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Early Autumn Butterflies in My Garden

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterfly larvae muching on Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) leaf in my back garden.


Tiger Swallowtail in Joe-Pye Weed
Tiger Swallowtail sipping nectar from Joe-Pye Weed.

Nature Journal – September 24th

It’s late in the season, but autumn butterflies filled my garden. I saw two big beautiful butterflies this past week. And one very hungry caterpillar.

I spend many hours in my garden now that the daytime temperatures have cooled down. I am weeding and making plans for next year.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are common and widespread in the east. Their large size and dramatic color are eye-catching.

This Tiger Swallowtail is sipping nectar on a spent Zinna blossom. I am surprised there is any nectar left. The flower looks done. Zinnias are favorites of butterflies. If you want an annual that can take hot, dry conditions and bloom all summer and attract many species of butterflies, Zinnias are rock stars. More on Swallowtail Butterflies.

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes Tharos) in my back garden.
Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes Tharos) in my back garden.

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes Tharos)

At least I think this is Pearl Crescent. Scientists have split species into so many similar species that it is hard to tell who is who sometimes. If you can only see the differences on a microscopic level, I am hesitant about whether it is separate from a close look-a-like.

The Pearl Crescent is just one example. Are the Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes Tharos), Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis), Northern (Phyciodes selenis), Tawny Checkerspots  (Phyciodes batesii) or Harris’ Checkerspot (Chlosyne harrisii) really all that different? It seems the main difference between the species is the amount of black pigment on the wings.

New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) in my back garden.
New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) in my back garden.

Autumn Asters Attract Autumn Butterflies

The asters are beginning to bloom in my garden. As many aster species are their hostplants.  I have a large New England Aster ready to burst into bloom.

Pearl Crescents are common in the east. And they are known for wide variations in appearance. Most Checkerspots and Crescent (Family Nympahalinae; Tribe: Melitaeini) butterflies enter autumn hibernation as half-grown larvae. Once the day-length and correct number of cold days have been reached, the larvae will un-thaw and continue its’ growth cycle.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterfly larvae muching on Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) leaf in my back garden.
Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterfly larvae munching on Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) leaf in my back garden.

Monarch Caterpillar (Danaus plexippus)

The Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) was in glorious bloom this summer. It took many years of failure to get a plant established. It was worth because this beauty showed up. A late stage instar (caterpillar/larvae) of the Monarch Butterfly munches on a Butterfly Weed leaf.

Plants of the Milkweed family are the hostplants of Milkweed butterfly. The butterflies are called Milkweed butterflies because the plants are their main hostplants. The adult  butterflies get their awful taste from eating the leaves and flowers of milkweed plants as a caterpillar. An adult Monarch is poisonous only if it ate a poisonous plant when it was a caterpillar.  In adult Monarchs, the wings and abdomen store more poisons than the rest of the body.

butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in bloom in my back garden.

The Milkweed plants in my garden allow butterflies to spend their entire lifecycle in my garden. With both hostplants and nectar sources in my garden I see adult butterflies, eggs, and caterpillars.

Monarch butterflies overwinter as adults – in central Mexico. So this last stage larvae (caterpillar) will probably metamorphosis into an adult soon and fly south. Cape May State Park on the most southern tip of New Jersey is a great place to watch thousands of Monarch leave the mainland of the North America and cross the Atlantic Ocean and arrive in central Mexico.

Attracting Autumn Butterflies

It only takes planting the right native plants and providing certain features to attract a wide assortment of butterflies to your garden. During the pandemic, I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have my gardens to enjoy.

Citizen Science: Monarch Watch on 

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Identifying Common Butterflies – Photo Gallery

Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) - female. Whites and Sulphurs (Pieridae) Butterfly Family. Photo by Donna Long.
Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) - female. Whites and Sulphurs (Pieridae) Butterfly Family. Photo by Donna Long.
Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) – female. Whites and Sulphurs (Pieridae) Butterfly Family. Photo by Donna Long.

Identifying common butterflies is easier with photographs or drawings. I put together this photo gallery of butterflies. I took just about every photo either in my garden or around the Philadelphia area. As I take more butterfly photos, I will add to the gallery.

Some of the butterflies have photos of larva and adult life stages. I have included both the local common names and scientific names of each butterfly. I couldn’t name a couple of the moths, I couldn’t find their names but if you know their names feel free to contact me and I’ll add their correct name.

Identifying Common Butterflies of the Philadelphia Area and Beyond

Each region of the North American continent supports butterflies. Some places have many species of butterflies other have few. The further north you go, the few species there are. The Philadelphia area has 115 species of butterflies. I have only spotted a tiny fraction of the available species. A checklist of the 115 species is available at Butterfly and checklist. You can choose your region and download a pdf checklist of the butterflies for your area. the regions covered include the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Identifying Butterflies and Why Its Become So Popular

Birders head out in early spring to identify migrating birds. But once the birds begin to nest, birders stop hiking through woods and wetlands. They don’t want to disturb the nesting birds. They want nesting birds to be successful at raising their young, so they stay away from nesting areas.

But butterflies don’t need to be let alone to raise young because they don’t raise their young. The female butterfly lays her eggs and off she goes. During the heat of summer, butterflies are abundant and can be spotted and observed without concern of disturbing nesting. And this is why many birders turn to identifying and observing butterflies during the summer months. It puts to use those expensive binoculars birders have.

Click on each image to see the name of the butterfly.


Related Posts

Early Autumn Butterflies in My Garden

The Six Butterfly Families and Identifying Butterflies



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Butterflies of Philadelphia: A Checklist

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)
Monarch butterfly on a zinnia in my Philadelphia garden
Monarch butterfly on a zinnia in my Philadelphia garden

How many butterflies live in Philadelphia? Ten species? Twenty? How about 115! Generate a list for where you live by using the regional checklist feature on Why not go butterfly watching in the big city?

The species accounts on, give nectar and larval host plants that you can plant to attract local butterflies to your garden. The North American Butterfly Association ( has journals, plant lists for butterfly gardening and citizen science projects related to butterflies.

The following list is of the 115 confirmed sightings of butterflies in Philadelphia by the kind folks at Montana State University’s Butterflies and Moths of North America website. This list is not someone’s best guess, but actual identifications by experts in the county of Philadelphia (the whole city).

All the species names are linked to the profile on the Butterflies and Moths website.

The 115 butterfly species for Philadelphia County (the City of Philadelphia)

Hesperiidae Skippers

Epargyreus clarus Silver-spotted Skipper
Urbanus proteus Long-tailed Skipper
Achalarus lyciades Hoary Edge
Thorybes pylades Northern Cloudywing
Thorybes bathyllus Southern Cloudywing
Thorybes confusis Confused Cloudywing
Erynnis icelus Dreamy Duskywing
Erynnis brizo Sleepy Duskywing
Erynnis juvenalis Juvenal’s Duskywing
Erynnis horatius Horace’s Duskywing
Erynnis martialis Mottled Duskywing
Erynnis zarucco Zarucco Duskywing
Erynnis baptisiae Wild Indigo Duskywing
Erynnis lucilius Columbine Duskywing
Pyrgus communis Common Checkered-Skipper
Pholisora catullus Common Sootywing
Nastra lherminier Swarthy Skipper
Lerema accius Clouded Skipper
Ancyloxypha numitor Least Skipper
Thymelicus lineola European Skipper
Hylephila phyleus Fiery Skipper
Hesperia metea Cobweb Skipper
Hesperia sassacus Indian Skipper
Polites peckius Peck’s Skipper
Polites themistocles Tawny-edged Skipper
Polites origenes Crossline Skipper
Polites mystic Long Dash
Polites vibex Whirlabout
Wallengrenia egeremet Northern Broken-Dash
Pompeius verna Little Glassywing
Anatrytone logan Delaware Skipper
Poanes hobomok Hobomok Skipper
Poanes zabulon Zabulon Skipper
Poanes massasoit Mulberry Wing
Poanes viator Broad-winged Skipper
Euphyes conspicua Black Dash
Euphyes bimacula Two-spotted Skipper
Euphyes vestris Dun Skipper
Atrytonopsis hianna Dusted Skipper
Amblyscirtes vialis Common Roadside-Skipper
Panoquina panoquin Salt Marsh Skipper
Panoquina ocola Ocola Skipper

Papilionidae Parnassians and Swallowtails

Battus philenor Pipevine Swallowtail
Eurytides marcellus Zebra Swallowtail
Papilio polyxenes Black Swallowtail
Papilio glaucus Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Papilio troilus Spicebush Swallowtail
Papilio palamedes Palamedes Swallowtail
Papilio cresphontes Giant Swallowtail

Pieridae Whites and Sulphurs

Anthocharis midea Falcate Orangetip
Pieris rapae Cabbage White
Pontia protodice Checkered White
Colias philodice Clouded Sulphur
Colias eurytheme Orange Sulphur
Zerene cesonia Southern Dogface
Phoebis sennae Cloudless Sulphur
Pyrisitia lisa Little Yellow
Abaeis nicippe Sleepy Orange

Lycaenidae Gossamer-wing Butterflies

Lycaena phlaeas American Copper
Lycaena hyllus Bronze Copper
Callophrys irus Frosted Elfin
Callophrys henrici Henry’s Elfin
Callophrys niphon Eastern Pine Elfin
Satyrium favonius Southern Hairstreak
Satyrium titus Coral Hairstreak
Satyrium acadica Acadian Hairstreak
Satyrium caryaevorus Hickory Hairstreak
Satyrium edwardsii Edwards’ Hairstreak
Satyrium calanus Banded Hairstreak
Satyrium liparops Striped Hairstreak
Calycopis cecrops Red-banded Hairstreak
Strymon melinus Gray Hairstreak
Parrhasius m album White M Hairstreak
Cupido comyntas Eastern Tailed-Blue
Celastrina ladon Spring Azure
Celastrina neglecta Summer Azure
Celastrina neglecta major Appalachian Azure

Nymphalidae Brush-footed Butterflies

Libytheana carinenta American Snout
Agraulis vanillae Gulf Fritillary
Euptoieta claudia Variegated Fritillary
Speyeria cybele Great Spangled Fritillary
Speyeria aphrodite Aphrodite Fritillary
Speyeria idalia Regal Fritillary
Boloria selene Silver-bordered Fritillary
Boloria bellona Meadow Fritillary
Limenitis arthemis Red-spotted Purple or White Admiral
Limenitis arthemis astyanax ‘Astyanax’ Red-spotted Purple
Asterocampa celtis Hackberry Emperor
Asterocampa clyton Tawny Emperor
Chlosyne nycteis Silvery Checkerspot
Phyciodes tharos Pearl Crescent
Phyciodes batesii Tawny Crescent
Junonia coenia Common Buckeye
Polygonia comma Eastern Comma
Polygonia progne Gray Comma
Aglais milberti Milbert’s Tortoiseshell
Nymphalis vaualbum Compton Tortoiseshell
Nymphalis antiopa Mourning Cloak
Vanessa atalanta Red Admiral
Vanessa cardui Painted Lady
Vanessa virginiensis American Lady
Enodia anthedon Northern Pearly Eye
Satyrodes eurydice Eyed Brown
Satyrodes appalachia Appalachian Brown
Megisto cymela Little Wood Satyr
Cercyonis pegala Common Wood Nymph
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Early Spring Butterflies

A Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) butterfly visiting my garden.
Cabbage White butterfly (Pieris rapae)
Cabbage White butterfly (Pieris rapae)


The early spring butterflies will be flying around soon.

Butterfly and Overwintering

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.


Male Morning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa);NPS, Richard Lund,2002
Male Morning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa);NPS, Richard Lund,2002

Adult Butterflies in Early Spring

As the sun beats down,early spring adult 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 flowers blooming in profusion.

This early in the season, the early blooming flowers that attract bumble bees are available for butterflies also. So, planting the same flowers for bumble bees will attract the early spring butterflies to your garden.



A List of the Early Spring Butterflies

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


Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) - Brushfoot Family (Nymphalini). Photo by Donna L. Long.
Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) – Brushfoot Family (Nymphalini). Photo by Donna L. Long.

The Early Spring Butterflies That Overwinter as Adults

The early spring 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


Orange Sulphur butterfly (Colias eurytheme) Whites and Sulphurs (Pierids) Family. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Orange Sulphur butterfly (Colias eurytheme) Whites and Sulphurs (Pierids) Family. Photo by Donna L. Long.


Keeping Butterfly Emergent Dates in a Nature Journal

By 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?


More Butterfly Information

White and Sulphur Butterflies

Nature in Spring: A Table of Contents

Observing Butterflies At Home and Far Away