Year 2- Wild about Butterflies

Some Common Butterflies in Tucson Area Gardens

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus Philenor) 3 1/4 inches
Large and noticeable dark swallowtail, familiar in the southern U. S.

Larval foodplant is pipevine, Aristolochia spp. Pipevine plants contain noxious chemicals called aristolochic acids. When the caterpillars feed on the plants, the chemical are stored in their bodies, making them distasteful as both caterpillars and adults. Predators learn to avoid them.

Common in open habitats, including gardens
In the Southwest, males patrol hilltops looking for females
Rapid fluttery wing beats; generally fly low
Continue to flutter wings when perched

Black above with a single row of pale spots near edges of wings
Hindwing on male has blue iridescence – more subdued on female
From below the hindwing shows a single row of bright orange spots on an iridescent blue background
Pipevine Swallowtail
Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) to 4 inches
Usually easy to identify; large and conspicuous

Larval foodplant: plants in the citrus family. Considered a pest of ornamental citrus by growers since caterpillars feed on the leaves.

Caterpillars look like bird droppings as a way to fool predators.

Flight is a graceful series of strong flaps and short glides.

Mostly dark above and yellow (including the body). On upperside has yellow bands that cross, forming an X near the tip of the forewing. “Tails” on hindwing have yellow centers. Sexes similar. Small rusty brown patch on hindwing – visible from above and below.
Giant Swallowtail
Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis Sennae) 2 - 2 1/2 inches

Among the most conspicuous butterflies in southern regions. Primarily a Mexican species; we often have influxes during summer monsoons, when many migrate northward into the southwestern U.S.

Large and often fly high
Strong and rapid flight
Perch with wings closed
Visit flowers and mud

Larval Foodplant: Sennas

Male bright yellow above; female greenish white, bright yellow or pinkish orange Spots on forewing and hindwing in both species from below
Cloudless Sulphur
Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole) 1 inch or less
Smallest sulphur
Common in open habitats, including deserts, fields, vacant lots
Usually flutters along within inches of the ground for reflected warmth

Larval foodplants: dogweed, marigold and other asters

From below hindwing varies from pale yellow to dusky green
From below, shows black spots
In flight looks greenish yellow; yellow and black wing surface
Dainty Sulphur
Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) About 1 inch

Most widespread hairstreak in North America – found in gardens and parks

Fly rapidly flitting from side to side or in circles – hard to follow with the human eye
Males perch on trees in flat country or on shrubs/trees on hilly summits, waiting for females

Larval foodplants: eat flowering parts of legumes, mallows, and other types of plants (a broader array than most butterflies)

Gray to brownish gray below with a black and white line often edged with orange
Brownish gray above with bold orange eyespots on hindwing
Abdomen orange on males, gray on females
Gray Hairstreak
Marine Blue (Leptotes marina) Less than 1 inch
Common from Texas west to southern California

Flight is fast and erratic
Visits flowers on hot days; males frequent damp spots

Larval foodplants: flowers and fruits of various legumes

Strongly striped gray brown and white below
Male brown with strong purple overlay above; female brown and blue near body
Marine Blue
American Snout (Libytheana carinenta) 1 - 1.5 inches
Visits flowers as well as sap and mud
Flight bouncy and gliding

Larval foodplants: hackberries

Head has long snoutlike palpi; forewing tips extended and squared off
When perched, resembles a leaf; palpi means leaf stem

Above: Brown with orange and white spots on the forewing
Below: Variable – hindwing plain or mottled
American Snout
Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) 2.5 inches
A butterfly of southern regions
Easily attracted to gardens containing passion vine
Fast flight – usually well above ground

Larval foodplant: Passion vines

Above: bright red orange with black markings, a few black-ringed white spots on the forewing
Below: Brown/orange with elongated silver spots
Gulf Fritillary
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) About 2 inches
Present on many continents
One of most familiar butterflies of North America
Most overwinter in Mexico

Seen in many different habitats
Males patrol hilltops in late afternoon to locate females
Flight fast and erratic

Larval foodplants: thistle, mallow, and many others, many of which are in the composite family

Browny orange, black, with white spots
Below: hindwing has row of four small eyespots
Above – hindwing has row of black spots; wing tips dark with white spots
Painted Lady
Queen (Danaus gilippus) About 2.5 inches
Common in southern areas
Found in any open habitat
Avidly visits flowers

Males seek out particular kinds of flowers (ageratum, eupatorium) to obtain certain alkaloids that they require for breeding.
Adults may gather in groups to roost overnight

Larval foodplants: milkweeds. Milkweeds contain toxins which Queens are able to store in their own tissues, providing predator protection for both caterpillar and adult

Mostly rich dark orangey brown with white spots on the black body and in black wing margins
Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) A little over 1 inch
Looks like a little orange moth
Likes open habitats with Bermuda grass, so common in desert city gardens

Larval foodplant: primarily Bermuda grass
Flies low over lawns
Nectar plants – particularly likes lantana and verbena

Short antennae
Above: male yellow orange; wings have black-toothed margins
Below: hindwing yellow –orange with small brown spots
Female similar but has more orange-brown above and below
Fiery Skipper
back to previous page