Of the approximate 17,500 butterfly species worldwide, the U.S. is home to a whopping 750 species. Most of those species fall into six overarching Families. Here’s how to recognize them in your garden:
The most common butterfly family in the United States is the Hesperiidae family with 200 species — known as “Skippers” based on their erratic flight patterns. Skippers are physically distinguished from other butterflies with their hooked antennae and the unique patterns of veins in their wings.
Lycaenidae (Blues and Hairstreaks)
A small and colorful family. Brownish Elfins appear in the spring. Coppers are abundant In open marshes and meadows. Hairstreaks boast delicate hairlike extensions on their hind wings. The Pygmy Blue of the West is the smallest butterfly in the U.S. and comes from the Blues species — the smallest species of this family.
Nymphalidae (Brush-footed Butterflies)
Encompassing several “sub” families of butterflies — Danaidae, Heliconiinae, Libytheidae, and Satridae — this family has talent. Fritillary Butterflies stand out with silver spots. The Mourning Cloak is one of few butterflies with the ability to overwinter, thanks to body chemicals that behave like antifreeze. The Viceroy and our beloved Monarch both evade predators by tasting bad.
While there are 600 Swallowtail species across the world, fewer than 30 species reside in the United States. They are relatively large and colorful, and most have tails on their hindwings (hence the Family’s name).
Pieridae (Whites and Sulphurs and Yellows)
With just 60 species in the U.S. of 1100 worldwide, the Whites, Sulphurs, and Yellows mid-sized butterflies are aptly named: being yellow or white in color, with some having orange tips or greenish marbling on their wings. The most common U.S. butterfly — the Cabbage White — comes from this family.
Metalmark butterflies are small and usually have rust-toned wings. Approximately 12 species live in the U.S., while there are over 1,000 Metalmark species worldwide.
WHAT YOU CAN PLANT TO ATTRACT ENDANGERED BUTTERFLIES
By planting the host plants for these endangered butterflies, you can take action to protect U.S. butterflies for future generations. This list is far from exhaustive, but it’ll get you started.
● Karner blue butterfly → Wild lupine plant
● Callippe silverspot butterfly → Johnny-jump-on plant
● Bartram’s hairstreak butterfly → Pineland croton plant
● Saint Francis’ Satyr → Grasses, sedges, and rushes in wet, muddy, meadow-like ground
● San Bruno elfin butterfly → Sedum spathulifolium plant
● Schaus swallowtail → Torchwood and Wild Lime plants
● Palos verdes blue butterfly → Milkvetch and deerweed
● Florida leafwing butterfly → Pineland croton
● Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly → Snow willows
BUTTERFLIES: A GIFT THAT GIVES AND GIVES
Monarchs and other butterflies give back to our gardens, to other wildlife, and to us humans. How do these painted-winged creatures benefit your garden? Here’s just a few ways:
● The diversity of a Monarch habitat attracts other pollinators, supporting the resilience of the ecosystem and its food chain.
● High-quality plants that attract butterflies also make excellent habitats for wild birds and waterfowl.
● Native Monarch plants are deep-rooted, which means they protect against soil erosion and improve water filtration — and they’re sturdy, drought-tolerant, and bring lots of colors and cheer to your garden.
● Monarchs are pollinators and their habitat attracts other pollinators, too — all of which are essential to our maintaining our diverse food supply. As pollinators become at risk, our food system will become more and more limited.
● More pollinators mean more plant growth, which in turn cleans the air, improves soil quality and combats carbon emissions.
● As we become more urbanized, naturally beautiful green spaces are key to help us all maintain physical and emotional health and well-being. Natural garden spaces also provide ways to engage with the environment for leisure, exercise, and education.
● We would also like to mention that this activity will provide the perfect time to have family bonding with a spouse, children, and extended family. If this is done as a community endeavor, it can create some community bonding as well.
Monarch butterflies are a gift to all of us. Their population decline will impact us negatively and, in some ways, devastatingly so. By honoring these tiny yet magical beautiful members of our local and national ecosystems, we will reap the rewards for generations to come.