitat: Vernally damp meadows, hilly pastures, and open woodland places make perfect homes for this species.
  • Appearance: Their upper side is orangish-brown in color, adorned with black marks. Their underwing spots are silver encased in a ring of black.
  • Size: Their wingspan ranges between 2.3-3.1 inches (5.8-7.9 cm). They stand on the larger side of the spectrum for butterfly species.
  • Diet: The aphrodite fritillary feeds on nectar from thistles, milkweeds, and violets.
  • Reproduction: These butterflies have a single brood each year, somewhere between June to early September.
  • Lifespan: While a specific lifespan is unsure, the species typically overwinters as larvae.
  • Host Plants: Violets serve as the main host plant for this butterfly species. Their caterpillars feed solely on various violet species.

Their graceful flight and striking colors make the Aphrodite Fritillary a delightful sight during the warmer months in Kentucky.

Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)

Meet the Clouded Sulphur – an impressive butterfly species that’s common in Kentucky. Known for its vibrant gold-colored wings and remarkable adaptability, this butterfly is truly a sight to behold.

Clouded Sulphur butterfly

Let’s dive deeper into this fascinating creature:

  • Habitat: You’ll find this beauty in open fields and meadows.
  • Appearance: It comes with yellow to gold wings. Males have a sharp border while females show spattered dark spots.
  • Size: The average wingspan ranges from 1.25 to 2 inches (3.2 to 5 cm).
  • Diet: Here’s something cool: these nectar feeders prefer pink and purple flowers!
  • Reproduction: Each female lays about 300 to 400 eggs- yep, that many!
  • Lifespan: It has a short lifespan of only two weeks.
  • Host Plants: Alfalfa, clovers, and peas are some of Clouded Sulphur’s favorite plants to lay eggs.

From its massive reproduction numbers to the pretty host plants, there’s no denying the charm of the Clouded Sulphur butterfly.

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

The Queen butterfly is a majestic sight, gracing the landscapes of Kentucky with its beautiful presence.

An iconic butterfly species known for its unique characteristics, it brings a vivid splash of color among its surroundings.

Queen Butterfly

  • Habitat: Typically found in open areas, such as sunny fields and roadside vegetation patches.
  • Appearance: Showcasing an orange and black pattern, similar to monarch butterflies but exhibiting a more maroon shade.
  • Size: About 3 to 3.3 inches (7.6 – 8.3 cm) in wingspan, akin to the average monarch butterfly.
  • Diet: Nectar of milkweed plants and a variety of flowers.
  • Reproduction: Females lay their eggs individually on milkweed plant leaves.
  • Lifespan: Grows from egg to adult in around one month; adults live for two to six weeks.
  • Host Plants: Primarily, the Queen’s host plants are varieties of milkweed, essential for larval growth.

Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon)

The Spring Azure is a small and delicate species.

Spring Azure butterfly

  • Habitat: You will often spot Spring Azures flitting around deciduous woods, meadows, and wet environments.
  • Appearance: They boast of a light blue color on the topside of the wings. The underside is a dull, white hue with subtle, brown spotting.
  • Size: With a wingspan of 0.9 to 1.1 inches (22-28mm), they’re among the smallest of Kentucky’s butterflies.
  • Diet: They primarily feed on flower nectar, but they can also derive nutrition from tree sap and rotting fruit when necessary.
  • Reproduction: Females lay single, green eggs on flower buds, visible in late spring.
  • Lifespan: Though they only live for a few weeks as adult butterflies, Spring Azures spend a majority of their lives in the pupal stage.
  • Host Plants: The larvae tend to gravitate towards different flower species, such as flowering dogwood and new jersey tea.

American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas americana)

The ‘American Copper’, scientifically known as ‘Lycaena phlaeas americana’, is a sight to behold in Kentucky. This butterfly species is unique and greatly admired.

American Copper butterfly

  • Habitat: Commonly seen in open habitats, from fields to parking lots.
  • Appearance: Identified by its orange upper side with dark spots. The underside is gray with dark and light spots.
  • Size: Adults boast a wingspan of 7/8 – 1 1/4 inches or 22-32 mm.
  • Diet: As adults, the American Copper prefers to feed on the nectar from flowers.
  • Reproduction: Females lay light green eggs singly on the tops of host plant leaves.
  • Lifespan: This species completes several generations from May-October.
  • Host Plants: American Coppers use Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella) and other members of the buckwheat family.

In Kentucky, they are often seen flying low to the ground in search of their preferred host plant.

So next time you’re in an open field in Kentucky, keep an eye out for these lively fluttering creatures.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

The Black Swallowtail is a butterfly species you will frequently encounter in Kentucky.

Black Swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: These butterflies love open fields, gardens, and roadsides.
  • Appearance: Males are predominantly black with yellow spots, while females display blue between the spots.
  • Size: They boast an impressive wingspan of 3.5 to 4.5 inches (8.9 to 11.4 cm).
  • Diet: Adults feed on flower nectar, while caterpillars munch on plants.
  • Reproduction: Females lay spherical, cream-colored eggs on host plants.
  • Lifespan: Adults live for 10 to 12 days, but the entire lifecycle from egg to adult lasts about a month.
  • Host Plants: Fennel, parsley, and carrot are among their preferred host plants.

The Black Swallowtail is a stunning butterfly to spot. If you’re on a nature walk, be sure to look out for their vibrant colors flitting among the vegetation.

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

The American Lady is a butterfly species that you can spot in Kentucky.

American Lady butterfly

  • Habitat: Predominantly found in open areas and sunny locations, such as fields, meadows, and gardens.
  • Appearance: A distinct duo of large eyespots on the rear of the hindwings characterizes this butterfly. The upper wings are orange with a black apex, while the underside is subtly colored, exhibiting a complex design.
  • Size: Can grow to a wingspan of about 2 to 2.75 inches (5-7 cm).
  • Diet: Primarily, they feed on the nectar of various flowers, such as thistles, asters, goldenrods, and tickseeds.
  • Reproduction: The female lays her eggs individually on a host plant’s leaves or stems.
  • Lifespan: In general, this butterfly’s lifespan ranges from 2 weeks to a month.
  • Host Plants: They use various species of plants like Everlasting (Anaphalis), Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), and Sweet Everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) as their host.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

The Red Admiral can be a striking sight with its contrasting colors and bold patterns. It’s a butterfly that you’re bound to encounter in your exploration of Kentucky.

red-admiral butterfly

  • Habitat: Predominantly found in moist areas like marshes, but can be seen in a variety of habitats right from woodlands to city parks.
  • Appearance: The upper side is black with a bold red stripe in the middle, while the underside is mottled grey.
  • Size: Average wingspan of 2-3 inches, or 5-8 centimeters.
  • Diet: Adult Red Admirals feed on flower nectar, sap flows, and decaying fruit.
  • Reproduction: Females lay single eggs on the top of host plants.
  • Lifespan: Adults live up to 6 months in optimal conditions.
  • Host Plants: Favors plants from the nettle family, including stinging nettle and false nettle.

This adaptable, hardy species is unmistakable with its unique coloring, making it a beloved sight among Kentucky’s butterfly enthusiasts.

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)

The Papilio cresphontes, popularly known as the Giant Swallowtail, is one of the most impressive butterfly species seen in Kentucky.

The presence of this species is a delight to many butterfly enthusiasts in the region.

giant swallowtail butterfly

Below are some remarkable facts about this butterfly:

  • Habitat: Favoring open woods and gardens, it’s easily spotted in city parks.
  • Appearance: A striking black and yellow color combination, with black bands interspersed with yellow spots on its wings.
  • Size: Among the largest butterflies, it ranges between 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cms).
  • Diet: Adults prefer nectar and can often be seen hovering around flowers.
  • Reproduction: The female lays her eggs on citrus leaves, which serve as the larval food source.
  • Lifespan: It lives approximately a month in the wild.
  • Host Plants: Caterpillars feed on citrus plants, hence often spotted in orchards.

It’s worth the effort to spot this butterfly when you are out exploring nature in Kentucky.

White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis arthemis)

The White Admiral, scientifically known as ‘Limenitis arthemis arthemis,’ is a mesmerizing butterfly species prominent in Kentucky.

White Admiral butterfly

Let’s take a closer look:

  • Habitat: These butterflies are frequent in deciduous forests and adjacent areas.
  • Appearance: They are easily identifiable with their black wings showcasing a broad, white band.
  • Size: The wingspan varies between 2.5 to 4 inches (roughly 63.5 to 101.6mm).
  • Diet: Their diet primarily comprises nectar from flowers, though they also enjoy sipping tree sap.
  • Reproduction: Eggs are laid singularly on the leaves of host plants, usually willows or poplars.
  • Lifespan: White Admirals have a lifespan of about 2 weeks in the wild.
  • Host Plants: Host plants are typically tupelo, cottonwood, aspen, and black cherry trees.

This captivating species deserves attention, as its breathtaking coloration is a sight to behold during outdoor adventures in Kentucky.

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)

Welcome to the world of the Pearl Crescent, a striking butterfly variety located within Kentucky.

Pearl Crescent butterfly

  • Habitat: These beauties are happy in sunny, open areas like fields and roadsides.
  • Appearance: They flaunt a tiled pattern of orange and black on the upper side of the wings.
  • Size: Their size is petite, around 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 to 3.8 cm).
  • Diet: Adult Pearl Crescents depend on nectar from flowers. As caterpillars, they munch on Aster leaves.
  • Reproduction: After mating, females lay eggs on the underside of host aster leaves.
  • Lifespan: Adults live for about 6 to 8 weeks, generally from May through October.
  • Host Plants: It’s all about the Asters for these butterflies, from their diet to their reproductive process.

This fluttering spectacle adds a bright splash to Kentucky’s colorful butterfly community.

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

The Hackberry Emperor, scientifically known as Asterocampa celtis, is an interesting butterfly species that you might encounter in Kentucky.

Hackberry Emperor butterfly

Let’s dive into its characteristics:

  • Habitat: Mostly found in woodland areas near hackberry trees where they lay their eggs. They are common in eastern and central North America.
  • Appearance: They have a tawny color with distinctive black markings and a small white dot in each wing cell.
  • Size: They have a wingspan of 1.5 to 2.8 inches (38.1 to 71.1mm), falling in the medium-sized butterfly category.
  • Diet: Adults feed on tree sap, rotting fruit, dung, and carcasses. The larvae feed on hackberry leaves.
  • Reproduction: Females lay single green eggs on host plants.
  • Lifespan: The life span is about one year from egg to the end of the adult stage.
  • Host Plants: The caterpillar’s host plants are hackberry trees, hence the name.

Isn’t it fascinating how unique each butterfly species can be? Let’s move on to another one.

Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)

The Zebra Swallowtail is a uniquely striking butterfly. Enjoy discovering more about this intriguing species.

Zebra Swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: This butterfly prefers moist, lowland areas, such as wet meadows and marshes. They are also commonly found near pawpaw trees.
  • Appearance: The butterfly gets its name from its black and white striped wings. It also has long tails and red and blue markings on its back wings.
  • Size: An adult Zebra Swallowtail’s wingspan ranges from 2.75 to 4 inches (7 to 10 cm).
  • Diet: As caterpillars, they feed on pawpaw leaves. Adults feed on nectar from various flowers.
  • Reproduction: Females lay their eggs one at a time on the underside of pawpaw leaves.
  • Lifespan: An adult butterfly typically lives around a month, while the whole lifecycle from egg to adult takes about 6 weeks.
  • Host Plants: The pawpaw tree is the host plant for this species, the sole source of food for the caterpillars.

Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele)

The Great Spangled Fritillary is an eye-catching species found within the diverse butterfly population of Kentucky. It is remarkably swift, making it a delightful spectacle in any landscape.

Great Spangled Fritillary

  • Habitat: These butterflies are commonly found in gardens, meadows, fields, and even swamps, displaying their adaptability.
  • Appearance: Their upper-side is orange-brown with black spots; the hindwing underside is covered in metallic silver spots, creating a stunning contrast.
  • Size: They are quite large, with a wingspan ranging from 2.5 to 4 inches (6.3 to 10 cm).
  • Diet: Adult butterflies are known to feed on flowers, particularly those of the milkweed and thistle varieties.
  • Reproduction: Their egg-laying habits favor violets, where larvae will later feed.
  • Lifespan: Adults have a relatively short lifespan, typically living for a month or two in summer.
  • Host Plants: Caterpillars prefer violet plants for feeding and growth, but adults are attracted to a larger variety of plants.

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

This charming North American native, the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus), is no stranger to Kentucky. Its varying habitats and remarkable adaptability give it a widespread presence.

Gray Hairstreak butterfly

  • Habitat: Residing in fields, gardens, and meadows, it has an affinity for sunny spots.
  • Appearance: Gray Hairstreak adorns a grayish body, punctuated with orange spots near the tail and a bold red dot near its head area.
  • Size: This butterfly measures about 1 – 1.25 inches (2.5 – 3.1 cm), showcasing a small yet enchanting presence.
  • Diet: Favoring nectar, they savor a broad range of flowers, including milkweed and dogbane.
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs on the host plant, where the caterpillar consumes the buds and flowers.
  • Lifespan: An average lifespan of this butterfly is one year.
  • Host Plants: It isn’t picky about host plants, feasting on different types, including legumes, mallows and many more.

Such versatility and adaptability help the Gray Hairstreak to be a fairly common resident of Kentucky.

Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

The Silver-spotted Skipper is another stunning butterfly species you can find in Kentucky. Let’s take a closer look at this beautiful creature.

Silver-spotted Skipper butterfly

  • Habitat: This species thrives in open, disturbed habitats including gardens, roadsides, and forest edges.
  • Appearance: Its distinguishing feature is the large silvery spot on its hindwing underside. It also has a broad, chunky body with an angular forewing shape.
  • Size: The Silver-spotted Skipper is considered large among skippers, with a wingspan ranging from 1.75 to 2.5 inches (44 to 63 mm).
  • Diet: Adult butterflies primarily feed on nectar from flowers, but they also enjoy sap and rotten fruit.
  • Reproduction: Females lay their tiny, greenish-white eggs singly on host plants, which later turn into red-spotted, orange caterpillars.
  • Lifespan: Typically, it lives one year, from larva to adult.
  • Host Plants: Its larvae feed on various plants in the pea family like Black Locust and Honey Locust.

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

The Mourning Cloak, a distinctive butterfly, is commonly found across Kentucky.

Mourning Cloak butterfly

  • Habitat: Not limited to a particular habitat, you can find it in woods, parks, or even suburbs.
  • Appearance: Its broad wings embrace darker shades of brown, framed by yellowish edges with a row of blue spots.
  • Size: This butterfly has an impressive wingspan, reaching up to 4 inches (around 10 cm).
  • Diet: Feeds mostly on tree sap, particularly from oaks. It is also known to feed on rotting fruit.
  • Reproduction: Females lay rows of eggs on host plants.
  • Lifespan: Life expectancy of approximately 11 to 12 months places it as one of the longest living butterflies.
  • Host Plants: Primarily caterpillar host plants include willows, elms, and poplar.

As you roam across the Bluegrass State, keep an eye out for the Mourning Cloak, a real spectacle to behold.


Exploring Kentucky’s rich diversity of butterfly species is truly a captivating journey. Each species is unique, exhibiting mesmerizing colors, patterns, and behaviors.

We encourage you to share your personal experiences with Kentucky’s butterflies or leave any questions in the comment section below.

Butterflies   Updated: August 7, 2023
avatar Welcome to Insectic, a blog to learn about insects and bugs. I'm Richard, and I've created this website to share my experience, knowledge, and passion with others.

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