Metalmark Butterfly Family

Northern Metamark (Calephelis borealis).
Northern Metamark (Calephelis borealis). By Eric Haley from Winter Park, Florida, Wikicommons

Metalmark butterflies are a diverse family of butterflies that live mostly in the Americas. The name “metalmark” comes from the metallic markings of many species. Some members of the family lack these markings completely. Most metalmarks have wings with black spots and checkered patterns. Metalmark butterflies have more angular shares and softer hues than checkerspots and crescentspots.

Metamarks (Riodinidae) are classified as a subfamily of Lycaenidae.

Zygia metalmark (Lemonias zygia zygia)
Zygia metalmark (Lemonias zygia zygia), The Pantanal, Brazil. By Charlesjsharp


The Metalmark family has about 1,000 species worldwide. Ninety percent of those species are found in the Americas and the Caribbean. Tropical species have a wide variety of size, color, and wing shape.

Twenty-four species are found in North America. Most species occur in the southern regions of the United States. Three species are in the eastern region of North America. Two species live along the east coast from Maine to Florida. All eastern species are small, orange-colored with metallic-looking flecks on the wings. The life history of the North American species is not well-known. Study of their habits and life history is needed.


Adult Life Cycle Stage

Most metalmarks have subtly colored brown, gray or rust-colored wings. The tropical members of the family have dark colored wings with brilliant colored patterns. North American butterflies have small wingspans. The wingspan range form ⅝” to 2″.

Male metalmarks have shortened front legs. The male’s front legs are half the length of the other four legs. These short front legs are not used for walking. The females front legs are only slightly reduced and are used for walking.

The wings have distinctive wing vein patterns.

All adults feed on flower nectar.


Males commonly perch to wait for a female to approach him. Some species may patrol for mates.

Flight and Perching Style

The adults rest, bask and feed with their wings wing open. Most metalmarks perch on the undersides of leaves and hold their wings flat. Some keep them open at about a 45-degree angle.

Adult metalmarks don’t wander around. They very choosy about where they live. They like sunny places.  Swamp and dune-living species are threatened because the habitats they prefer are being drained by

humans for building. Metalmarks stay locally and almost never migrate.

Adults perch for a long time on leaves or near their host plants.

Metalmarks aren’t strong fliers. The fly fast and in erratic patterns. 

Egg Life Cycle Stage

Eggs vary widely in shape. Most are shaped like a sea urchin.


Caterpillar Life Cycle Stage

Caterpillars are slug-shaped with dense tufts of long, fine hairs (setae). Many larvae are attended by ants.


Host Plants of Metalmark Butterflies

The larva eats dicotyledons plants. They don’t eat grasses or sedges. 


Pupae and Chrysalis Life Cycle Stage

Pupae are stocky with silk.

The downy chrysalis is attached with silk to leaf litter or to the stem of a host plant.


How the Metamark Butterflies Spend the Winter

Metalmark butterflies spend the winter in the larval or pupal stage.


Subfamilies of the Metalmark Butterfly Family

Eastern Species

Of the eastern-occurring, the Metamarks neither is regularly found in the Delaware Valley and Philadelphia region.

Northern Metamark (Calephelis borealis).
Northern Metamark (Calephelis borealis). By Eric Haley from Winter Park, Florida, Wikicommons

Northern Metalmark (Calephelis borealis) – This species is found in Pennsylvania, but necessarily in Philadelphia. The Hostplants for the Northern Metalmark: the main plant maybe only hostplant is Roundleaf Ragwort (Senecio obovatus). The eggs are laid on the underside of the hostplant leaves. 


Little Metalmark (Calephelis virginiesis)
Little Metalmark (Calephelis virginiesis) By Judy Gallagher

Little Metalmark (Calephelis virginiensis) – Doesn’t occur in Pennsylvania but found in the southeastern region of the United States. Not much is known about this species.  Hosplants are not fully studied. Yellow thistle (Cirsium borridulum) is one known host. More on the Little Metalmark. 


Links to Other Posts In this Series

The 6 Butterfly Families and Identifying Butterflies

The Butterfly Life Cycle: Adult

Observing Butterflies at Home and Far Away


Links to Other Websites – a citizen science site which tracks butterfly abundance and biodiversity.

Butterfly and Moths of North America – collects and shares butterfly data

The Children’s Butterfly Site – coloring pages, photos, and more


Butterflies of the East Coast: An Observer’s Guide. Rick Cash and Guy Tudor. Princeton: Princeton University, 2005.

The Butterflies of North America: A Natural History and Field Guide by James A. Scott. Stanford: Stanford Univerisity, 1986.

Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner. Princeton: Princeton University, 2005.

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