Missouri is home to hundreds of butterfly species. The majority of them are a mix of Southern and Midwestern species. This includes the lowlands along Missouri, the Mississippi River, the Northern Plains, and the Osage and Ozark Mountains.
If you are wondering what butterfly you saw in your yard today, then continue reading to find the most common butterflies in Missouri.
The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is very common. The male is bright orange with black veins and borders. The hind wing of the male also has a patch of scent scales. The female is orange to brown with black borders. The black veins are blurred. Both have white spots on the borders.
This is a large butterfly that can grow to 12.4cm in wing span. You will often see the butterfly basking in the sun with its wings open and facing the sun. The adults make migrations from August to October and fly south, hibernating along the California coast.
You are likely to see this butterfly during spring and summer. The caterpillars feed on nectar from milkweeds, while adults visit a wide range of flowers, which include lilacs, red clovers, thistles, and dogbane.
This butterfly prefers open habitats, you are likely to see them on roadsides, fields, weedy areas, and meadows.
2. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
This beautiful butterfly (Papilio glaucus) can grow to 11.4cm in wing span. The male is yellow with tiger stripes, while the female has two different forms. The female can be yellow or black with dark stripes. The females all have a row of blue chevrons and iridescent blue wash over the interior of their hind wings.
The female will lay a single egg on the leaf of a host plant, which the caterpillar then uses for food. Caterpillars feed on various plants, which include tulip trees, ash, birch, wild cherry, and willow.
The adults feed on flower nectar from a wide variety of plants, which include milkweed, lilac, and wild cherry. They are common in forest edges, parks, suburbs, parks, and deciduous woods.
3. Common Buckeye
The Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) is brown with two orange bars and two eye spots. There is a white band at the lower eye spot. There are two eye spots on the hind wing, the upper eye spot is larger and has a magenta crescent. The hind wings are tan or brown in winter and turn rose-red during the fall.
This butterfly can grow to 7cm in wing span. The female lays a single egg on the leaf bud of the host plant leaf. The caterpillars are solitary and will eat the leaves. Caterpillars feed on plants from the snapdragon family, which include toadflax and snapdragon.
Adults feed on the nectar of composites, which include chicory, knapweed, tickseed sunflower, and aster. This butterfly prefers open and sunny areas with bare ground or low vegetation.
4. Pearl Crescent
The Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) is a small butterfly that grows to 4.5cm in wing span. They are variable in color with the male having black antennae knobs. Their wings are orange with a black border and fine black marks at the sub-margin and post-median areas. Under the hind wing, there is a dark patch with a light crescent.
The male will spend the day searching for a female in open areas. The female lays eggs in small batches under the leaves of host plants. They are common from April to November.
As caterpillars, they feed on smooth-leaved true asters, while the adults feed on nectar from a wide variety of flowers, which include asters, winter cress, swamp milkweed, and dogbane. You will find the pearl crescent in open areas, including road edges, fields, pastures, vacant lots, and open pine forests.
5. Spicebush Swallowtail
The Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) is a large butterfly that can grow to 10cm in wing span. This butterfly is black with ivory spots, which are located on the marginal edge. The hind wing has an orange spot on the costal margin. The female has flue scales, while the males have blue-green scales. Under the hind wing, there are pale green marginal spots.
The female lays a single egg on the underside of the leaves of host plants. The caterpillars live in a shelter made of folded over leaves and only come out at night to feed. They feed on spicebush, prickly ash, tulip tree, and sassafras trees.
As adults, they feed on jewelweed, milkweed, dogbane, mimosa, sweet pepper bush, and azalea. They are commonly seen in fields, yards, wooded swamps, parks, pine barrens, and deciduous woods.
6. Red-spotted Admiral
The Red-spotted Admiral (Limenitis arthemis) is blue-green to blue on the upper side of the hind wing. Under the wing is a dark brown. The forewing has two orange to red colored bars, which are located close to the leading edge. The hind wing also has three orange-red spots near the base. There is also a row of orange-red spots on the submarginal line.
This butterfly can grow to 10.1cm in wing span. You may see the male sitting around three feet above the ground on tall bushes or a tree, waiting for a receptive female. She will lay single eggs on the tip of the leaf of a host plant.
The caterpillars feed on the leaves of trees and shrubs, including aspen, poplar, cottonwood, wild cherry, oaks, and willows. Adults feed on rotting fruit, dung, and sap flow. They will sometimes feed on the nectar of small white flowers.
If you have recently seen the red-spotted admiral, you likely saw it in evergreen or deciduous broad-leaf forest.
7. Great Spangled Fritillary
This (Speyeria cybele) is a large butterfly, that can grow to 10.1cm in wing span. The male is tan to orange with black scales on the forewing veins. The female is darker than the male with a wide submarginal band and silver spots.
The female will lay her eggs in late summer, on or close to violets. The caterpillars do not feed when they first hatch. They feed on the young violet leaves from winter to spring. Adults feed on flower nectar from a variety of plants, including dogbane, mountain laurel, red clover, purple coneflower, and milkweeds.
You are likely to encounter this butterfly in open and moist areas, including meadows, open woodlands, prairies, fields, and valleys.
8. Black Swallowtail
The Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) is a large butterfly that is mostly black. The inner edge of the hind wing has a black spot, which is centered in an orange spot. The male has a yellow band at the edge of the wings, while the female has a row of yellow spots. The female also has an iridescent blue band on her hind wing.
This butterfly can grow to 11cm in wing span and are common in open areas, including marshes, suburbs, deserts, fields, and roadsides. The female lays a single egg on the flower or leaf of the host plant, which is used as food for the hatching larvae.
They are commonly seen from April to October. The adults feed on flower nectar, while the caterpillars feed on the leaves of the parsley family, including celery, dill, and Queen Anne’s Lace.
9. Eastern Tailed-Blue
The Eastern Tailed-blue butterfly (Cupido comyntas) is a small butterfly that only grows to 2.9cm in wing span. It has a narrow tail located on the hind wing. The male is iridescent blue, while the female is brown during summer and blue during spring. Under the hind wing is gray with a black bar and distinct black spots. There are three orange spots located near the tail.
The female lays her eggs on the flower buds of host plants, which include yellow sweet clover, wild pea, bush clover, and alfalfa. As adults, they feed on flowers that are located close to the ground, as they have a low-flight pattern. Adults will feed on wild strawberries, asters, shepherd’s needles, and sweet clovers.
You will encounter this butterfly in open and sunny areas throughout Missouri, including disturbed habitats and weedy areas.
10. Silver-spotted Skipper
This butterfly (Epargyreus clarus) can grow to 6.7cm in wing span and is commonly seen in disturbed and open woods, prairie waterways, and foothill stream beds. They are black to brown with a lobed hind wing. The forewing has golden spots.
On a hot day or at night, the adult butterfly hangs upside down under a leaf. The female lays a single egg near a host tree. The caterpillar must find a host once hatched. The younger caterpillar will live in a folded leaf, while older caterpillars live in a nest of leaves, which have been silked together.
As adults, they feed on flower nectar, but never yellow flowers. Their preferred food includes common milkweed, buttonbush, thistles, blazing star, everlasting pea, and red clover.
11. Hackberry Emperor
This butterfly (Asterocampa celtis) is variable based on location. The upper side of the wings is red-brown. The forewing has an eye spot and a row of white spots. There is a cell with a solid black bar and two black spots. They can grow to 6.3cm in wing span.
This is a fast-flying butterfly, but very erratic in its flight. They have been seen resting upside down on the trunk of trees. The female lays a cluster of eggs and the caterpillars feed together. They are commonly encountered from May to October.
As caterpillars, they feed on various hackberries, while adults feed on carrion, rotting fruit, dung, and sap. They can be seen in forest glades, river edges, towns, wooded roadsides, and along the edge of wooded streams.
12. Pipevine Swallowtail
The Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) is iridescent blue or blue-green. Under the hind wing is a row of seven orange spots, set in a blue field. These are large butterflies and can grow to 13cm in wing span. They are commonly seen in late spring.
As adults, they feed on the nectar of thistles, bergamot, viper’s bugloss, phlox, azaleas, lilacs, petunias, and yellow star thistle. As caterpillars, they feed on pipevines, which include serpentaria. They are seen in open areas, including woodland edges and open woodlands.
13. Zebra Swallowtail
The Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) lives up to its name with the wings having black stripes on a green-white background. They have long tails on the hind wing and can grow up to 10.4cm in wing span. They are common from April to August in Missouri.
As caterpillars, they feed on the shrubs of the Asimina genus with younger plants preferred. As adults, they feed on flower nectar, including blackberry, blueberry, verbena, common milkweed, and redbud. They drink the moisture from the sand. They are often seen in woodlands, close to rivers or swamps.
The male Sachem (Atalopedes campestris) is orange-yellow with a brown border and a square black stigma. The female can vary from dark brown to brown-yellow with a square transparent spot, which is located at the end of the forewing. These are small butterflies and only grow to 4.2cm in wing span.
The males spend their day close to the ground, waiting for a female. She lays a single egg on dry glass blades, which the caterpillars use as food. They are commonly seen from May to November.
As caterpillars, they feed on a variety of grasses, including crabgrass, St Augustine grass, goosegrass, and Bermuda grass. As adults, they feed on flower nectar, including dogbane, peppermint, tickseed sunflower, swamp, and common milkweed, and buttonbush.
You are likely to encounter this butterfly in open and disturbed areas, including landfills, meadows, yards, lawns, and parks.
15. Painted Lady
The Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) can grow to 7.3cm in wing span and is commonly seen in open and disturbed areas, including old fields, dunes, and gardens. They are orange-brown with a dark wing base.
The forewing has a dark patch and a white bar, located on the leading edge. The hind wing has five black spots. Some have blue scales on the hind wing. They are seen from May to October.
The caterpillar feeds on over one hundred host plants, including hollyhock, mallow, legumes, and thistles. The adults feed on the nectar of composites, located up to six feet in height, including cosmos, ironweed, joe-pye weed, and blazing star.
16. Fiery Skipper
This small butterfly (Hylephila phyleus) grows to 3.8cm in wing span and has short antennae. The male has a black stigma. The underside of the hind wing has black spots. The female is dark brown with an orange band.
They are seen in sunny and open areas from May to August. You are likely to see them on roadsides, fields, gardens, and lawns. The adults feed on flower nectar, while caterpillars feed on Bermuda grass, crabgrass, and St Augustine grass.
17. Small White
This small to medium-sized butterfly (Pieris rapae) can grow to 4.7cm in wing span. They are commonly referred to as cabbage while or the cabbage butterfly in Missouri. It is a white butterfly with small black spots on the wings.
As caterpillars, they are regarded as a pest in crucifer crops, including bok choy, broccoli, kale, and cabbage. They originated in Europe and have been accidentally introduced to North America, along with many other countries.
This cream-white butterfly has black tips on the forewings. The female has two black spots in the center of the forewings. They are commonly seen in open areas, including towns and valley bottoms.
18. Red Admiral
The Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is a black butterfly with white spots. The forewing has a red median band. They are dull in color during winter, becoming brighter in the summer months. This butterfly can grow to 7.6cm in wing span.
These butterflies are fast in flight, which is erratic. They can be spotted from March to October, The caterpillars feed on plants in the nettle family, which includes tall wild nettle, wood nettle, false nettle, and stinging nettle.
As adults, they feed on the sap of trees, bird droppings, and fermenting fruit. They only visit flowers when they cannot find their favored food source. These butterflies are regular visitors to moist fields, marshes, moist woods, parks, yards, and seeps.
19. Silvery Checkerspot
The Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis) is a medium-sized butterfly that grows to 5.1cm in wing span. They are orange-yellow with dark markings and borders. The hind wing has white-centered spots. The underside of the hind wing has a large white crescent, located at the margin.
The female lays her eggs in batches of around one hundred under the leaf of the host plant, which includes composites, such as black-eyed Susan, sunflowers, and wing stem. The young caterpillars feed in groups.
Adults feed on flower nectar from common milkweeds, red cover, and dogbane. You will see these butterflies in open moist areas, this includes meadows, forest openings, and the side of streams.
20. Cloudless Sulphur
The Cloudless Sulphur butterfly (Phoebis sennae) can grow to 8cm in wing span. The male is lemon-yellow and has no markings. The female is white or yellow with black borders on the edge of both wings. The female also has a dark spot on the upper forewing. Both sexes have two silver spots with pink edges under the hind wing.
As adults, they feed on flower nectar, while caterpillars feed on plants in the pea family. They are commonly encountered in open areas that are disturbed, including yards, beaches, parks, gardens, abandoned fields, and road edges.
21. Question Mark
The Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) has a hooked forewing that is red-orange with black spots. Under the hind wing is black and they have a short tail. Under the hind wing is a pearl-white question mark, placed in the center.
This is a medium-sized butterfly, growing to 7.6cm in length, and common in wooded areas with open space, suburbs, fence rows, and city parks. They are commonly seen from May to September.
The caterpillar feeds on red elm, American elm, Japanese hop, false nettles, nettles, and hackberry. Adults feed on tree sap, carrion, dung, and rotting fruit.
22. Orange Sulphur
The medium-sized Orange Sulphur butterfly (Colias eurytheme) is variable in color. They grow to 7cm in wing span and the male is yellow with an orange overlay, black borders, a black cell spot, and yellow veins. The female can be white or yellow with light spots, surrounded by a black border. Under the hind wing is a silver spot with two dark rings.
The female lays her eggs one at a time on the top of the leaves of the host plant, which belongs to the pea family. The caterpillars chew holes through the top of the leaves. They are common from June to October.
As adults, they feed on flower nectar from milkweeds, dandelions, asters, and goldenrods. You will see them in open areas, especially in mowed fields, clover and alfalfa fields, meadows, vacant lots, and road edges.
23. Eastern Comma
The Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia comma) has short hind wing projections. The forewing is orange-brown with dark spots and a spot at the bottom edge. The hind wing has two patterns, based on the season. In summer the hind wing is black and in winter, the hind wing is orange with black spots. Under the hind wing is a silver or white comma, swollen at both ends.
This butterfly can grow to 6.4cm in wing span. They are aggressive flyers and are known to chase insects and birds. As caterpillars, they feed on plants in the nettle and elm families, as adults, they prefer rotting fruit and tree sap.
You can see the Eastern Comma butterfly in marshes, deciduous woodlands, rivers in woods, and swamps.
24. Eastern Giant Swallowtail
The Eastern Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) has a diagonal band of yellow spots on the forewing. The tail is black with yellow. These are large butterflies that can grow to 16cm in wing span.
The female lays a single egg on the leaf of the host plant. As caterpillars, they look like bird droppings, eating leaves and young shoots. They are commonly seen from May to September.
As caterpillars, they feed on herbs and trees in the citrus family, including prickly ash, hop-free, and common rue. As adults, they feed on nectar from bougainvillea, dame’s rocket, goldenrod, swamp milkweed, azalea, lantana, and Japanese honeysuckle. They can be found in a wide range of habitats from rocky and sandy hillsides to gullies, towns, citrus groves, and pine flats.