Texas is a sizable state and the habitat of many different species of butterflies. Enthusiasts can locate butterflies all around the state, usually year-round, thanks to the state’s mild environment and profusion of wildflowers. Due in part to its diverse biological zones, Texas contains more butterfly species and subspecies than any other state, numbering over 400 specifically. Texas has special habitats for many species, including the Guadalupe Mountains in the west, the pine forests in the east, and a subtropical temperature in the south that is perfect for species of butterflies that live in Texas.
In this guide, we’ll look at and learn about some of the most common (and stunning!) butterflies in Texas.
Species Name: Danaus plexippus
Of course, we had to kick off this list with the beloved monarch butterfly. This species is the state’s official state butterfly and also happens to be one of the easiest species to spot for novice butterfly aficionados. Texas is located on the main route of the monarch migration in the spring, which travels from Mexico up north to southern Canada. Monarchs arrive when milkweed, their main source of food, begins to sprout new leaves. The lengthy trek back to their winter quarters in central Mexico occurs in the fall. The monarch’s distinctive orange and black markings make them easy to identify, though there are some mimic species that might be easily confused for monarchs that we will cover later in this guide. The vivid yellow, white, and black stripes that run over the monarch caterpillar’s body make it easy to identify as well.
Red Admiral Butterfly
Species Name: Vanessa atalanta
The red admiral butterfly is a real beauty and can be found all around the state of Texas. In fact, this species is the most common butterfly in Texas and can thrive in virtually any region of the state. The wingspan of a red admiral can be up to two-and-a-half inches. The coloration of this species is dark brown with white specks and a reddish circular border. The underside of the rear wings has a bark-like appearance. They are somewhat similar to monarchs but notably smaller and with different patterns. Just as well, the caterpillars of this species have white dots on their pinkish-gray to charcoal bodies. Along their backs, they have spines that mimic hairs. If you find yourself in any of Texas’ forests, you’ll have a very good chance of spotting this species, especially near fruit trees where rotting fruit lay around the base of the trees.
Species Name: Limenitis archippus
We mentioned earlier in this guide that there are several species of butterflies that live in Texas that look extremely similar to monarch butterflies. The viceroy butterfly is definitely one such mimic! These butterflies resemble monarch butterflies nearly perfectly, but if you look closely, you can see an additional long line running down their hind wings. Their caterpillars have bulbous white and brown bodies that mimic plant matter, which makes them noticeably quite different from monarch caterpillars. The viceroy butterfly has evolved to imitate more toxic butterflies in order to deceive predators. Due to the harmful substances they ingest from milkweed, monarchs are poisonous while viceroy butterflies are not. Consider growing viceroy butterflies’ preferred plants, such as willow and cherry trees, if you wish to draw them rather than their poisonous cousins.
Painted Lady Butterfly
Species Name: Vanessa cardui
In Texas, look for painted lady butterflies in open spaces that are peaceful and uninhabited, such as roadside ditches, pastures, and gardens. This species migrates south for the winter to Mexico and then comes back in the spring. The number of painted lady butterflies in any one area might vary significantly from one year to the next. That’s because they have a tendency to disappear for years at a time in certain regions before reappearing in greater numbers. Another distinctive feature of these butterflies is that they may reproduce at any time of the year rather than only during certain seasons. The wingspan of a painted lady butterfly can reach two-and-a-half inches and it has pinkish-orange coloration with white specks inside the black markings and dark brown to black markings close to the wingtips. The hue of the caterpillars of this species can range from greenish-yellow to charcoal.
American Lady Butterfly
Species Name: Vanessa virginiensis
Although they have a tendency to have more pinkish hues to their wings, this species’ orange and black coloring often leads people to believe it to be the monarch butterfly. The American lady butterfly, in contrast to the monarch, has two eyespots on the underside of its hind wings and mainly solid orange wings with dark brown to black at the borders. The majority of Texas is home to this beautiful species, but because they travel south for the winter, certain northern regions of the state can only enjoy them during the summer. Caterpillars of this species love sunflowers, asters, and pussytoes. Adult painted lady butterflies are attracted to a wide range of flowers, and in the spring and summer, they can usually be seen in areas with wildflowers.
Species Name: Danaus gilippus
The queen butterfly resembles a monarch butterfly rather closely when it is seated on a flower with its wings folded. Yet as it spreads its wings, you won’t see the black webbed lines that monarch butterflies have; instead, you’ll see white patches. Queen caterpillars resemble monarch caterpillars in appearance as well. Counting the tubercles that resemble antennae is the simplest method for differentiating them. The queen has three sets of tubercles, compared to the monarch’s two tubercles. Although queen caterpillars tend to stick to milkweed as it is readily available around Texas, adult queen caterpillars adore the nectar of Conoclinium greggi. Queen butterflies will often cover this plant. They also tend to like zinnia and lantana plants. These magnificent butterflies have a three-and-a-half-inch wingspan and can be found all around Texas.
Hackberry Emperor Butterfly
Species Name: Asterocampa celtis
As butterflies that live in Texas, hackberry emperor butterflies are very common. The wingspan of a hackberry emperor butterfly is up to three inches. This species has a complex pattern that is rich orange-brown and close to black with orange-bordered eyespots and a number of body spots that are dark brown and creamy white. Caterpillars of this species have two yellow stripes on their backs and are light green in color. The head has two short spines on top, while the back has two tiny tails. Look for them in parks, suburban yards, and wet woodland places in Texas. As they don’t consume any flower nectar, you won’t likely find hackberry emperors on flowers. While they are not drawn to flowers, they are naturally interested in and will even land on nearby humans. They do this for one main reason: to consume the salt from the surface of our skin. The minerals that hackberry emperors require to thrive can be found in a wide variety of strange places, including people, rocks, dirt, and even blacktop pavement. They also consume sap, dead animal carcasses, and rotting fruit and like to sip water from opportune rain puddles. This species definitely knows how to scavenge!
Black Swallowtail Butterfly
Species Name: Papilio polyxenes
These enormous swallowtail butterflies are typical of the species, with their four-inch wingspan and heavy body. They have yellow patches along the trailing edges of their wings and are a deep black hue throughout most of their bodies. In contrast to females, who have wings that are forward-angled and have blue patterns on the rear wings, males have wings that are swept back and have rounded fronts. Dill, root vegetables, parsley, and celery are all favorites of the caterpillars of this species, so if you have a herb garden, you could discover a lot of them. Adults from this species tend to search for thistles, milkweed, and clover plants. The black swallowtail butterfly can be found all across the state of Texas, even in heavily populated regions.
Desert Marble Butterfly
Species Name: Euchloe lotta
For butterflies that live in Texas, the Chihuahua desert in far west Texas is the only place you’re likely to encounter this itty-bitty species, which is prevalent throughout the western United States. The topside of the wings of this species is virtually pure white with only a few black marks, while the underside is white with green marbling. Adult desert marble butterflies aren’t particularly choosy, although their caterpillars prefer plants in the mustard family.
Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Species Name: Papilio cresphontes
The giant swallowtail is the biggest butterfly in North America with a wingspan of up to six inches. In addition to their enormous size, they have dark brown or black wings with yellow markings, which give them a highly striking appearance. This species is more prevalent in eastern Texas rather than in central or northern Texas. They like to stay in woodland places and tend to avoid being in open spaces. As adults, they like eating milkweed, lantana, and zinnia plants. Due to the popularity of lantanas and zinnias among gardeners in the state, they tend to live in abundance in gardens.
Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly
Species Name: Limenitis arthemis astyanax
Among the butterflies that live in Texas, the red-spotted purple butterfly is one the most exquisite species. This butterfly’s wingspan is between three and four inches. Its wings have rows of dots around the outside border, and they have an iridescent blackish-blue tint. Although the markings are typically orange or red, some morphs have pale blue spots instead. The wings’ undersides feature a smoky black color. In addition to having lumpy, angular body portions and twig-like horns, caterpillars of red-spotted purple butterflies are mottled brown, cream, and yellow in color. Surprisingly, their ability to stand out because of their shimmering, dark-purple wings and vivid red-orange patches serves as their primary defense against predators. They evolved to change their color to resemble toxic swallowtail butterflies. Members of the same species of red-spotted purple butterflies might have radically distinct appearances with various morphs and overall color schemes. This is a distinctive quality that is uncommon among butterfly species. Red-spotted purple butterflies consume dead animals, sap, and decaying fruit instead of nectar. Try placing a chopped orange or banana in a suet cage outside to draw them in. In Texas, between April and October is when you’ll most likely spot these beauties.
There really are some amazing butterfly species in Texas. And since the state is known for having the most diverse and voluminous population of butterflies in the country, it’s a great place to visit if you’re a die-hard butterfly collector or watcher.
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.
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