Viceroy Butterfly (Family Nymphalidae)

Viceroy Butterflies are famous for being mimics of Monarch butterflies. Monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed foliage, and that makes them both bitter and toxic. After their first experience with Monarchs, birds generally leave them—and, by association, Viceroys—alone. There are at least two generations of Viceroys per summer; the early broods live out their life cycles in a few months, but the larvae of the final brood of summer will overwinter as tiny caterpillars, wrapped in leaves of one of their food plants; willow is favored, but they’ll also eat poplar, aspen and some apple/plum/cherry leaves.

Baltimore Butterfly (Family Nymphalidae)

Baltimore/Baltimore Checkerspots are found in damp, open situations where their chief food plant, turtlehead, grows, but they are found in dryer habitats farther south. Young Baltimore caterpillars feed communally. After hatching, a cohort of caterpillars will spin themselves inside a web on their chosen plant and feed on it. In spring they emerge, still caterpillars, hungry and much less picky. They feed alone on whatever plants they can find, form a chrysalis and, 10 days later, emerge as adults into the sunlight of early summer; there is only one generation per year.

Buckeye Butterfly (Family Nymphalidae)

Buckeyes belong to a large group of strong fliers whose front legs are noticeably hairy and are reduced in size. Buckeyes are sun-lovers, butterflies of the open fields, where they sip nectar from those confusing fall composites. Males are feisty, chasing other flying objects, both butterfly and non-butterfly alike, out of their territories.

Red Admiral (Family Nymphalidae)

Red Admirals are widely distributed across the U.S. (and temperate regions in Europe, northern Africa and Asia) and occasionally have large population irruptions and wander. Red admiral adults and pupae are found in the south during the winter, and migrating admirals repopulate the north each spring. The males set up territories in clearings and semi-sunny edges in the late afternoon.

Monarch Butterfly (Family Nymphalidae)

Monarchs, famously, migrate, but they are not the only insect that travels—snout, buckeye, painted lady and red admiral butterflies and a variety of large dragonflies like darners and saddlebags also migrate (watching dragonflies drift down the west shore of Lake Michigan on a soft, fall day can be mind-boggling). But, monarchs are the long-distance champs.

Black and Tiger Swallowtails (Family Papilionidae)

Black Swallowtail males (which, like many butterfly species are smaller than the females) often appear in late April and early May. The female is larger, lacks the yellow on the wings and has a blue wash above the tails. Black Swallowtails have yellow spots on the body; tigers have a yellow streak along each side of the thorax and abdomen in both morphs. Tiger Swallowtails are among the largest butterflies around, reaching 5” in wingspan.

Butterflies that Overwinter (Family Nymphalidae)

Most adult insects die by late fall, leaving the next generation behind in the form of eggs or pupa. Most insects are in their adult stage for only a few months, and many have a predictable flight period—a portion of the spring/summer/fall when we expect to see them. Mourning Cloaks and the Angle-wings are butterflies that overwinter in their adult stages; these are the first butterflies we see when things start to warm up in spring, and their caterpillars get first crack at the spring veggies.

Anglewings (Family Nymphalidae)

Most adult insects die by late fall, leaving the next generation behind in the form of eggs or pupa. These three butterflies, Anglewing, Question Mark, and Eastern Comma overwinter in cracks and crevices in rock piles and tree bark.

Giant Swallowtail (Family Papilionidae)

The Giant Swallowtail is an impressive butterfly of the southern U.S. that that wanders quite widely in late summer. It strays into and sometimes breeds in Wisconsin. The upper surface of the wing is black with a dramatic, yellow stripe, and the underwing is yellow, which gives it a confusing appearance in flight. When Giant Swallowtails do breed here, the food plant of the caterpillar is Prickly ash, which is the northern-most member of the citrus family.