Most Common Butterflies in Tennessee (9 Species)

Tennessee is known for more than just its beautiful landscapes and vibrant music scene. It is also home to a diverse array of wildlife, including a wide variety of butterfly species. While many people are familiar with the iconic monarch butterfly, there are actually nine common butterfly species found in Tennessee that you may not have heard of before. From the majestic Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail to the elusive Diana Fritillary, these butterflies add a touch of beauty and wonder to the state. In this article, Wildlife Informer introduces you to each of these nine species, providing fascinating details about their appearance, habitat, and behavior. Whether you are a butterfly enthusiast or simply have an appreciation for the natural world, join us as we explore the most common butterflies in Tennessee.

Most Common Butterflies in Tennessee

Tennessee is home to a diverse variety of wildlife, including numerous butterfly species. While many people may immediately think of the monarch butterfly, there are actually several other common butterfly species found in the state. This article will explore nine of the most common butterflies in Tennessee and provide information about their scientific names, features, habitats, larval hosts, and behavior.

Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail

Scientific name: Papilio appalachiensis

The Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail is one of the largest swallowtails in Tennessee, with a wingspan ranging from 3 ½ to 4 ½ inches. Its distinctive feature is the striking yellow and black pattern on its upper-sides, while the underside displays blue, orange, black, and/or yellow markings. The Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail larval host is the wild black cherry tree, which is abundant throughout the state. As adults, these butterflies prefer densely wooded areas for their habitat.

Diana Fritillary

Scientific name: Speyeria diana

The Diana Fritillary is a large butterfly, reaching up to 4 ½ inches in wingspan. The markings on this butterfly differ between sexes, with males having black wings with a thick orangish-yellow margin speckled with black lines and spots, and females boasting a similar pattern with black and blue. Unlike many other species, female Diana Fritillaries lay their eggs on the ground on dead leaves surrounding violets, which are the primary food source for caterpillars. This once-common butterfly is now threatened, but can still be found locally throughout the state.

Mourning Cloak

Scientific name: Nymphalis antiopa

The Mourning Cloak is one of the longest-lived butterflies in the region, and possibly the longest-lived overall. It has a deep purplish-black upper-side with a thick creamy-white margin decorated with iridescent blue spots and markings, resembling a beautiful cloak. Mourning Cloak caterpillars feed on a wide range of host plants found throughout Tennessee and most of North America. Unlike some other caterpillars, Mourning Cloaks are known to wander from plant to plant. Adults prefer oak sap, but will also feed on fruits and nectar.

Cabbage White

Scientific name: Pieris rapae

The Cabbage White butterfly gets its name from the caterpillar’s preferred food: Brassica. The caterpillars can become a pest for gardeners as they often decimate cabbages and related vegetables. The adults are small- to medium-sized butterflies with clean white wings decorated with small black spots and marginal patches. This species is common throughout its massive range, which spans throughout much of North America.


Scientific name: Limenitis archippus

The Viceroy butterfly has an impressive range that includes all of Tennessee, and it is a common sight throughout the state. This butterfly is often mistaken for the well-known monarch due to its similar markings. It has rusty orange wings sectioned with black stripes and lines, with a single row of white dots breaking up the black wing margins. Viceroy caterpillars feed on a variety of trees in the willow family, including Salix and Populus species. Adult Viceroys feed on a wide variety of foods, including carrion, fungi, and flowers.

Question Mark

Scientific name: Polygonia interrogationis

The Question Mark butterfly has deep reddish-orange uppersides dazzled with black spots and a thin white margin. Its hind-wings are primarily dusky black with short tails. When its wings are upright and folded, Question Mark butterflies resemble dead leaves with one striking iridescent question mark-shaped spot on the hindwing. Unlike many other butterfly species that lay their eggs on or near the caterpillar’s host plants, female Question Marks often deposit their eggs on non-host plants, forcing the caterpillars to seek out their preferred hosts.

Common Wood Nymph

Scientific name: Cercyonis pegala

The Common Wood Nymph butterfly is primarily found in the eastern part of Tennessee, including Chattanooga, Knoxville, and the Smoky Mountain region. This small- to medium-sized butterfly is primarily dusty-brown with two large eyespots on the upperside of its forewings. Several smaller eyespots dapple the underside of the wings, some with paler rings. Caterpillars hatch in autumn and overwinter, waking in spring to feed on various species of grasses. Despite their name, wood nymphs prefer open grassy areas where adults feed on various flowers and rotting fruits.

Goatweed Leafwing

Scientific name: Anaea andria

The Goatweed Leafwing butterfly may have a strange-sounding name, but it accurately describes the key characteristics of this unassuming butterfly. At rest, adults resemble dead leaves with their brown, hooked wings. Caterpillars prefer to feed on native goatweed. Adults vary in color from reddish-brown to red, with pearlized white margins on the upper-sides of the wings. They prefer habitats of woodland edges and feed on a variety of foods as adults, including bird droppings, fruit, and sap.

Appalachian Brown

Scientific name: Satyrodes appalachia

The Appalachian Brown butterfly has scattered populations throughout Tennessee, with more concentrated populations in the eastern part of the state in the mountains. This unassuming butterfly is brown on top with a row of eyespots on the hind-wings. When at rest, more distinctive eyespots line the edges of the wings, often with numerous rings. While many butterflies are considered pollinators for various types of flowers, the Appalachian Brown adult feeds on non-floral foods, such as sap. Caterpillars prefer various types of native sedges found throughout the state.

In conclusion, Tennessee is home to a wide variety of butterflies, each with its own unique features, habitat preferences, and behavior. Whether you’re exploring the Appalachian mountains or the open areas of the state, keep an eye out for these nine common butterfly species. They add beauty and diversity to Tennessee’s already impressive wildlife population.

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