Early Spring Butterflies

Cabbage White butterfly (Pieris rapae)
Cabbage White butterfly (Pieris rapae)

The early spring butterflies will be flying around soon. The chilly air keeps them safely overwintering in tree crevices, nooks and crannies. Butterflies being solar creatures aren’t really around until the weather really heats up.The days and nights have to be consistently 60° Fahrenheit or 16° Celsius, before they are flying.

As the sun beats down, butterflies will be sipping nectar, mating and laying eggs. Butterflies don’t sip nectar in the shade, and you’ll find them in open sunny areas with flower blooming in profusion.

This early in the season, the early blooming flowers that attract bumble bees are available for butterflies also.

Some of the early spring butterflies are:

  1. Cabbage Whites
  2. Mourning Cloaks
  3. Eastern Commas
  4. Spring Azure
  5. Falcate Orangetips
  6. various Elfins
  7. Juvenal’s Duskywing
  8. Cobweb Skipper

The butterflies listed below overwinter as adults in nooks and crannies. You may see these species in the early in the season and they will probably look very ragged.  In spring, the wings can look torn and beat up.

  1. Mourning Cloaks
  2. Red Admirals
  3. Questions Marks
  4. Eastern Comma
  5. Cabbage White
  6. Orange Sulphur
  7. Clouded Sulphur

Keeping a nature journal, will let you know when to expect to see your first spring butterfly.

I generally see my first butterfly the first week of April. On April 2nd 2010, a Cabbage White appeared in my garden.. And also in 2007. In 2008, the first Cabbage White was spotted on April 8th.

The Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) is the first butterfly I see in Philadelphia. It isn’t an indigenous species, but a stowaway from Europe. What are the first butterflies in your neck of the woods?


  1. Thanks for your article. It was very helpful and enabled me to identify a butterfly that I saw today – 20.Feb.2017. It was a mourning cloak that had obviously overwinteredas an adult. It was flying in a woods edge on a sunnt 55 degree day in Chester Springs, PA (near Phoenixville).

    • Hi, Rich
      Thanks for contacting me and letting me know. And thanks for reading In Season.
      I can’t believe you saw a Mourning Cloak this early! Then again the snowdrops that have naturalized in my garden have been in full bloom for two weeks now.
      Happy Spring,

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