Common Butterflies in Missouri (10 Species)

Missouri is a state that boasts a diverse landscape, from plains to the Ozark Plateau region, along with numerous lakes and rivers. This variety of habitats provides a home to a wide range of wildlife, including a fascinating array of butterflies. While most people may immediately think of the monarch butterfly when it comes to Missouri, there are actually many other species that call this state home. From the Ozark Swallowtail to the Giant Swallowtail, these ten common butterflies in Missouri come in different sizes, colors, and habitats. In this article, Wildlife Informer introduces readers to these lesser-known but equally captivating butterflies, providing a glimpse into the rich natural diversity of Missouri.

Common Butterflies in Missouri

Missouri is home to a diverse range of butterfly species, each displaying unique colors, patterns, and habitats. While many people are familiar with the iconic monarch butterfly, there are several other interesting and beautiful butterflies that can be found throughout the state. Here are ten common butterflies in Missouri that you may not have heard of before.

1. Ozark Swallowtail

Scientific Name: Papilio Joanae

The Ozark swallowtail is a unique butterfly species that is found almost exclusively in Missouri. Unlike many other swallowtails in the United States, the Ozark swallowtail has a small native range. It is known for its large size, with a wingspan that can reach over 4 inches wide. The butterfly is primarily black, with rows of yellow spots on its forewing and iridescent blue markings on its hindwing. It also has two large tails that trail off its hindwings. Due to its limited range, the Ozark swallowtail is considered a species of concern in Missouri, as invasive plants may be impacting its caterpillar hosts.

2. Mourning Cloak

Scientific Name: Nymphalis antiopa

The mourning cloak butterfly is widespread throughout the United States, including many regions in Missouri. It is a moderately sized butterfly, reaching up to 4 inches in wingspan. The butterfly has a distinctive color pattern, with a deep reddish-purple upper and a wide marginal band of cream or white. It also has iridescent blue spots along its marginal band. When at rest, the mourning cloak’s brown underside, with a cream band, resembles a leaf or bark, making it difficult to spot. This species is known to live communally, with caterpillars feeding on willow leaves and adults feeding on the sap of oak and other trees. Mourning cloaks are migratory species and can be found wherever food sources are plentiful.

3. Common Buckeye

Scientific Name: Junonia coenia

The common buckeye butterfly is one of the most widespread butterfly species in the eastern half of the United States, including Missouri. It can be found in open fields, meadows, and suburban areas with plenty of sunlight. This medium-sized butterfly has four large eyespots on its wings, each with rings. Its upper side is typically brown with bright orange to reddish-orange patches. The common buckeye enjoys a wide array of host plants, with most of them belonging to the snapdragon family.

4. Swamp Metalmark

Scientific Name: Calephelis muticum

The swamp metalmark butterfly is found in various regions throughout Missouri. It prefers wet areas, such as bogs and swamps. This small butterfly is characterized by its rusty orange and brown coloring, which is typical of many metalmark species. The caterpillars of the swamp metalmark feed on various types of thistle, while the adults prefer nectar as their food source.

5. Harvester

Scientific Name: Feniseca tarquinius

The harvester butterfly is unique among butterflies as it is the only predatory caterpillar in the United States. It is a small butterfly, reaching only 1 1/4 inches in size as an adult. The wings of the harvester are orange with black bands and irregular markings. When folded, the butterflies have purplish undersides with faint white circles. Female harvesters lay their eggs among colonies of woolly aphids, and as the caterpillars hatch, they feed on these small insects. In some populations, the caterpillars have been observed covering themselves in carcasses of their prey as a means of protection from predatory ants.

6. Question Mark

Scientific Name: Polygonia interrogationis

The question mark butterfly gets its name from the silvery question mark-shaped marking on the underside of its wings. This species is closely related to the comma butterflies, which are also named after punctuation marks. The question mark butterfly has reddish-brown wings on its upperside, with short, dusky-black tails. It also has a thin, white marginal band along the outer edges of its wings. Caterpillars of this species hatch away from their host plants, often requiring them to journey in search of food.

7. Common Wood Nymph

Scientific Name: Cercyonis pegala

The common wood nymph butterfly is widely distributed throughout parts of North America, but in Missouri, its populations are constricted to specific areas near Kansas City and Bronson. The wings of the common wood nymph are dusky-brown, with two large eyespots breaking up the relatively drab upper. The underside of its wings is adorned with numerous eyespots, which may serve as a defense mechanism against predators. Despite its common name, this species can often be found in open areas with an array of native flowers and grasses, rather than exclusively in forests and wooded areas.

8. Pepper and Salt Skipper

Scientific Name: Amblyscirtes hegon

The pepper and salt skipper is a relatively small butterfly, with a wingspan not exceeding 1 1/2 inches. It is characterized by pale speckles on reddish-brown wings when unfolded. The underside of its wings is heavily mottled. Pepper and salt skippers are often spotted near streams in wooded areas, where they have access to abundant food sources. Their preferred caterpillar hosts are various grass species, while adults feed on nectar from viburnum and other native plants.

9. Dainty Sulphur

Scientific Name: Nathalis iole

As its name suggests, the dainty sulphur butterfly is small, with a wingspan not exceeding 1 1/4 inches. It displays yellow wings with black markings, with females having more black than males. The underside of its forewing features a bright yellow or orange patch complemented by small, irregular black spots. The caterpillars and adults of this migratory species feed on low-growing plants, including wild and cultivated marigolds. The dainty sulphur is the smallest sulphur species in Missouri and in all of North America.

10. Giant Swallowtail

Scientific Name: Papilio cresphontes

The giant swallowtail is not only the largest butterfly species in Missouri, but also the largest in the entire United States. It can reach a wingspan of over 6 inches, making it a true spectacle to behold. This large black butterfly is marked with distinctive yellow markings and bands on the upperside of its wings, while the underside features black markings against a yellow background. The giant swallowtail is known for its long tails on the hindwings, which is a characteristic trait of the swallowtail family. The caterpillars of this species resemble bird droppings and can grow quite large. They feed on the leaves of citrus and other trees, while adults prefer the nectar of various garden flowers.

In conclusion, Missouri is home to a diverse array of butterfly species, each with its own unique characteristics and preferences. From the exclusively found Ozark swallowtail to the impressive giant swallowtail, these butterflies add beauty and color to the state’s landscapes. Whether you’re exploring the plains or the Ozark Plateau, keep an eye out for these common butterflies in Missouri.

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