30 Butterfly Species in South Dakota

Explore the beautiful realm of South Dakota’s butterflies in this comprehensive guide. Immerse yourself in captivating details of 30 butterfly species residing in this region.

Get ready to embark upon this informative journey, broadening your understanding about these delicate creatures and their unique characteristics.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

The Painted Lady is a prevalent species found in South Dakota’s open environments.

painted lady butterfly

  • Habitat: Painted Ladies love wide-open spaces and gardens.
  • Appearance: They have a combination of orange, black, and white speckles on their wings.
  • Size: Their wings gain a span of 2 to 2.9 inches or 5 to 7.3 cm.
  • Diet: Adult Painted Ladies have a keen eye for nectar while the caterpillaries prefer plants.
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs on host plant leaves.
  • Lifespan: Adults live for 2 to 4 weeks from spring through fall.
  • Host Plants: Popular hosts include thistle, hollyhock, and malva species.

Observe these beautiful butterflies as they thrive. Their short lifespan doesn’t hamper their vibrancy.

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

This butterfly species is an exceptional one which you can find in South Dakota. The Hackberry Emperor is distinctive due to its intriguing attributes.

Hackberry Emperor butterfly

  • Habitat: They thrive best in hackberry trees, usually near wooded areas and fields.
  • Appearance: A neutral-toned butterfly with a wingspread showcasing intricate designs in hues of brown and tans, accompanied by two eyespots.
  • Size: With a wingspan of 1.5 to 2.5 inches (38-64mm), it’s a midsized butterfly.
  • Diet: Unlike most butterfly species, the Hackberry Emperor primarily dines on plant sap, decaying matter, and dung.
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs on the underside of host plants, which hatch into green caterpillars with yellow and white stripes.
  • Lifespan: The typical lifespan of these butterflies ranges from 4 to 6 weeks.
  • Host Plants: As their name suggests, the predominant host plant for their larvae is the hackberry tree (Celtis species).

This unique butterfly species is quite a spectacle in the world of lepidopterology.

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)

As you wander the prairies and meadows of South Dakota, watch for the stellar Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes).

This striking butterfly adds a dash of vibrant color to the state’s landscapes.

giant swallowtail butterfly

Let’s explore the characteristics of this beautiful creature:

  • Habitat: Prefers open woodlands, fields and gardens.
  • Appearance: Dark brown to black wings with a striking yellow band. A yellow “eye” pattern graces the tail.
  • Size: Extremely large, wingspan of 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm).
  • Diet: The adults mainly feed on the nectar of flowers like lantanas and azaleas.
  • Reproduction: Females lay single, round, yellow eggs on host plants.
  • Lifespan: 6 to 14 days on average, but can live up to a month.
  • Host Plants: Citrus plants, especially the leaves of the wild lime tree.

Witnessing a Giant Swallowtail in its natural habitat is a sight you won’t want to miss when visiting South Dakota!

Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)

The Zebra Swallowtail is an exquisite butterfly. Amazingly, it’s also found right here in South Dakota.

Zebra Swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: They reside primarily in woodlands and river valleys.
  • Appearance: Striking black and white stripes make them live up to their Zebra name. Their tails are long and distinctive.
  • Size: With a wingspan of up to 4 inches (10.2 cm), they’re hard to miss.
  • Diet: As adults, they favor nectar from a variety of flowering species. Their caterpillars enjoy Pawpaw trees.
  • Reproduction: Females lay pale green eggs on the underside of leaves.
  • Lifespan: Typical lifespan ranges from 6 to 8 weeks, living their longest as adults.
  • Host Plants: Pawpaw trees are their caterpillar’s go-to food source.

Don’t miss the chance to spot one, they’re a sight to behold, more so with their unique flying style, reminiscent of birds.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

The Variegated Fritillary is a thrilling sight in South Dakota. It’s no surprise why this delightful species has caught a lot of attention.

Variegated Fritillary butterfly

Let’s take a closer look at these charismatic creatures:

  • Habitat: They favor open, disturbed areas like fields, pastures, and roadsides. You’re also likely to spot them in dry areas with little vegetation.
  • Appearance: Variegated Fritillaries exhibit a stunning orange ground color patterned with black spots and lines, giving them a unique appearance.
  • Size: They are relatively small, with a wingspan ranging from 1.6 to 2.5 inches (4.1 to 6.3 cm).
  • Diet: As adults, they feed on the nectar of a variety of flowers.
  • Reproduction: Sexes are dimorphic for these butterflies. The females lay single eggs on or near the host plant.
  • Lifespan: Their lifespan is usually a couple of weeks, but the last generation of the year may live up to 9 months.
  • Host Plants: Caterpillars are known to feed on a range of plants including Violets, Passion flowers, and Flax.

Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis)

The Red-spotted Purple is one of the unique butterfly species found in South Dakota. Oftentimes, it’s mistaken for other species.

Red-spotted Purple butterfly

But, let’s take a deeper look at some distinguishing characteristics:

  • Habitat: This species thrives in, but is not limited to, wooded areas and roadsides.
  • Appearance: Dark blue wings adorned with vibrant red spots, hence its common name.
  • Size: Adult butterflies typically measure 3-3.5 inches (76-89mm) in wingspan.
  • Diet: As caterpillars, they enjoy willow, cherry, and birch leaves. Adults, however, sip tree sap, rotting fruit, and dung.
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs singly on the leaves of host plants.
  • Lifespan: Adults live around 2 weeks, while the lifecycle from egg to butterfly lasts about a year.
  • Host Plants: The favorites are willow, cherry and birch trees.

Understanding these details about the Red-spotted Purple can surely help in identifying and conserving these rare wonders.

Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)

You must have probably seen the Cabbage White fluttering in your backyard. Often disregarded because of its commonness, this butterfly does merit attention.

Cabbage White butterfly

  • Habitat: Widespread across South Dakota, they’re usually seen in open spaces like meadows, gardens, and parks.
  • Appearance: Males are white with black-wing tips, females have two black spots on each upper forewing. Underwings are a pale yellow.
  • Size: Small to medium-sized species, with a wingspan of around 1.5-2 inches (3.8-5.1 cm).
  • Diet: Adults feed on nectar, while caterpillars enjoy various plants, including cabbage.
  • Reproduction: Females lay yellow cone-shaped eggs on the undersides of host plant leaves.
  • Lifespan: Adult butterflies live up to 3 weeks.
  • Host Plants: Prefers plants in the mustard family, Brassicaceae. Everything from cabbage to radishes serves as a host for their young.

Cherish their simplicity, as the Cabbage White truly brings a unique charm to South Dakota’s biodiversity.

Silver-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene)

The Silver-bordered Fritillary is truly a gem among South Dakota’s diverse butterfly species. Its beauty is as exquisite as its adaptation strategies.

Silver-bordered Fritillary butterfly

  • Habitat: Prefers damp meadows, marshes, bogs, and wet woodland areas.
  • Appearance: Typically brownish-orange with black spots. Dotted silver border on hind wings gives them their name.
  • Size: Boasts an average wingspan of 1.6 to 2.5 in (40-64 mm).
  • Diet: Nectar from flowers including goldenrods, Joe-Pye weed, and ironweed.
  • Reproduction: The female lays eggs singly on the host plant leaves where the caterpillars feed.
  • Lifespan: Adult butterflies enjoy a short lifespan of a few weeks in the summer.
  • Host Plants: The caterpillars love feeding on various types of violets (viola species).

Wholly, it’s easy to see why the Silver-bordered Fritillary is a valuable part of South Dakota’s butterfly populace.

As you uncover more about the region’s butterflies, let its incredible diversity amaze you.

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

Experience nature’s beauty with the Spicebush Swallowtail. Enjoy the sight of this magnificent butterfly species, characteristic of South Dakota’s biodiversity.

Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: They favor moist, low woodlands and deciduous forests.
  • Appearance: A striking deep blue or greenish-blue “dusted” look on the wings, with large, light-colored spots along the edges.
  • Size: Now, consider their dimensions. They are impressively sized at roughly 3-4 inches (7.6-10.2 cm) in wingspan.
  • Diet: Adult Spicebush Swallowtails have a strong preference for nectar from flowers such as honeysuckles, thistles, or milkweed.
  • Reproduction: Females lay greenish-white eggs on leaves, specifically on the host plants.
  • Lifespan: In their short 10-30 day lifecycle, these creatures undergo transformation from eggs to ornate butterflies.
  • Host Plants: In their larval stage, they feed mostly on sassafras trees and spicebush plants.

Imagine having a close encounter with a Spicebush Swallowtail. They grace your garden, bringing a balance to the ecosystem.

Whether you’re an entomologist, or simply a nature enthusiast, these butterflies will surely fascinate you.

Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma)

The Eastern Comma is a surprisingly dainty species amidst the varied butterfly families present in South Dakota.

Eastern Comma butterfly

  • Habitat: You’ll discover this species around woodlands and forests, where it can masterfully blend with leaf litter due to its mottled brown underside.
  • Appearance: Its wing tops are characterized by orange and dark brown colors, and it flaunts a distinct ‘comma-like’ silver or white marking on the underside.
  • Size: With a wingspan ranging from 1.8 to 2.6 inches (about 4.5 to 6.5 cm), it’s a small yet striking butterfly.
  • Diet: These herbivore insects prefer tree sap, rotting fruit, and flower nectar.
  • Reproduction: The females lay eggs singly on the host plant. The hatched caterpillars eat leaves until they morph into chrysalises.
  • Lifespan: While the exact lifespan in the wild isn’t known, it typically lives for a few weeks to a few months.
  • Host Plants: Their caterpillars feed primarily on nettles, elms, and hops. So, if you’re aiming to attract them, keep these plants nearby.

Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele)

The Great Spangled Fritillary is a distinct butterfly species in South Dakota. Its name paints a picture of its majestic appearance and colorful wings.

Great Spangled Fritillary

  • Habitat: It frequents open woodlands, meadows and fields. You can spot them in damp places, like near ponds or streams.
  • Appearance: It has orange wings spotted with black. The lower part of the wing is ornate with metallic silver spots which given it the ‘spangled’ look.
  • Size: It comes under the large butterfly category, with a wingspan of 2.5 to 4 inches (6.4 – 10.2 cm).
  • Diet: Adults feast on nectar from various flowers like milkweed, thistle and violets.
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs near the host plant. The caterpillars will feed on the leaves once hatched.
  • Lifespan: The adult butterfly has a short lifespan, typically living for about a month.
  • Host Plants: Violet plants are the preferred host plants for spawning caterpillars.

Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon)

The Spring Azure is a sight to behold in South Dakota’s natural landscapes.

Spring Azure butterfly

  • Habitat: This butterfly favors a diverse range of habitats, including but not limited to, woodland areas, marshes, and fields.
  • Appearance: They captivate with their wings’ variable shades of pale blue, often edged with a delicate white.
  • Size: Compact in size, their wingspan measures approximately 1 to 1.25 inches (2.5 to 3.1 cm).
  • Diet: Spring Azures feed mostly on floral nectar. Occasionally, they can be seen sipping tree sap or sucking up moisture from damp soils.
  • Reproduction: Mating occurs in the spring, with the female laying her eggs on the flower buds of host plants.
  • Lifespan: The typical lifespan of a Spring Azure is one year, with most of this time spent in the pupal stage.
  • Host Plants: They mostly prefer to lay eggs on flowering plants including Dogwood and New Jersey Tea.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Among the most iconic species of butterflies, you’ll find in South Dakota is the Monarch. Admire it closer, and you’ll see why.


  • Habitat: They are adaptable, flying around in gardens, meadows, and roadsides. You’ll even see Monarchs in marshes and shorelines. They love open spaces filled with milkweed.
  • Appearance: Recognizable black, orange, and white wing patterns are distinctive. The body and edges of the wings are black with white spots.
  • Size: Their wingspan varies from 3.5 to 4 inches (8.9 to 10.16 cm), making them a rather large butterfly.
  • Diet: As adults, Monarchs show a preference for nectar from several types of flowers.
  • Reproduction: During summer, Monarchs breed throughout South Dakota. Females lay hundreds of eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves.
  • Lifespan: Adult Monarchs live for 2 to 6 weeks while migratory Monarchs live up to 8 months.
  • Host Plants: Milkweed serves as the host plant for this butterfly, providing the much-needed food for caterpillar stages. The beauty of the Monarch will certainly leave you in awe.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

The Common Buckeye is a fascinating species indigenous to South Dakota. They possess distinctive eye-like spots on their wings, acting as a deterrent for predators.

Common Buckeye butterfly

  • Habitat: This species tends to thrive in open sunny areas, including fields, roadsides, gardens and forests.
  • Appearance: These butterflies come decked in brown hues, with multiple large eye-spots adorning their wings.
  • Size: Adult wingspans typically run between 2 to 2.75 inches (5 to 7 cm).
  • Diet: Common Buckeyes typically feast on nectar from various plant species.
  • Reproduction: They lay elliptical, green eggs singly on the caterpillar’s host plants.
  • Lifespan: They live for about 10 days in the adult stage.
  • Host Plants: Caterpillars are partial to a variety of plants such as snapdragon, toadflax, and certain species of the plantain family.

Their vibrant patterns make them interesting to observe, and they form an essential part of South Dakota’s biodiversity. With each flutter, they enrich the state’s natural beauty.

Western Tailed-Blue (Cupido amyntula)

The Western Tailed-Blue, Cupido amyntula, is a small creature that adds a dash of color to South Dakota’s natural landscape.

Western Tailed-Blue butterfly

Admire its beauty, but remember it’s more than just a pretty flutter:

  • Habitat: This species prefers tranquil meadows, roadways, and woodland edges.
  • Appearance: Spot a light blue upper-side and a grey underside in males and brown females with blue scales.
  • Size: They are petite, with a wingspan of only 1 inch (2.54 cm) across.
  • Diet: Adult Western Tailed-Blues savor the nectar from flowers mostly.
  • Reproduction: Females meticulously place eggs in the buds of host plants.
  • Lifespan: They live for around one year, featuring multiple generations per season.
  • Host Plants: They favor plants from the pea family, particularly Alfalfa, for the caterpillars.

So, next time you spot this delicate creature flitting around in South Dakota’s landscape, remember the intricate details beneath its iridescence.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Meet the Red Admiral, scientifically known as Vanessa atalanta. Easy to spot with its distinct appearance, this butterfly is a marvel of nature.

red admiral butterfly

  • Habitat: Loves areas like gardens, parks, and woods, making South Dakota a great home.
  • Appearance: Recognizable by its black wings, ornately decorated with red bands and white spots.
  • Size: Typically measures about 2 inches (approximately 5 cm) in wingspan.
  • Diet: Feast mainly on nectar from flowers, sap from trees and, occasionally, ripe fruit.
  • Reproduction: Female lays eggs on the underside of leaves, which hatch into caterpillars within a week.
  • Lifespan: Often live for about 11 months, a relatively long life for a butterfly.
  • Host Plants: Netles are a favorite, where females would deposit their eggs to give their offspring quick access to food.

Whether fluttering above vibrant flowers or perched on a leaf, the Red Admiral adds a touch of visual appeal to the South Dakota landscape.

Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

The Question Mark Butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) is a fascinating species to explore.

Question Mark butterfly

  • Habitat: These butterflies can be found in the edges of woodlands, gardens, and parks. They are versatile and can adapt to various environments.
  • Appearance: The question mark butterfly boasts a unique orange-brown colour on the upper side of their wings. Their resemblance to a dead leaf when their wings are closed is uncanny.
  • Size: Their wingspan varies between 5.7–7.6 cm (2.25-3 inches), emphasizing their striking presence.
  • Diet: Their diet is quite varied, including rotting fruit, tree sap, dung, and carrion. The occasional sip of nectar from flowers is also preferable.
  • Reproduction: Female question mark butterflies lay their eggs on the upper side of host plants. One batch may contain hundreds of eggs.
  • Lifespan: The average lifespan is a year, which is reasonably long for a butterfly.
  • Host Plants: They prefer elm, nettle, and hackberry for their larvae. Additionally, they’re attracted to plants with high sugar content like overripe fruit.

Aptly named for the white punctuation-like marking on their hind-wing, the Question Mark Butterfly is indeed an intriguing species.

Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)

The Clouded Sulphur belongs to the Coliadinae subfamily of butterflies. You’ll find this interesting species across North America, extending its common habitat up to the edges of North and South Dakota.

Clouded Sulphur butterfly

  • Habitat: They prefer open fields and meadows.
  • Appearance: Clouded Sulphurs have a dark border on upper side of wings. They’re mostly yellow or white, with males tending to be more yellow and females whitish.
  • Size: Their wingspan is around 1.5 to 2 inches (38 to 51 mm).
  • Diet: Adult Clouded Sulphurs feed on flower nectar, while caterpillars feed on clover, alfalfa and other legumes.
  • Reproduction: Each female can lay hundreds of eggs on host plants. The life cycle (egg to adult) is approximately 30 days.
  • Lifespan: This species has a short lifespan of two weeks as an adult.
  • Host Plants: Clovers, Alfalfa and other species in the pea family serve as host plants for the Clouded Sulphur larvae.

With these details on hand, the next time you spot a Clouded Sulphur, you have insider knowledge about its intriguing life.

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

The American Lady is a frequent dweller in South Dakota’s gardens, meadows, and roadsides.

American Lady butterfly

These are some unique aspects about it:

  • Habitat: It’s found in a variety of open, sunny areas. It’s highly adaptable to environments such as meadows, gardens, and roadside areas.
  • Appearance: It is primarily orange and black with some white spots. The underwing displays a unique two large eye-spots pattern.
  • Size: It’s medium-sized, typically having a wingspan of about 2-2.75 inches (5-7 cm).
  • Diet: The caterpillars feed on various plant species while the adults favor flower nectar.
  • Reproduction: The female lays the eggs on the upper side of host plant leaves.
  • Lifespan: The American Lady has a short lifespan, ranging between 2 weeks to a month.
  • Host Plants: Various species of Everlastings and Pussytoes are among its preferred plants.

This captivating butterfly species truly adds a flash of color to South Dakota’s rich biodiversity.

Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme)

The Orange Sulphur, also known as the Alfalfa butterfly, is a fascinating species you’ll encounter in South Dakota.

Orange Sulphur butterfly

Sporting vibrant yellow-orange hues, here’s what you should know about this beautiful creature:

  • Habitat: They thrive in open fields, meadows, roadsides, and gardens.
  • Appearance: Adults display a yellow-orange upper wing with a dark margin. Females have a more variable colour.
  • Size: An average wingspan ranges from 1.3-2.5 inches (3.3-6.4 cm).
  • Diet: Adult butterflies feed on nectar from flowers like asters and mints.
  • Reproduction: Females lay single, pale green eggs on leaves of host plants.
  • Lifespan: They typically live up to 3 weeks in the adult stage.
  • Host Plants: Known to use multiple plants, notable ones include alfalfas and clovers.

The Orange Sulphur butterfly, with its striking colours, surely adds a vivid splash to South Dakota’s already diverse wildlife.

Encountering one could only make your outdoor experience more memorable!

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

The Black Swallowtail, known scientifically as Papilio polyxenes, is an interesting butterfly species to look out for when in South Dakota.

Black Swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: You’ll often see them in open fields, gardens, meadows, and near roadsides or riverbanks.
  • Appearance: It’s characterized by black wings with distinctive yellow spots. Females might display a blueish hue on the hind wings.
  • Size: The Black Swallowtail butterfly has a wingspan of around 4.1″ (10.4 centimeters).
  • Diet: Caterpillars feed on plants while adults prefer nectar from a variety of flowers.
  • Reproduction: After mating takes place in summer, females lay eggs on various plants.
  • Lifespan: The lifecycle from egg to butterfly completes in about 30 to 40 days.
  • Host Plants: Common host plants include parsley, dill, fennel, and other members of the carrot family.

This butterfly species brings a splash of color to South Dakota’s landscapes. Its lovely appearance and unique life habits truly make it a fascinating butterfly to watch for.

Coral Hairstreak (Satyrium titus)

Meet the Coral Hairstreak, a compelling butterfly species found in South Dakota. Known scientifically as Satyrium titus, this butterfly sure had a unique sophistication.

Coral Hairstreak butterfly

  • Habitat: Often spots in open, sunny areas, like fields and pastures, as well as woodland edges.
  • Appearance: At notice, these butterflies display a lack of tail, colored with an orange band that decorates the brown underside of their wing.
  • Size: Holding a moderate wingspan of about 1.25 to 1.5 inches (31.75 to 38.1 millimeters).
  • Diet: Satyrium titus is normally seen feeding on a variety of nectar-rich flowers such as milkweed.
  • Reproduction: Mating commonly takes place in the afternoon, where females lay their eggs singularly on the buds of their host plants.
  • Lifespan: The typical lifespan of this species is around a year from egg to its natural end.
  • Host Plants: Black Cherry and Wild Cherry plants are some of the favorites for the Coral Hairstreak caterpillars to feed on post emergence.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

The Gulf Fritillary is visually striking, flaunting bright orange wings with a wingspan of 2.5 to 3.5 inches (6.35 to 8.89 cm).

It’s sure to catch your attention as it flutters in habitats like open woods, gardens, and fields.

gulf fritillary

  • Habitat: Open woods, gardens, and fields
  • Appearance: Bright orange wings with black markings and a white lower side speckled with spots
  • Size: Wingspan of 2.5 to 3.5 inches (6.35 to 8.89 cm)
  • Diet: Larvae feed on passion vines, while adults savor the nectar of flowers
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs on the leaves of host plants; larvae then go through 5 stages before forming chrysalis
  • Lifespan: The Gulf Fritillary lives about three weeks in its winged stage
  • Host Plants: Passion vines; the toxic compounds in these vines make the larvae, and subsequently the adult butterflies, poisonous to predators

Mark their vibrant orange color. When you see this butterfly fluttering about, you’ll add another fascinating butterfly species to your South Dakota butterfly list.

Common Mestra (Mestra amymone)

Your journey through South Dakota’s butterflies lands you next upon the Common Mestra, a small yet striking specimen.

Common Mestra, Mestra amymone

  • Habitat: The Common Mestra is commonly found in open, sunny habitats including fields and wastelands.
  • Appearance: This butterfly flaunts an earthy brown shade on its wings, complemented by silver and white spots.
  • Size: Generally, the Common Mestra spans a wingspan of 1.8 to 2.6 inches (4.5 to 6.6 cm).
  • Diet: Its dietary preferences lean towards plant nectar and occasionally ripe fruit.
  • Reproduction: Female Common Mestras lay their eggs on the underside of host plant leaves.
  • Lifespan: An average lifespan of the Common Mestra is roughly one year.
  • Host Plants: Frequent host plants for Mestra larvae include the Noseburn plant species.

As you will discover, every butterfly species is truly unique, even within the confines of a region as rich as South Dakota.

The Common Mestra stands as a testament to the variety of life nature can nurture.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, scientifically known as ‘Papilio Glaucus,’ is a fascinating butterfly species that calls the South Dakota plains its home.

eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: They primarily inhabit open woods and fields, where they have easy access to nectar-rich flowers.
  • Appearance: This butterfly boasts vibrant yellow and black striped wings, reminiscent of a tiger’s stripes, thus the name.
  • Size: Adults range from 3.5-4.5 inches (9-11 cm) in wingspan, making it one of the larger species in the region.
  • Diet: Adult Swallowtails feed on the nectar of various flowers, including milkweed and thistles.
  • Reproduction: Females lay spherical, greenish-colored eggs on their host plants.
  • Lifespan: On average, they live around one month in their butterfly stage.
  • Host Plants: Their larvae particularly favor the foliage of trees like wild cherry and magnolia.

These creatures, with their stunning appearance and fascinating life cycle, truly add a touch of magic to South Dakota’s ecosystem.

Tawny Emperor (Asterocampa clyton)

Another butterfly species you’ll encounter in South Dakota is the Tawny Emperor (Asterocampa clyton). This delicate beauty can be recognised easily due to it’s unique characteristics.

Tawny Emperor butterfly

  • Habitat: Typically found in wooded areas, river valleys, and wetlands.
  • Appearance: They’re brown, with a series of intricate markings and eyespots on the upper side of the wings.
  • Size: Their wingspan is around 2.5-3 inches (6.35 to 7.62 cm).
  • Diet: Unlike other butterflies, Tawny Emperors rarely visit flowers. They feed on tree sap, rotting fruit, and other organic matter.
  • Reproduction: Females lay clusters of eggs on the underside of host leaves.
  • Lifespan: The adult butterfly usually lives for about 2 weeks.
  • Host Plants: Their caterpillars feed on various species of the hackberry tree.

Spotting a Tawny Emperor can definitely be a highlight on your South Dakota butterfly-watching adventure!

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

The Viceroy is one of the charming butterfly species you can spot in South Dakota. Let us delve into some interesting facts about this species.

Viceroy butterfly

  • Habitat: Viceroys favor wet, open or shrubby areas including meadows and roadsides.
  • Appearance: They carry an unmistakable pattern of black lines on an orange background, noticeably similar to the Monarch Butterfly.
  • Size: Adult Viceroys have a wingspan of 2.2-3.1 inches, or 5.5-8 cm.
  • Diet: As adults, Viceroys feed on aphid honeydew, rotting fruit and nectar. Their larvae stick to eating willow and poplar leaves.
  • Reproduction: A female Viceroy can lay hundreds of greenish-white eggs, primarily on the tips of host plant leaves.
  • Lifespan: In their butterfly form, Viceroys live around two weeks.
  • Host Plants: Viceroy butterflies prefer willows, poplars and fruit trees as host plants.

Stay tuned for more exciting information on the butterfly species found in South Dakota.

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

The California Tortoiseshell exhibits a delightful hover across South Dakota.

California Tortoiseshell butterfly

Let’s delve into the characteristics of this butterfly species:

  • Habitat: It has a strong preference for forested areas, which provide ample nourishment.
  • Appearance: The upper wings show a vibrant orange with black patterns, while the underwings have a detailed grayish pattern that looks like a tortoiseshell.
  • Size: This butterfly can have a wingspan ranging from 2 to 2.8 inches (5.1 – 7.1 cm), a noticeable size in the butterfly world.
  • Diet: As an adult, it primarily feeds on flower nectar.
  • Reproduction: Female tortoiseshells lay clusters of eggs on the host plant’s leaves.
  • Lifespan: The adult stage lasts for around two weeks, during which they mate and reproduce.
  • Host Plants: These butterflies favor Ceanothus species, especially the deer brush, for their larvae.

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

Mourning Cloak, scientifically known as Nymphalis antiopa, is a butterfly species easily recognizable in South Dakota.

Mourning Cloak butterfly

  • Habitat: You’ll find them mainly in woodlands, parks, and along streams throughout the state.
  • Appearance: Mourning Cloaks carry unique markings. They brandish dark brown wings with a yellow edge and blue spots, looking like a stained glass window.
  • Size: Typically, their wingspan ranges from 2-4 inches (5.1-10.2 cm). They are considered one of the larger butterflies in the region.
  • Diet: Mourning Cloaks feed on tree sap, especially oak. They also fancy ripe fruits and occasionally nectar from flowers.
  • Reproduction: Females lay clusters of eggs on host plant stems, which develop into spiny, black caterpillars.
  • Lifespan: These butterflies typically live up to 11-12 months, longer than many other species.
  • Host Plants: Their caterpillars primarily dine on leaves of willow, poplar, and elm trees.

Their unique life process and appearance make them a fascinating species in the South Dakota butterfly population.

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

Welcome to the world of the Pipevine Swallowtail, a captivating species amongst South Dakota’s butterfly diversity.

Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: This butterfly prospers in a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, and gardens.
  • Appearance: It stands out with its striking black wings, outlined with a row of noticeable blue spots.
  • Size: The wingspan varies between 2.5 to 4 inches (6.35 to 10.16 cm) which makes them easily visible.
  • Diet: Nectar from flowers like thistles, sweet pepperbush, and honeysuckle constitutes most of their diet.
  • Reproduction: These butterflies mate on host plant leaves where females lay eggs subsequently.
  • Lifespan: Adults live roughly four weeks, fluttering around during most of the summer.
  • Host Plants: They’re specific to the Pipevine plant, their caterpillars feed and grow on this plant exclusively.

Understanding and preserving these butterflies ensures the continuation of South Dakota’s abundant biodiversity.


South Dakota’s butterfly population is truly fascinating, showcasing a wide variety of colorful species. Each species contributes uniquely to the region’s ecosystem.

We would love to read your comments. What is your favorite butterfly from the list we’ve provided?

Butterflies   Updated: August 14, 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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