There are hundreds of butterfly species in North Carolina. The state has multiple native species as well as visiting migratory species.
These species are mostly non-damaging to the ecosystem. Even species that eat tree leaves or flower nectar are typically not a major threat to the ecosystem.
Butterflies are seen in the state throughout the summer, at the end of the spring, and in the fall.
Many species that are active throughout the year in other warmer states such as Florida have a limited season here.
Some of the largest skippers and swallowtail species are found in North Carolina.
The state is also known for being the home of multiple butterflies that use mimicry techniques to avoid predators.
A considerable number of butterflies across North Carolina can be strays or butterflies that aren’t seen across the state every year.
Some species make it here by accident when looking to escape drought in states such as Texas.
Others end up in North Carolina seeking various plants such as nettles found in the state’s moist woodlands.
Here are some of the typical species the state is a home for.
Table of Contents
1. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio glaucus) are the state butterfly in North Carolina.
The species is identified by its yellow and black colors with small blue patches.
Caterpillars of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail family are known for mimicking bird droppings to avoid predation.
The caterpillar of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is brown and white while the eggs of the species are mostly green or shiny green.
While adults feed on dogbane and asters, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies also extract nutrients from mud and puddling water.
Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are some of the most common in North Carolina. This species is known for its contrasting orange and black colors.
Butterflies of this family are also known for having complex mating strategies.
Males often chase females in flight. They force females to the ground where they try to mate.
This strategy is largely unsuccessful as females can avoid mating attempts.
Monarch butterflies arrive in North Carolina on their way to Florida during a long Eastern migration process. They fly back over the state back North in the spring.
3. Silver-spotted Skipper
Silver-spotted Skippers (Epargyreus clarus) are some of the most common types of butterflies in the state despite being a target for Horse Guard Wasps.
Various types of bean crops can be affected by the Silver-spotted Skipper.
However, the damage to these crops is considered small and the species is not seen as a major threat to soybean or kidney beans.
You can identify this species by its dominantly brown color. Yellow spots are also seen across its forewings.
This species also has a dark brown hairy body.
4. Red-spotted Admiral
Red-orange spots across the dorsal and ventral wings are the main reason this species (Limenitis arthemis) bears its name.
Black colors dominate the upper side of the forewings while blue colors are seen on the hindwings.
This species has lighter blue coloring on the ventral side of the wings.
Red to orange spots is seen all across the wings as well as doubling the black margins of the ventral wings.
You can see this species from May onwards up until mid-fall.
5. Pipevine Swallowtail
Pipevine Swallowtails (Battus philenor) feed on many flowers such as pipevine. They store aristolochic acid which makes them taste bad for predators.
This species has black dorsal wings with light blue marks on the hindwings.
Its ventral wings are dominated by blue coloring with large circular orange spots that have black borders.
Pipevine swallowtails are also subject to mimicry of other species.
Other types of butterfly mimic Pipevine Swallowtails to avoid predation.
A few other butterfly larvae can also be a minor threat to Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars which they sometimes eat.
6. Common Buckeye
Common Buckeyes (Junonia coenia) are migratory butterflies that head South for winter.
This species has a minor pollinator role among many types of flowers. Its caterpillars are commonly found on various plantains.
The caterpillars live in groups on the same plane. Adults may also be seen feeding in groups without high levels of aggression.
You can identify this species by its 8 eyespots on the dorsal side. A combination of large and small eyespots makes the Common Buckeye appear as a different species to its predators.
7. Pearl Crescent
Pearl Crescent butterflies (Phyciodes tharos) have light brown and orange ventral coloring and orange with black dorsal colors.
This species grows to a maximum wingspan of just over 30mm.
They start life as caterpillars with a few broods per year. The Pearl Crescent caterpillar can also overwinter.
This species of butterfly feeds on some of the most common nectar-rich plants across the state.
Dogbane, milkweed, and asters are among the most common flowers Pearl Crescents can be seen feeding on.
If not feeding, these areas are also where you can find male Pearl Crescent butterflies flying around for females.
8. Black Swallowtail
Black Swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes) are some of the largest black butterflies in the state.
You can see them in different dry habitats where they use plants of the carrot family as hosts.
This includes mock bishopweed and water cowbane.
Butterflies of this genus prefer these types of plants as they absorb toxins to have a foul taste.
This is a process that starts early in life with Black Swallowtail caterpillars. Upon the approach of a predator, the caterpillar can release a foul smell for defense.
9. Fiery Skipper
Fiery Skipper butterflies (Hylephila phyleus) are seen across the state, feeding on multiple types of wild grasses.
Bermuda grass is the preferred host for the species but it’s seen on almost all types of grasses of the same family.
These species of butterflies are some of the most common species in the state by the number of times people see them. It feeds on turfgrass which means it’s present on lawns all around the state.
Male Fiery Skippers have brown and yellow coloring while females are dominated by mostly brown coloring.
10. American Lady
American Lady butterflies (Vanessa virginiensis) are one of the multiple migratory species within the state.
These butterflies are seen flying over the state from Florida in the spring. However, there’s no known migration towards Florida in the fall.
This might indicate the species has different migratory habits compared to other migratory butterflies in the US.
American Lady butterflies have a vivid orange dorsal color with black marks across the wings.
11. Zabulon Skipper
At least 2 broods of Zabulon Skippers (Lon zabulon) appear per year in the state. This species is known as a fast flyer.
Some differences are seen in the coloring of males and females. Male butterflies tend to have extra orange coloring while females have dark brown coloring.
Zabulon Skipper butterflies are among the most common species that live along woodlands.
They prefer woodlands for their rich ecosystem.
Grasses around woodlands are the main food source for the species.
12. Spicebush Swallowtail
Spicebush Swallowtails (Papilio troilus) start life as colorful yellow caterpillars. Large eyespots decorate the caterpillar of the species.
Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies are easier to spot than other large butterflies that fly above trees. These butterflies are known for flying low close to the ground.
You can identify the species by its black and light blue coloring and large wings.
Spicebush Swallowtails move their wings more than other species, even while feeding.
Jewelweed and honeysuckle are among the preferred plants for food for the species.
13. Eastern Tailed-Blue
Eastern Tailed-Blue butterflies (Cupido comyntas) like open sunny areas. They are seen all across the state including on crops.
Legumes are among their target host plants which makes these butterflies one of the minor pests across the state.
Blue nuances are specific to this butterfly. Males have lighter coloring closer to light blue while females have light blue overlays over their dark gray dorsal wings.
Both males and females exhibit distinctive orange dots on the lower hindwings.
14. Variegated Fritillary
This orange and black checkered species (Euptoieta claudia) has a small to medium size. It has a black body, black spots, and black veins that cross its dark orange and light orange wings.
Variegated Fritillary butterflies have varying wingspans. They can grow to 57mm, making them one of the larger species in the state.
These butterflies can also grow to a 44mm wingspan, similar to other species of this genus.
15. Gulf Fritillary
This species of butterflies (Dione vanillae) travel across the state when its populations migrate North and then back again when the butterflies travel to Florida.
One of the places where Gulf Fritillary butterflies are easy to spot includes parks. They like to be out in the sun but not excessively as they also like partial shade.
Open grasslands, parks, and gardens are all habitats for the species.
Passiflora plants its main hosts.
16. Cloudless Sulphur
Cloudless Sulphur butterflies (Phoebis sennae) are regularly seen across the state on their way to Florida and Central America during their yearly migration.
Unlike other large butterflies that fly at high altitudes and cannot be seen, Cloudless Sulphurs are a common sight.
They fly at low altitudes and they can be seen resting along major landmarks and roads they use for guidance.
These colorful butterflies migrate South for warmer winters together with other migratory species such as Monarchs.
17. Great Spangled Fritillary
These large butterflies (Speyeria cybele) can grow to a wingspan of nearly 90mm. Their large size and colorful orange and contrasting black patterns across the dorsal wings make the species stand out.
Butterflies of this genus are widespread across the state and many other states in the area.
This species is mostly seen in local species of violet flowers.
18. Clouded Skipper
This species of skipper (Lerema accius) has dark brown males and dark brown females that also have transparent sections.
Skippers fold their wings up in a triangular shape.
You can find Clouded Skippers on hosts such as shepherd’s needle and grasses such as St. Augustine grass.
19. Horace’s Duskywing
Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius) is one of the multi-brood species of the state.
It has distinctive all-brown coloring with a dark nuance specific to the species.
Its wingspan is short compared to other butterflies in the state. You can see this butterfly just above the ground looking for plants such as sneezeweed and peppermint.
20. Summer Azure
Summer Azure butterflies (Celastrina neglecta) have light blue coloring which inspires their name.
Seen from June to late fall, these butterflies are characterized by light blue dorsal coloring and almost white ventral coloring.
Butterflies of this species have wide black contrasting margins and a dark blue body.
21. Cabbage White
This common white butterfly (Pieris rapae) is seen around urban and rural areas of the state.
It likes open habitats with multiple plant species as hosts and as food.
This butterfly is often seen as a moth given it has an almost all-white appearance.
Cabbage white butterflies are slightly larger than the average species in the state with a wingspan that can reach up to 47mm.
Sachem butterflies (Atalopedes campestris) grow to a maximum wingspan of 41mm.
The species has orange and brown coloring.
Sachem butterflies are most commonly seen on various grass species across the state.
Crab grass is among its most common host plants.
23. Red Admiral
Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) have different color combinations on the dorsal or ventral sides.
This species starts life as an all-black caterpillar. Even its chrysalis has a dark, almost black color.
Butterflies of this species display a wide red band when their wings are closed. These butterflies only mate in the fall.
24. Question Mark
Question Mark butterflies (Polygonia interrogationis) have very different dorsal and ventral coloring. Orange dominates its dorsal wings while its ventral wings are gray to dark brown.
Carrion, dung, and rotting fruit are among its favorite foods. Question Mark butterflies can feed on flower nectar but choose other foods, including tree sap.
25. Sleepy Orange
This colorful butterfly (Abaeis nicippe) is a pale yellow or pale orange color.
It grows to a wingspan of just over 2 inches.
It lives all across the state and in the Eastern part of North America.
Its caterpillars are attached to cassia flowers as a host plant. Adults feed on all types of plants starting with a shepherd’s needle.
26. Gray Hairstreak
This is a common species of butterfly with tails. Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) has 2 black tails.
Butterflies of the species are seen in multiple broods per year in the state.
They have dark gray coloring and black margins which continue themselves to black tails.
Orange spots are seen on their lower hindwings.
27. Palamedes Swallowtail
Palamedes Swallowtails (Papilio palamedes) are among the largest native species in the state.
These common black butterflies are known for having excellent mimicry tactics in their caterpillar stage.
Their green caterpillars have large eyespots and often live in green leaves folded upwards to conceal their presence.
Red bay and swamp bay are common hosts for the species.
28. Red-banded Hairstreak
These butterflies (Calycopis cecrops) are often seen in overgrown fields laying eggs on leaves that have already fallen from their host plant.
Myrtle plant species are among the common hosts for Red-banded Hairstreak caterpillars.
Milkweed, dogbane, and wild cherry are all nectar sources for the adult butterfly.
29. Carolina Satyr
These dark brown butterflies (Hermeuptychia sosybius) are native to North Carolina and 12 more states.
Uniform brown color is specific to the ventral side of the species.
Light brown coloring is seen on its ventral side which also shows large eyespots.
The species relies on multiple types of grasses as hosts for its larvae.
30. Hackberry Emperor
Hackberry Emperors (Asterocampa celtis) have a brown and dark brown color combination across their dorsal wings.
Light brown sections show dark brown veins while its dark brown sections are decorated with white dots.
Sap and feces are among the most common foods for the species.
This butterfly may eat flower nectar but it prefers other foods.
Its caterpillars feed on hackberry leaves.
31. Long-tailed Skipper
This species of skipper butterflies (Urbanus proteus) have very long tails which inspire its name.
Its colorful body also stands out more than in other species. Long-tailed Skippers have a blue-green body.
Butterflies of this species are found almost anywhere in the state as long as there’s a water source nearby.
They rely on willows for laying eggs. Most willows grow around the water.
Adults of the species are mostly interested in plants such as shepherd’s bush.
32. Silvery Checkerspot
Silvery Checkerspot butterflies (Chlosyne nycteis) are identified by their unique yellow coloring which has orange nuances.
Black patterns are further distinguishable on the dorsal wings of the species.
Butterflies of this family also live in moist areas next to rivers.
Asters are among the hosts of its caterpillars and not hardwood trees as with other species that live close to water such as Long-tailed Skippers.
Viceroy butterflies (Limenitis archippus) are also identified by a unique orange color. This species is never purely orange.
It has lighter orange nuances closer to yellow in the state and darker nuances closer to mahogany-maroon in the Northern states.
This species also has black stripes as veins and black margins which makes it similar to Monarch butterflies.
34. Ocola Skipper
Seeing Ocola Skipper butterflies (Panoquina ocola) is not a happy event due to the pest status of its caterpillar.
This species has its preferences set on rice and sugarcane as hosts for its caterpillars.
Nectar from lantana is still consumed by adults who may also diversify their diet with nectar from shepherd’s needle.
35. Zebra Swallowtail
Alternating black and white bands across the dorsal wings inspire the name of Zebra Swallowtails (Eurytides marcellus).
These butterflies have a preference for various pawpaws as hosts for their caterpillars.
The contrasting butterflies can be seen on milkweed feeding on nectar.
36. Common Checkered-Skipper
Lowlands across the state are the main areas where you can find Common Checkered-Skippers (Burnsius communis).
These are areas where hundreds of types of mallow grow, a plant used as a host for the species.
Common Checkered-Skippers lay up to a few hundred eggs, measuring 0.5mm each, at a time on these plants.
37. Juvenal’s Duskywing
This species of butterfly (Erynnis juvenalis) is only found around oak trees and oak woodlands in the state.
Identified by a dark brown color, Juvenal’s Duskywing butterflies, this species has very diverse nectar source preferences as adults.
Winter cress and blueberry, often found next to woodlands or at high altitudes, are among its food preferences.
38. Painted Lady
Areas rich in asters are the most common place to see Painted Lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui).
This species lays eggs that grow into self-camouflaging caterpillars. Small silk cocoon-like structures are created by these caterpillars to keep predators away.
This species can migrate over short distances.
39. American Snout
American Snout butterflies (Libytheana carinenta) aren’t known to migrate in the state but they are a migratory species elsewhere.
They can reach the state as strays from other Southeastern states.
The months between June and October represent the interval this species is most likely to be seen in the state.
The species appears as a non-migratory butterfly but it may also have a shorter season during very dry summers.
Butterflies of this genus are named after their elongated snouts.
40. Eastern Comma
Eastern Comma butterflies (Polygonia comma) are commonly seen on hemp, elms, and nettles.
Moist areas around woodlands attract the most Eastern Comma butterflies in the state.
These are areas known for having some of the widest selections of nettle species. Nettles across the state also attract other migratory butterflies.
Eastern Comma butterflies are represented by various combinations of orange and black.
It’s believed these butterflies have orange-dominating colors outside of the summer months.
Male Eastern Comma butterflies are easier to spot than females.
You can see males waiting for females with their wings spread out on tree bark.