10 Most Common Butterfly in the World
Butterflies are arguably one of the prettiest insects in the world. Many people collect butterflies as a hobby. Sure, dead butterflies, but still, it’s a hobby. These insects are not only fascinating to look at but also have intriguing traits. Their colorful wings are a thing to behold, and there are many colorful butterflies on this list.
This article contains the 10 most common butterflies you can find out there, each with its distinctive physical shape and behavior. I’ll talk about their natural habitat, physical characteristics, and unique features. Their diet is also important, and you’ll discover many interesting facts about butterflies on this list!
1. Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)
Pieris rapae is perhaps the most widespread butterfly species in the world. It belongs to the family Pieridae, genus Pieris, and can be found on most continents, including Asia, Europe, North America, North Africa, and Australia.
This butterfly goes by multiple names. In Europe, its usual common name is the “small white”. In New Zealand, it’s simply called the “white butterfly”. In North America and other parts of the world, the most common names include “cabbage white” and “cabbage butterfly”.
This common name comes from the feeding behavior of Pieris rapae larvae, which feed preferentially off cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, and kale.
This is a small to medium butterfly species, with an average wingspan of up to 1.9 inches. Its plain appearance sometimes leads to misidentification. This butterfly is often mistaken for a moth. Indeed, its wing coloring makes it more similar to moths than other butterflies.
The trademark of this butterfly is its creamy off-white color. The entire upper side of the wing is uniformly colored, with just a very small dark portion delineating the tip of each forewing.
A female Pieris rapae will also have two dark-colored circular spots on the off-center of the forewings. The underside of the wing is a pale yellow with some thin dark scales evenly dispersed across the surface.
2. Orange Sulfur (Colias eurytheme)
The orange sulfur is a widespread species throughout the North American Continent. It can be found from southern Canada, all the way down to southern Mexico. These butterflies produce multiple broods each season, and they can multiply so much that they become a major agricultural pest.
Colias eurytheme, or the “orange sulfur”, also goes by the “alfalfa butterfly”. Considering its other common name, you might guess why this butterfly means trouble for the local agriculture.
Colias eurytheme larvae feed off of various plants in the Fabaceae family, including alfalfa, pea, soybean, peanut, and carob. The adult butterflies, however, are harmless and can help with cross-pollination.
This species belongs to the family Pieridae, genus Colias, together with other “sulfur” butterflies. And the name “orange sulfur” isn’t accidental, or chosen just because it sounds cool.
These butterflies are actually quite unique because their wings can reflect light in the ultraviolet range! They glow in the dark, kind of like a sulfur lamp. They’re very vibrant, to other butterflies. Sadly, the human eye can’t see colors in this range.
To our eyes, this butterfly appears to have plain orange wings with wide dark brown or black outer borders. There are also some small oval spots of color on the upper side of each wing.
The forewings have 1 dark brown or black spot each, while the spots on the hindwings are dark orange. The underside of the wing is either pale green or yellow with one small, light-colored oval spot on each wing.
3. Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
Vanessa cardui is the most widespread butterfly species in the world. It can be found in any temperate zone and on every continent, except for Antarctica and South America. This butterfly prefers a warm climate, and it embarks on a multi-generational migration between spring and autumn. Because of this, it can be sighted across the world, but during different months of the year.
This species belongs to the family Nymphalidae, genus Vanessa. Closely related and similar-looking species have also been discovered on the American continent (V. virginiensis) and in Australia (V. kershawi). Given its wide distribution, this butterfly is not picky about its diet. This species feeds on more than recorded 300 host plants.
Appearance-wise, this butterfly can be considered medium-sized. It has a wingspan of up to 2.9 inches. There’s little sexual dimorphism in this species. Both males and females have very similar appearances.
The upper side of the wings is a combination of orange and black, with minor white spots on the forewings. The hindwings are mostly orange, with multiple black oval spots spread in three rows alongside the outer border.
The forewings are half orange, half black. The bottom half of the forewing is orange, with multiple black spots of irregular shapes. The upper half is black, with a few small white streaks and oval marks.
4. Monarch (Danaus plexippus)
The monarch butterfly is perhaps the most well-known butterfly species in North America. Its iconic wing coloring and patterns are hard to miss. It’s also a very important pollinator species. While it’s most common in the USA, it can also be seen in southern Canada and northern South America.
It’s also been sighted in Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Morocco, and Continental Portugal. In some years, it can even be sighted in parts of the UK, where it migrates accidentally.
It belongs to the family Nymphalidae, genus Danaus, together with other milkweed butterfly species. Its reliance on milkweed plants has earned it the regional name of “milkweed”. Its extensive migration patterns also earned it the nickname of “wanderer” butterfly.
While this species is considered not threatened in the present, there’s been a documented decline in monarch populations. This is partly due to the use of modern herbicides, which have led to a decrease in milkweed plants.
The monarch butterfly is well-known for its striking appearance. This butterfly has elongated forewings and a pure orange ground color. Both the forewings and hindwings are delineated all around by a regular narrow dark brown or black border.
The fringes have multiple rows of small white oval shapes. There are two rows of white spots running diagonally across each forewing. The wings also display dark-colored veins that stand out against the main orange colors. This butterfly has a wingspan of up to 4 inches.
5. Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)
The viceroy butterfly is another very common North American species. It covers a geographic range from southern Canada, throughout the USA, and down to Mexico. This species is most well-known for its remarkable similarity to the monarch butterfly.
These two species belong to very different genera, with the viceroy being classified in the genus Limenitis. Despite this, they look very much alike, and can often be mistaken for one another.
This similar appearance across different species is the result of a process called Müllerian mimicry. Through this process, one unrelated species evolves to resemble another species in appearance. The second species adopts key traits of another species to better warn off predators.
Both the monarch and the viceroy butterflies are unpalatable to predators. If birds or other predators learn to avoid one species because of the bitter taste, they will also avoid the other, because they look so similar.
Obviously, the viceroy butterfly looks very similar to the monarch butterfly. It has orange wings with black veins and margins, along with a few rows of small white dots running across the lower edge of the wings.
There are however some minor distinguishing traits. The viceroy butterfly is smaller, with a maximum wingspan of 3.2 inches. Viceroy butterflies also have a black line that runs vertically across the underside of the hindwing.
6. Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia)
The Regal fritillary is a strikingly beautiful butterfly, but also a species of special concern. It should cover a much wider geographical area. However, due to ongoing natural habitat destruction, this species is now confined to just a small area of the east-central US.
This butterfly lives in tallgrass prairies. However, over 99% of their natural habitat has been lost up to the present. Regal fritillary larvae feed on violets. A strong correlation has been observed between the population of butterflies and the number of violets in a given location.
Adult butterflies feed on milkweed and thistle nectar. But these native flowers are seen as weeds and often killed with herbicides. It’s a sad life for the little regal fritillary.
This butterfly belongs to the family Nymphalidae, genus Speyeria. It looks somewhat similar to a monarch, but its forewings are more elongated, while the hindwings appear shorter. This species has a wingspan of up to 4.1 inches. Females are typically larger than males.
The hindwings appear almost completely black, with just an orange-brown portion of color towards the upper-inner side. There are two rows of light oval shapes along the outer borders.
The forewings are bright orange with a few thin, black striations traveling halfway down from the upper border. The upper-outer corners and lateral edges are lined by a black border and one row of creamy white dots.
7. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)
This species is native to the eastern territories of North America. It covers a geographical area spanning from Winnipeg Manitoba, Canada, all the way down to Florida. This butterfly is one of the most well-known species in the USA. It’s so iconic that it’s been designated the state butterfly of Alabama, North and South Carolina, Delaware, Georgia, and Virginia.
This butterfly is considered not threatened. It is highly adaptable and feeds on multiple species of flowers, but is especially attracted to red or pink ones. This species also produces two to three broods each year.
Its appearance is truly unique. It has a wingspan of up to 5.5 inches, which is quite impressive. Its forewings are elongated with regular edges and a downward slope. The hindwings are much shorter and they have frilly edges and a signature tail-like tip.
Males have yellow-colored wings with black tiger-like stripes on the upper half of the forewing. The bottom half of the forewing is lined by a black border and two rows of pale-yellow spots. The hindwings are almost entirely black, with just a small yellow portion on the upper inner corner. The frilly margins are marked by small yellow spots.
Females can look similar to males. Their wings might be yellow and present similar markings, with some additional blue spots on the hindwings. Sometimes, females can also look completely different, with their wings being a black ground color.
8. Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
The Black Swallowtail is another American favorite. This species is also the designated state butterfly of both New Jersey and Oklahoma. But besides the eastern and central US, this butterfly can be found all over North America. It covers an area ranging from southern Canada down to some parts of South America.
This species also has the common name of “parsnip swallowtail”. Now, if the cabbage butterfly larvae eat cabbage plants, and the alfalfa butterfly larvae eat alfalfa, you can probably tell where this is going. Turns out, black swallowtail larvae feed on the foliage and flowers of parsnips! They also feed on parsley, dill, fennel, carrot, and other similar plants.
This butterfly has a wingspan of up to 3.3 inches, with females being larger than males. Apart from size, there’s little sexual dimorphism between the males and females of this species. They both have the same wing patterns and coloring, but female butterflies show less saturated colors.
This butterfly has black wings with barely visible veins. There are two rows of yellow or cream-white oval spots traveling along the lower outer border of the forewings and hindwings. On the hindwings, there’s a wide blue band stretching horizontally across.
There’s one small, red, eye-like spot on the inner lower edge of each hindwing. Like all swallowtail butterflies, this species has an elongated wingtip extending from each hindwing.
9. Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
Nymphalis antiopa is a widespread species and can be found throughout North America and Eurasia. It’s such a popular butterfly that it’s been adopted as the state insect of Montana, USA.
They prefer colder, mountainous climates and hardwood forests, but can occasionally be spotted in other geographical areas and habitats. Although rarer, they can even travel down to northern South America, and further down south in more temperate regions of Eurasia.
This butterfly has a wingspan of up to 4 inches. But the most impressive thing about this species is its longevity, rather than its size. The mourning cloak has a lifespan of 12 months, which is longer than most other butterfly species in the world!
When it comes to its appearance, this butterfly is both simple and charming. Its wings are almost entirely a dark reddish-brown. The outer lateral borders are pale yellow. The yellow and brown are separated by a small black band covered in equally sized blue oval spots.
It’s thought that the name “mourning cloak” comes from the sharp color contrast on this butterfly’s wings. The wide brown part looks like a dark-colored overlayer (like a cloak), while the bright yellow margins look like a colorful undergarment peaking from underneath.
10. Long-tailed Blue (Lampides boeticus)
The long-tailed blue inhabits meadows and other flowery geographical habitats with high temperatures. It can be found throughout central and southern Europe, south and southeast Asia, Africa, and Australia. This species can also be found in the Hawaiian archipelago.
It’s a small species and belongs to the family Lycaenidae, genus Lampides. At most, this butterfly’s wingspan can reach 1.33 inches. Male butterflies have deep violet-blue colored wings with soft hair-like scales giving the wing a fuzzy appearance.
Both the forewings and hindwings show similar coloring. The violet-blue center is surrounded by a thin dark brown wing border. There are two small, black dots on the lower inner corner of each hindwing.
A female butterfly’s wings are entirely brown. They present the same fuzzy appearance and black oval spots on the hindwings. Both the male and female butterflies present an elongated, slightly curved lower-wing tip. Hence the name of “long-tailed” blue.
This butterfly is also commonly known as the “pea blue”. As you can probably guess, that’s because the most common host plants for larvae belong to the pea family.
There you are, the 10 most common butterflies in the world. Some are fuzzy-looking, some are silky, and some are regal-looking, like the Monarch Butterfly. What they all have in common is that they’re an entomologist’s wet dream. An entomologist is a butterfly collector.
If you have any questions, leave them below and I’ll answer soon!