30 Butterfly Species in Virginia

Welcome to the world of Virginia’s butterflies! This article explores 30 unique butterfly species that grace the lands of Virginia.

Get ready to dive into superb facts and learn about these exquisite creatures, each with its distinct phenomenon and beauty.

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

The Mourning Cloak, scientifically known as Nymphalis antiopa, is a fascinating breed of butterflies that you may discover in Virginia.

Mourning Cloak butterfly

  • Habitat: These butterflies prefer woodlands, parks, and gardens rich in their favorite host plants.
  • Appearance: Mourning Cloaks are distinct due to their dark wing color which is reminiscent of a traditional cloak. It is accompanied by an irregularly lined yellow border.
  • Size: Adults have a wingspan of 2.25 to 4 inches (5.7 to 10.2 centimeters).
  • Diet: They feed on tree sap, especially from oaks. They also like rotting fruit and occasionally flower nectar.
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs in clusters around twigs of the host plants.
  • Lifespan: One of the longest-lived butterflies, an adult Mourning Cloak can live up to 11 months.
  • Host Plants: The caterpillars prefer willows, American elm, and hackberries. Their preference of host plants brings a splendid variety of these trees to their habitats.

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

The Spicebush Swallowtail is an enchanting butterfly species you can find in Virginia. Glance below to learn more about this captivating creature.

Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: These butterflies thrive in deciduous woodlands and fields with spicy bush plants or tulip trees.
  • Appearance: You’ll recognize them by their striking black color, coupled with beautifully iridescent blue markings on the hindwings.
  • Size: Generally, they reach a wingspan of 3-4 inches (7.6-10 cm).
  • Diet: The caterpillars feed on spicy bush leaves. On the other hand, adults sip nectar from a variety of flowers.
  • Reproduction: Females lay single, spherical eggs on the undersides of host plant leaves.
  • Lifespan: On average, they live 2 weeks in the wild, but the complete life cycle takes about a month.
  • Host Plants: Primary host plants include spicebush and sassafras trees. Butterflies also adapt to other members of the Lauraceae family.

As you learn more about Virginia’s butterflies, keep an eye out for the graceful Spicebush Swallowtail!

Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele)

The Great Spangled Fritillary is an elegant member of the brush-footed butterfly family found throughout Virginia. This butterfly is aptly named for the bright, golden specks on its wings.

Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly

  • Habitat: This species prefers moist areas, often seen flitting about in meadows or near wetlands.
  • Appearance: Its wings are a vivid orange color, adorned with black markings and silver spots on the underside.
  • Size: With a wingspan ranging from 2.5 to 4 inches (6.4 to 10.2 cm), they are relatively large.
  • Diet: They feed primarily on nectar from flowers like thistles and milkweeds.
  • Reproduction: Females lay their eggs in violet plants where the hatched caterpillars will spend their early life.
  • Lifespan: As adults, they live for approximately a month in the summer.
  • Host Plants: Primarily, they lay their eggs on species of violets, providing food and habitat for their caterpillars.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

The Painted Lady is a vibrant butterfly species found in Virginia.

painted lady butterfly

  • Habitat: From meadows to gardens, this variety is quite adaptable, making it visible across various landscapes.
  • Appearance: A melange of orange hues combined with dark markings splashed across their wings bring them to life.
  • Size: They flaunt a good wingspan ranging between 2-3 inches (5-7.6 cm), making them easy to spot.
  • Diet: These graceful creatures primarily subsist on nectar from a variety of flowering plants.
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs on the upper side of host plants.
  • Lifespan: Their lifespan might surprise you as it only spans 2-4 weeks on average in the wild.
  • Host Plants: Thistles (genus Cirsium and Carduus) are their host plants of choice where the caterpillar’s stages occur before butterfly emergence.

Enjoy observing these energetic and swift butterflies as they flutter across the Virginia landscapes.

Checkered White (Pontia protodice)

The Checkered White, scientifically known as Pontia protodice, is a charming butterfly species which can be found in Virginia.

Checkered White butterfly

  • Habitat: They love open spaces, like fields, meadows, and roadsides.
  • Appearance: Recognizable by its checkered pattern, the white wings have dark spots in males and more diffuse scaling in females.
  • Size: Adults have a wingspan ranging from 1.5 to 2.5 inches, corresponding to 3.8 to 6.4 cm.
  • Diet: Adult butterflies sip nectar from a variety of flowers whereas caterpillars feed on cruciferous plants.
  • Reproduction: Females lay single eggs on the underside of host plants after mating.
  • Lifespan: Their lifecycle extends from early spring to late fall.
  • Host Plants: Caterpillars feed on plants in the mustard family, like cabbage, and other crucifers.

Though they are more plentiful in the west, you may still spot some in the eastern states, including Virginia. The Checkered White is a sight to behold in any butterfly garden.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

The Viceroy is quite fascinating. You can spot it in many regions across Virginia.

Viceroy butterfly

  • Habitat: Viceroys favor wetlands, fields and meadows with abundant willow trees.
  • Appearance: This butterfly sports orange and black patterned wings with a unique line across the hind wings.
  • Size: They span about 2.5 to 3 inches (6.4 to 7.6 cm) wide.
  • Diet: Apart from nectars from flowers, Viceroys feed on dung and decaying fruits.
  • Reproduction: After mating, females lay eggs on the leaves of host plants.
  • Lifespan: Their lifespan generally varies from a few weeks to a few months.
  • Host Plants: Viceroys lay their eggs on the leaves of willow and poplar trees.

Despite their similarities to the Monarch, Viceroys differ in their love for wetter habitats and their smaller size. Amazingly, their mimicry tricks predators into avoiding them.

They’re indeed Virginia’s clever butterflies!

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

The Red Admiral, a sight to behold! A precious gem among Virginia’s butterfly species. Delve into the fascinating collective knowledge we’ve amassed about Vanessa atalanta.

red admiral butterfly

  • Habitat: Anywhere you find nettles, you’ll likely find this beauty. From gardens and parks, to damp fields and sunny woodland edges, it’s a flexible resident.
  • Appearance: Sporting a striking black body with red bands interspersed with white spots at top wings, no one will mistake it for another.
  • Size: Medium in size, it stretches 1.75-2.5 inches (45-64 mm) across when wings are fully opened. Much like a small bird.
  • Diet: The adults show a strong liking for nectar-bearing flowers. The Red Admiral also indulges in sap and overripe fruit.
  • Reproduction: They lay greenish eggs on the leaves of nettles and hops, which the caterpillars use as food.
  • Lifespan: They live around 6 months, pretty decent for a butterfly.
  • Host Plants: Nettles serve as the favorite nursery for their larvae.

Spectacular right? Now, you can readily introduce this butterfly to your friends.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

The Monarch butterfly is arguably the most recognized and studied butterfly on the planet.

Its vibrant, contrasting coloration, large size, and incredible mass migration have all contributed to its popularity.

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

  • Habitat: Monarchs occupy a wide range in North America, including Virginia. They are often seen around milkweed plants where females lay their eggs.
  • Appearance: Their wings exhibit an iconic orange and black pattern with white spots around the border.
  • Size: Monarchs are relatively large, with a wingspan ranging between 3.7-4.1 inches (9.4-10.4 cm).
  • Diet: As caterpillars, they eat only milkweed. When they grow into butterflies, they drink nectar from flowers.
  • Reproduction: These butterflies have a particularly interesting life cycle, with four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
  • Lifespan: Adult monarchs live for 2-6 weeks, but the migration generation can live up to 8 months.
  • Host Plants: They primarily choose plants in the milkweed family to lay their eggs and for their larvae to feed on.

These majestic insects are indeed a sight to behold, and their display of resilience is truly remarkable!

Summer Azure (Celastrina neglecta)

The Summer Azure, a charming specimen amongst the butterfly species found in Virginia, shows off its beauty in its unique way.

Summer Azure (Celastrina neglecta)

Now, let’s dive into the fascinating details about this diminutive butterfly.

  • Habitat: Summer Azures are widespread and can be spotted from meadows to gardens and forests in Virginia.
  • Appearance: They boast a beautiful light blue color that’s reminiscent of a peaceful summer sky.
  • Size: This butterfly is quite tiny and has a wing span between 0.9 to 1.3 inches (23-33 mm).
  • Diet: Nectar is crucial for this butterfly. They feed mostly on flowers like dogbane and milkweed.
  • Reproduction: Females lay their eggs on flower buds, where larvae will feast once hatched.
  • Lifespan: Being a short-lived butterfly, their life spans approximately 7 to 10 days.
  • Host Plants: They lay their eggs on various host plants, but their common choices include dogbane, meadowsweet, and blueberries.

Despite their short life, the Summer Azures leave a lasting impression on butterfly enthusiasts.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is an integral part of Virginia’s fauna.

eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: Widespread throughout the state, it favors the edges of forests and open woodlands but can also be seen in parks and gardens.
  • Appearance: This butterfly is easily recognizable due to its striking yellow and black striped pattern, and the long, black “tail” on its hind wings.
  • Size: When fully grown, its wingspan ranges from 3 to 5.5 inches (7.6 to 14 cm), a sight to be admired when in flight.
  • Diet: The adult butterfly mainly feeds on the nectar of many types of flowers.
  • Reproduction: Females lay their eggs on the leaves of host plants.
  • Lifespan: The butterfly stage typically lasts around two weeks.
  • Host Plants: Its caterpillars feast on the leaves of diverse tree/bush species like tulip poplars, wild cherries, ash, and willow trees. These plants provide both food and shelter for the larvae.

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

The American Lady, scientifically known as Vanessa virginiensis, is one of the most recognized butterfly species across Virginia.

American Lady butterfly

  • Habitat: It can be found in open areas like meadows, roadsides, and gardens.
  • Appearance: It sports a striking combination of colors. The upper side is orange-brown with black margins and white spots.
  • Size: This butterfly is medium-sized, with a wingspan ranging from 1.75 to 2.6 inches (4.44 to 6.6 cm).
  • Diet: Adult American Ladies feed on nectar from various flowers, while the caterpillars prefer plants like Aster, Sunflower, and Wormwood.
  • Reproduction: Female butterflies lay their eggs on the underside of host plant leaves.
  • Lifespan: The adult butterfly can live for around two weeks.
  • Host Plants: The caterpillars favor the Artemisia species, but they also use other plants like Burdock and Hollyhock.

Easy to spot, the American Lady gives a vibrant touch to Virginia’s butterfly community.

Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)

The Zebra Swallowtail is a striking, unique butterfly that graces the landscapes of Virginia.

Zebra Swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: It favors open woodlands, particularly along streams and moist places.
  • Appearance: Its wings are white with black longitudinal stripes, similar to a zebra’s stripes. It also has long, tail-like extensions on its hind wings.
  • Size: The wingspan ranges from 2.75 to 4 inches (7 to 10 cm).
  • Diet: The adult butterflies feed on nectar from various flowering plants like lilac and milkweed.
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs on the leaves of pawpaw trees, which serves as the primary food for the larvae.
  • Lifespan: Short-lived as adults, they usually live for about a month during summertime.
  • Host Plants: The caterpillar stage of Zebra Swallowtails rely exclusively on plants from the pawpaw family.

Ensuring the continued presence of their host plants helps to maintain this species’ presence in Virginia.

Their beauty and fluttery dance are a joy to observe, so it’s worthwhile to promote their conservation.

Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)

The Clouded Sulphur butterfly is a natural wonder.

Clouded Sulphur butterfly

It enhances Virginia’s diverse fauna and brings a touch of charm to your garden:

  • Habitat: Open spaces are favored by this species. Meadows, roadsides, and even suburban gardens are ideal.
  • Appearance: The upper-side of male wings have yellow hue, whereas females have a greenish-white or yellow tone with an edge of pink.
  • Size: Medium-sized; wingspan ranges between 1.25 to 2 inches (3.17 to 5.08 centimeters).
  • Diet: Adult butterflies sip nectar from a variety of flowers including milkweeds, clovers, and asters.
  • Reproduction: Females lay green eggs singly on the underside of host plants. The larvae (caterpillars) are pale green with a slender stripe.
  • Lifespan: Typically live up to five to seven days in the wild.
  • Host Plants: Alfalfa, clovers, and other legumes of the Fabaceae family are preferred host plants for the larvae.

Remember to observe these delightful creatures respectfully, without disrupting their natural habitats.

Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma)

The Eastern Comma is an embodiment of unique visual enchantment.

Eastern Comma butterfly

Here’s an up-close view of this species:

  • Habitat: It lives in deciduous woodlands and fields for most of its lifespan.
  • Appearance: It’s notable for its ragged wing edges that mimic the appearance of dried leaves.
  • Size: It’s relatively small, spanning 1.75 to 2.75 inches (4.5 to 7 cm).
  • Diet: While caterpillars feast mainly on nettles, adults feast on rotting fruit and tree sap.
  • Reproduction: Mating happens twice a year: spring and late summer, laying eggs singularly.
  • Lifespan: Adults have a brief life span, living around two weeks.
  • Host Plants: Nettles, hops, and elm are favored during their larval stage.

Its standout feature is the small, silver comma-shaped mark on the underside of its hind wing, hence its name.

Truly, the Eastern Comma is a significant presence in Virginia’s world of butterflies.

Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia)

The Regal Fritillary is a prime example of the intricate beauty of butterfly species found in Virginia.

Regal fritillary butterfly

  • Habitat: They prefer sprawling meadows filled with wild violets, their host plant.
  • Appearance: These butterflies are easy to recognize due to their bold, orange wings with black markings and distinct silver spots on the underside.
  • Size: This butterfly is quite large, with a wingspan ranging from 2.5 to 4 inches (6.4 to 10.2 cm).
  • Diet: These elegant creatures sip nectar from a variety of flowers like purple coneflowers and milkweeds.
  • Reproduction: Females lay their eggs on or near violets, and the caterpillars eat the violet leaves after hatching.
  • Lifespan: Adult butterflies live approximately one month during the summer.
  • Host Plants: Wild violets are the host plant for the caterpillars of this species.

The Regal Fritillary is a beloved symbol of the wild meadows of Virginia, attracting butterfly enthusiasts from far and wide.

Harvester (Feniseca tarquinius)

Let’s take a closer look at the Harvester, scientifically known as Feniseca tarquinius.

Harvester butterfly - Feniseca tarquinius

  • Habitat: This species belongs largely in wooded riparian areas, favoring both shade and proximity to water bodies.
  • Appearance: A unique character of the Harvester is their bright orange and brown coloring, sprinkled with silver spots on its wings, setting them apart from their peers.
  • Size: Typically, they fall between 1 to 1.5 inches (25 – 38mm) when measured wingspan-wise.
  • Diet: Interestingly, Harvester caterpillars hunt for aphids, unlike most of their herbivorous counterparts.
  • Reproduction: Like many butterflies, Harvesters lay their eggs on preferred host plants, unique to each species.
  • Lifespan: They tend to live for about 2 to 3 weeks, depending on environmental conditions.
  • Host plants: Alder and Witch-hazel are the favorite host plants for Harvesters, where the aphids, their food, often thrive.

In this way, Harvesters combine both beauty and predatoriness uniquely.

Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

The Silver-spotted Skipper is a fascinating butterfly species. They are easy to identify due to their markings.

Silver-spotted Skipper butterfly

Below are important key features to know about Epargyreus clarus:

  • Habitat: They inhabit a variety of spaces, with a preference for open, sunny areas such as fields, meadows, and gardens.
  • Appearance: Notably, they have large, silver or white spots on a dark brown underside of their hindwings, which gives them their name.
  • Size: Generally, they are medium-sized with a wingspan ranging between 1.7 to 2.5 inches (4.3 to 6.4 cm).
  • Diet: Silver-spotted Skippers primarily feed on the nectar from flowers such as thistles, azaleas, and lupines.
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs singly on host plants. Caterpillars build shelters from leaves by folding them and securing them with silk.
  • Lifespan: They have a short lifespan of about one month.
  • Host Plants: The caterpillars typically feed on locust and wisteria. Wild indigo and honey locust serve as primary larval host plants.

Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis)

The Red-spotted Purple is a beautiful butterfly species that adds to Virginia’s vibrant ecosystem.

Red-spotted Purple butterfly

  • Habitat: These butterflies love woodlands and open areas and can often be found near the edges of forests.
  • Appearance: As the name indicates, this species is recognizable by its stunning purple hue, scattered with bright red spots.
  • Size: They range in size from 2.5 to 4 inches (6.3 to 10.1 cm).
  • Diet: Red-spotted Purples are attracted to the sap of trees, rotting fruit, and even dung.
  • Reproduction: They produce one to two broods per year, laying their eggs on the host plant.
  • Lifespan: They have a brief adult lifespan of approximately 2 weeks in the wild.
  • Host Plants: Caterpillars of this species thrive on the leaves of deciduous trees such as willows, poplars, and cherries.

Though fleeting, a sighting of the Red-spotted Purple is a spectacular treat to the eyes. Enjoy observing these creatures, as they enrich Virginia’s faunal diversity.

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)

The Giant Swallowtail, a breathtaking spectacle in insect world, is certainly a highflyer in Virginia, with its eye-catching style and size.

giant swallowtail butterfly

  • Habitat: Favoring sunny, open areas, these butterflies call fields, gardens, and forests their home.
  • Appearance: They sport strikingly patterned wings in black and yellow with a ‘tail’ on each hind wing, giving them their name.
  • Size: They are real giants, with a wingspan stretching between 4 and 6 inches (10 to 15 cms).
  • Diet: Being nectar feeders, they tend to opt for flowers like honeysuckle.
  • Reproduction: Females lay single, spherical, yellowish eggs on the leaves of host plants.
  • Lifespan: Adults live for nearly a month, from spring to fall.
  • Host Plants: They are loyal to citrus family plants where females deposit the eggs and caterpillar stages undergo.

Let the Giant Swallowtail’s transient appearance be a reminder to savor the moment and enjoy Virginia’s natural beauty.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

The Black Swallowtail, or Papilio polyxenes, is a highly distinguishable species of butterfly that graces Virginia’s vibrant ecosystems.

Black Swallowtail butterfly

Found throughout the North American continent, its painted wings are often a spectacle to behold.

  • Habitat: Prefer rural areas like fields and meadows, but are also found in urban gardens.
  • Appearance: Upper side of wings are black with two rows of yellow spots. Blue and red spots are also present near the tail.
  • Size: Wingspan ranges from 2.7 – 3.7 inches (approximately 6.9 – 9.4cm).
  • Diet: Adults feed on nectar from a wide array of flowers.
  • Reproduction: Each female lays around 200-430 yellow eggs on host plants.
  • Lifespan: Adult lifespan spans about 10 – 14 days.
  • Host Plants: Primarily parsley, carrot, dill, and similar plants in the Apiaceae, or parsley, family.

Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis)

The Silvery Checkerspot is a delightful butterfly species that dresses up the Virginian landscapes with its unique marbled patterns.

Silvery Checkerspot butterfly

  • Habitat: Primarily in meadows, but also in forest edges.
  • Appearance: Its upper side features black and orange checks splashed with silvery spots on its wings, hence the name.
  • Size: The Silvery Checkerspot is relatively small, its span typically ranging between 1.25 to 2 inches, that’s 3.2 to 5 centimeters.
  • Diet: Adult checkerspots feed on nectar from various flowers including aster and black-eyed Susan, while caterpillars munch on leaves.
  • Reproduction: Females lay their eggs in clusters on host plants.
  • Lifespan: Adults live for about 2 to 3 weeks on average.
  • Host Plants: This species depends on plants such as Aster and Chrysanthemum for their larvae’s development.

It’s astoundingly beautiful despite its short lifespan, rebuilding its numbers via multiple broods each year.

This admirable endurance surely stands out in Virginia’s incredible array of butterfly species.

Eastern Tailed-Blue (Cupido comyntas)

Welcome to the world of the Eastern Tailed-Blue, a mini marvel! This native Virginia butterfly is known for its enchanting color and delicate size.

Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly

  • Habitat: These butterflies prefer open habitats, including meadows and fields.
  • Appearance: Males possess a stunning blue color, while females have a more muted grey-blue, both have delicate tails on their hind wings.
  • Size: Don’t strain your eyes; these butterflies are small, usually only about an inch (2.54 cm) in wingspan.
  • Diet: Favorites include clover, alfalfa, and other legumes.
  • Reproduction: They typically have three generations in Virginia, spanning from spring to fall.
  • Lifespan: Short and sweet, adults typically live just a few days.
  • Host Plants: For laying eggs, they prefer plants from the pea family.

So next time you’re outside, give a second glance at small blue blurs; it might be an Eastern Tailed-Blue!

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

The Common Buckeye or Junonia coenia is a fascinating species of butterfly often seen in Virginia.

Common Buckeye butterfly

  • Habitat: They adapt well to different areas and are seen everywhere from sunny, open spaces like gardens and roadsides, to fields and forests.
  • Appearance: They are recognizable, sporting brown wings with pronounced eyespots. The eyespots are a fantastic adaptation to drive off predators.
  • Size: The Common Buckeye measures between 1.5 to 2.7 inches (3.8 to 6.9 cm), a medium-sized spotted butterfly.
  • Diet: As adults, nectar from flowers of different plant types constitutes their diet.
  • Reproduction: They mate multiple times each year, producing color-changed eggs through different seasons.
  • Lifespan: With a lifespan of about 2 weeks, buckeye butterflies are indeed short-lived compared to other species.
  • Host Plants: They lay their eggs on a variety of host plants such as snapdragons, plantains, and ruellia.

Easily identifiable and delightful to spot, Common Buckeyes add beauty and intrigue to any outdoor experience in Virginia.

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)

The Pearl Crescent is a common and charming butterfly species found in Virginia. You’ll detect one primarily by its distinctive markings.

Pearl Crescent butterfly

  • Habitat: From meadows to roadsides, they thrive in numerous sunny, open spaces.
  • Appearance: It showcases orange wings with black borders, accompanied by black spots. The underside of the hindwing sports a dark margin with a white crescent, hence its name.
  • Size: This fine specimen measures from 1-1.5 inches (2.5-3.8 cm) in wing span.
  • Diet: Nectar from a variety of flowers feeds the adults, while the caterpillar munches on the leaves of asters.
  • Reproduction: Females lay eggs singly on host plant leaves. The hatched caterpillars eat the leaves they were born on.
  • Lifespan: In warmer climates, they can produce multiple generations from spring to fall.
  • Host Plants: The larvae primarily consume smooth aster, hairy aster, and other aster species.

Spotting a Pearl Crescent is always a joyful surprise, an orange burst in the greenery of Virginia.

Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)

The Cabbage White, Pieris rapae, is one of the most common butterflies in Virginia. This species is also referred to as the “Small White”.

Cabbage White butterfly

Here’s more about this species:

  • Habitat: They’re adaptable and can be found near vegetable gardens, parks, and in the wild.
  • Appearance: Their wings are white with black tips on the forewings. The underside of the hindwings has a yellow-greenish tint.
  • Size: Adults measure about 1.25-2 inches (31.5-50 mm) in wing span.
  • Diet: Adult Cabbage Whites feed on flower nectar, while caterpillars primarily consume cabbage family plants.
  • Reproduction: Each female lays a few hundred eggs in her lifetime.
  • Lifespan: A couple of weeks as adults, but the pupal winter diapause means the species can live up to a year.
  • Host Plants: Agricultural crops such as cabbages, radishes and broccoli, as well as wildflowers.

You’ll likely encounter this humble butterfly on a day-to-day basis, as these tiny creatures have a penchant for residential areas.

White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis arthemis)

The White Admiral is an enchanting species that usually commands attention due to its striking look. This butterfly demonstrates a compelling mix of stark white and profound black on its wings.

White Admiral butterfly

Here’s a succinct overview:

  • Habitat: Generally found in dense woodlands, the lush forests of Virginia serve as their sanctuary.
  • Appearance: Distinguished by its black wings with broad, white bands.
  • Size: They span 2.5 to 4 inches (approximately 6 to 10 cm), a mid-sized wonder indeed.
  • Diet: As adults, they feed primarily on nectar and sap, with a preference for fermented fruit juices.
  • Reproduction: Females lay their eggs singly on the leaves of host plants.
  • Lifespan: Their lifespan extends from months in summer to nearly a year when they overwinter.
  • Host Plants: The larva primarily depends on aspens, cottonwoods, and willows.

The White Admiral’s distinctive appearance and interesting living habits make it a valuable addition to Virginia’s diverse butterfly population.

Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme)

The Orange Sulphur, also known as the Alfalfa Butterfly, is one of Virginia’s most common species of butterflies.

Orange Sulphur butterfly

  • Habitat: They mainly thrive in open areas like fields, meadows, roadsides, and gardens.
  • Appearance: Adult Orange Sulphurs boast a bright orange-yellow upper body coloration with dark black edgings around the wings.
  • Size: The wingspan of the Orange Sulphur ranges from 1.3 to 2.2 inches (32 to 56mm).
  • Diet: Adults nourish on nectar from diverse flowers including alfalfa, dandelions, and clovers.
  • Reproduction: Females lay single, pale green eggs on host plants.
  • Lifespan: Larval stage lasts for about two to three weeks while the adult lives for less than one month.
  • Host Plants: The larvae feed on specific plants which include clover, pea plants and alfalfa.

Remember, the Orange Sulphur is one of the species that contribute to the biological richness and aesthetic beauty of Virginia’s environment.

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

Meet the Pipevine Swallowtail, a beautiful dark butterfly with iridescent blue or green wings.

Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly

Let’s learn more about this species:

  • Habitat: Typically found in woodlands, meadows, and creeksides.
  • Appearance: Blackish-blue wings with distinctive orange spots underneath.
  • Size: Their wingspan ranges from 2.5 to 4 inches (6.35 to 10.16 cm).
  • Diet: Caterpillars feed mainly on pipevines, while adults enjoy nectar from flowers.
  • Reproduction: Females lay their eggs on the stems and leaves of the pipevine plant.
  • Lifespan: Short-lived – they usually last up to 14 days, but their life-cycle (from egg to butterfly) completes within 3-4 weeks.
  • Host Plants: Uses pipevine as their host plant, hence the name.

It’s impressive, isn’t it? Now you can identify the Pipevine Swallowtail during your next outdoor adventure in Virginia.

Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charithonius)

As we continue our journey, let’s take a pause to admire the Zebra Heliconian, commonly referred to as “the Longwing Butterfly.”

Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charithonius)

  • Habitat: Zebra Heliconians are tropical butterflies and can be found in subtropical parts of Virginia. They prefer warm, humid environments.
  • Appearance: They boast striking stripes of black and yellow-white, mimicking the pattern of a zebra, hence the name.
  • Size: These butterflies usually range from 3.5-4 inches (8.9-10.2 cm) in wing span.
  • Diet: They feed predominantly on pollen and nectar from flowering plants, using their long proboscises.
  • Reproduction: Females lay small, pale green eggs on the Passion flower plants.
  • Lifespan: Unlike most butterflies, Zebra Heliconians have a long lifespan and can live up to six months due to their unusual diet.
  • Host Plants: Passion flower vines serve as the primary host plants where females lay their eggs and caterpillars feed.

Isn’t it fascinating how diverse the butterfly species we find in Virginia can be?

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

The Gulf Fritillary is a vibrant butterfly species that graces the Virginian landscape. Its vibrant colors are sure to catch your eye.

gulf fritillary

  • Habitat: These butterflies can be found in various environments such as meadows, open woodlands, and even in urban settings like gardens.
  • Appearance: The Gulf Fritillary possesses a remarkable orange-winged color, with black markings, and white-spotted, elongated silver spots on its underwings.
  • Size: They are medium-sized, usually averaging about 2.5–3.5 inches (6.4 cm- 8.9 cm) in wing span.
  • Diet: As adults, they primarily feed on nectar from an array of flowering plants.
  • Reproduction: Adult females lay solo, pale yellow eggs mostly on the leaves of the host plant.
  • Lifespan: The Gulf Fritillary’s adult life averages two weeks, although the whole lifecycle is about a month and a half.
  • Host Plants: Passion vines (Passiflora species) are mostly utilized as host plants for this butterfly.


Virginia’s diverse butterfly species truly show the state’s ecological richness. From the classic Monarch to the eye-catching Zebra Heliconian, each one has its unique charm and role.

Feel free to leave a comment sharing your personal encounters with these Virginia butterfly species!

Butterflies   Updated: September 8, 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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