Butterflies of Oklahoma: Ten Beautiful Species and How To Attract Them

Butterflies of Oklahoma:  Ten Beautiful Species and How To Attract Them

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Butterflies Are Important To Agriculture

Like most agricultural states, Oklahoma depends on butterflies and other insects for pollination. Droughts, wildfires, climate changes, and humanity have disrupted the butterfly ecosystem in some places, especially for butterflies that prefer marshier locations. The effect of butterfly loss can be seen when crops dwindle due to inadequate pollination.

Even though they are fragile in appearance, butterflies have a certain resiliency. When water supplies dry up they are seen more frequently in flower gardens.

Not only are they enjoying the nectar your flowers have to offer, but they can re-hydrate by drinking from birdbaths, moist soil, and special puddlers made for butterfly watering. By keeping a supply of water and native wildflowers in their yards, humans can help butterflies maintain their proper place in the cycle of Nature.

From early spring to late autumn, Oklahomans can enjoy a variety of butterflies. If you keep a a small dish filled with moistened sand and gravel, you may get the priviledge of seeing a large swarm of showy males as they drink.

Watching butterflies as they drink, eat, and complete their lifecycle is not only a relaxing interaction with nature, it is also an excellent learning opportunity for children.

Here are just a few of the many spectacular butterflies that Oklahoma has to offer, along with some interesting facts about each one.

Black Swallowtail

Papilio polyxenes

This is the state butterfly of Oklahoma, and it isn't hard to see why. The black swallowtail is a glossy, black butterfly speckled with yellow, orange, or blue. Chic, but showy at the same time. It is also quite large, and an easy specimen for beginning butterfly watchers to identify.

They prefer to eat and lay eggs on members of the carrot family, such as fennel, dill, and parsley, so you may see them lounging about your herb beds. Add some of these favorite, savory plants to your flower bed to attract the swallowtail as well as other species. They also like Queen Anne's lace and rue.

Boy or Girl?

A male black swallowtail will have a yellow band near the edge of his wings. A female has a blue band on her hindwing.

Butterfly Gardens


Danaus plexippus

Perhaps one of the most well-known and easily identified butterflies. The monarch is indeed a regal specimen, with orange and black striped wings that can reach an impressive 4 inches.

They are social, and roost in groups at night. These butterflies store chemicals known as cardiac glycosides in their bodies, which makes them an unpleasant snack for predators. They find these chemicals in some of their favorite plants, such as milkweed.

Other plants that attract caterpillars and adults are ironweed, lantana, red clover, goldenrod, and lilac. They like open sunny gardens where they can bask in the warm sunlight.

Boy or Girl Monarch?

The females have much darker veining on their wings. Males have a yellow-orange spot on each hind wing.

Flocking to Bermuda

Also, monarchs are becoming common in Bermuda, making the long voyage across the Atlantic ocean to enjoy the plentiful milkweed Bermuda has to offer. Now that is incredible!


Limenitis archippus

Like the monarch butterfly, the viceroy is a splash of vivid orange against the greenery of your garden or yard. Viceroys have a lovely tiger-stripe pattern on their wings, and are one of the most common butterflies appearing in coloring books or artwork. They are also very unpalatable to predators, which means you are likely to see more of them than other specimens when butterfly watching.

It is the state butterfly of Kentucky, but is plentiful in the Sooner State as well. It is very similar to the monarch, but can be distinguished by a black line running across its wings. It is also much smaller than a monarch.

These beauties prefer a moister environment, and are seen most often around marshy areas and lakes. They feed mostly on trees, preferring cottonwoods and willows. Their eggs can also be found on apple trees and poplars. The young like goldenrod, butterfly bush, and decaying matter.

Red-Spotted Purple

Limenitis arthemis astyanax

The Red-Spotted Purple is velvety black with iridescent blue on its wings. It has a series of tiny red dots on the outer edges of the wings. This eccentric coloration, 4 -inch wingspan and elegant shape make the red-spotted purple one of the most beautiful butterflies to be seen in Oklahoma.

The males and females are identical in color, but the female is slightly larger. The host plants for the caterpillars are wild cherry trees, as well as aspens and willows. The adult butterflies will only occasionally visit flowers. They instead prefer rotting fruit, carrion, and sap. It takes only a few hours for the butterfly to form from the egg, and the adult will live only 4-5 days.

Great Spangled Fritillary

Speyeria cybele

This brilliant butterfly resembles a burst of sunlight, its yellow-orange coloring reminiscent of the black-eyed Susans that the adults like to sip. They like open, sunny spaces near a water source, and feed on a variety of flowers, such as violets, red clover, black-eyed Susans, verbena, thistles, coneflowers, and milkweed. The caterpillars feed only on wild violets.

Females mate in the early summer months, then hide until it is time to lay their eggs in the late summer and early autumn. By this time most of the males have died, only living long enough to enjoy the mating months.

Butterfly Hangout

Add these things to your flowers to attract more butterflies:

  • Flat stones for basking.
  • Windbreaks such as leafy hedges
  • Butterfly houses.
  • Puddlers or small dishes filled with moist sand
  • Hanging Butterfly Feeder

Red Admiral

Vanessa atalanta

Red admirals are known not only for their spectacularly colored black-and-red wing pattern, but also for their social demeanor. They are very friendly butterflies that are not afraid of people, occasionally perching on human hands, shoulders, or heads.

The adult butterflies are attracted to red clover, milkweed, mint, and alfalfa. They also like rotting fruit and sap. They are excellent candidates for butterfly feeders and puddlers.

Red admirals can be raised at home by capturing a female admiral and enclosing her with a host plant (stinging nettle) for her to lay her eggs on. Then you can share the joy of watching the process of a butterfly life-cycle, a wonderful science project for kids and adults alike.

Boy or Girl?

Males are very territorial and may be seen circling erratically up to thirty times a day to keep other males out of their mating area.

Painted Lady

Vanessa cardui

Another splashy orange-and-black butterfly, the Painted Lady (and I guess painted gentleman as well) is the most widely known butterfly, inhabiting every continent except Australia and Antarctica. They aren't very choosy about where they flutter either; they can be found in woods, meadows, yards, orchards, and vacant lots.

They have a short life span of only two weeks, and spend this primarily around their favorite flowers: clover and sweet thistle. They also enjoy daisies, elms, black-eyed Susans, and English plantain. The females lay their eggs on thistles, black cherries or hollyhocks, and after the larva hatch, they dine on those plants, as well as mallows and sunflowers. The caterpillars weave silk tents for shelter on the leaves of the plants.

Painted Ladies do not migrate in strict seasonal patterns. They migrate in large groups, up to hundreds of thousands in some areas, and can travel up to 30 miles per hour, which means they usually reach their destination before their pokier cousins.

Zebra Swallowtail

Protographium marcellus

Zebra swallowtails are striking. As the name suggests, they are white with black stripes, a pattern that really stands out among colorful flowers. These are moisture-loving butterflies that breed in lowlands and marshy areas, and in warmer regions can produce three or four broods a year. The first brood will be more plentiful, and in the spring will have a smaller, paler appearance.

Adult butterflies enjoy a variety of flowers, as well as decaying fruit, dung, and other natural waste. Flowers they love include lilac, verbena, blackberry, and milkweed. The caterpillars however, feed only on the paw paw tree.

Reakirt's Blue

Hemiargus isola

This butterfly might be small, but it has some remarkable traits. The blue is actually a powdery grey in color. The butterfly has black dots on its wings, and an "equals" sign on its ventral wing, which makes it fairly easy to identify.

Unlike most butterflies, the caterpillars aren't hatched on plants, but rather in ant hills. The ants take care of the baby butterfly until it is an adult and can emerge from the ant hole. During its caterpillar stage, the blues secrete a type of nectar that feeds the ants in return for their room and board.

Reakirt's Blues are also very adaptable and eat a variety of plants, which helps them survive any changes in their ecosystem. Some of the plants they favor are members of the pea family and white clover.

Pipevine Swallowtail

Battus philenor

A very showy butterfly with a variety of colors, most noticeably the splash of peacock blue across the hind-wings. On the underside of the wings, you can see a row of brilliant orange spots, and there are white freckles along the butterfly's body.

Like some other butterflies, the caterpillars of this species eat plants that contain poisonous chemicals to deter predators. Therefore, many other butterflies mimic the Pipevine's coloration as protection. This makes them a bit trickier to identify.

Pipevine Swallowtails lay their eggs on the members of the pipevine plant, which is the only host food for the caterpillars. This plant is what contains the protective chemicals the caterpillars need to survive predators.

Adults enjoy a larger buffet; plants that they will eat include azaleas, milkweed, thistle, honeysuckle, and petunias.

Boy or Girl?

Females will have a row of greenish-white spots on their wings.

Butterfly Garden Flowers

Some great plants to attract butterflies to your yard and garden:

  • Milkweed
  • Dandelion
  • Rosemary
  • Verbena
  • Roses
  • Nasturtiums
  • Honeysuckle
  • Asters
  • Daisies
  • Clover

Chantelle Porter from Ann Arbor on January 28, 2016:

Wonderful article. I love butterflies. Shared.

Steve Andrews from Tenerife on October 06, 2015:

I love butterflies and think this is a brilliant hub about them!

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on April 20, 2015:

Beautiful butterflies. You have much prettier butterflies in Oklahoma than we do in New Zealand.

Many years ago there used to be butterflies around every where, but I've notice lately that if you do see some that the birds catch them (especially the kingfisher) and eat them.

They don't have much chance with a bird, must be a shortage of food somewhere for the birds.

paxwill on November 24, 2013:

Very beautiful article, brings back nice memories of living in the country as a child. Nowadays I don't see cool butterflies like that unless I go to the zoo or botanical gardens.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 24, 2013:

This is a very informative hub with beautiful pictures of the different types of butterflies seen in Oklahoma. I see many of the same types here in the Houston area. Up, useful and interesting votes and I'm going to pin this to my butterflies and insects board. Enjoyed this!

Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on June 10, 2013:

@Au Fait--Thank you! The red-spotted purple's are gorgeous. I actually have a few this year. And tons of monarchs and red admirals. I made a bunch of little "sipper" puddles for them, so I hope they stay around. Thanks for reading and commenting. :)

Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on June 10, 2013:

@aviannovice--I hope to see lots of hubs by you with butterflies. I think it is going to be a good year for them here...I already have tons thanks to the damp weather. Thanks for reading!

C E Clark from North Texas on June 09, 2013:

I love butterflies and you have some beautiful photos of them and a great video about them here. I think my favorite butterfly of those listed here is the red-spotted purple because I so rarely see butterflies that color around here. Interesting and beautiful hub!

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on March 27, 2013:

This is fabulous! I took a lot of butterfly and insect pictures last year, and intend to do so again this year. The natural world is just so wonderful. I have been in OK for about 3 years now, and love living across from Boomer Lake.

Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on October 04, 2012:

Thanks for linking my hub to yours. I always a pleasure to find another Okie. I would love to see the monarch festival, but haven't had a chance yet. Maybe we will cross paths one year. :)

frogyfish from Central United States of America on October 04, 2012:

Sharkye11, your detailed butterfly information was quite interesting. I too, have seen most of these beautiful creatures in the wild, but not that Zebra Swallowtail. I would like to link your hub to mine of the Jerusalem Monarch Migration Festival. This year's Festival there was basically rained out...but we still had a fun time there.

Your video was great too. I did learn that a cocoon and a chrysalis were not the same, and there were more lovely pix. Thanks for a grand share here!

Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on September 22, 2012:

Thanks, Denise. After writing an article on butterflies, I can appreciate all the other people who write about them...its is difficult to find things to say about them other than that they are beautiful!

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on September 19, 2012:

I just added this beautiful hub to my butterfly one and I am getting quite a kick out of these additions. :) They are as unique as the hubbers that wrote them and the butterfly markings on each wing! :)

Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on September 19, 2012:

@ Denise--Thank you very much for the visit and shares! The journals can be so pretty, especially if you buy one with printed pages and add the butterfly sleeves and photos.

The line divider was from a public domain clipart site, so I guess it is okay for you to use it from my page? Just save the image and then upload it in a photo capsule between text capsules as a divider. Hope that helps. :)

Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on September 19, 2012:

@Lipnancy, Thank you! I've never been to Florida, but I noticed when I was doing the research for this that several of these were in Florida as well. I'm glad you enjoyed them!

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on September 19, 2012:

Beautiful hub, Sharkye11. I saw 'butterfly' and had to check it out. I've never seen the Zebra or Pipevine Swallowtails. I LOVE the idea of keeping a butterfly journal. Rated up; will share and add this one to my butterfly hub. Thanks for the great info.

BTW--I love your little butterfly page divider...please share how you did that. :) Thanks

Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on September 19, 2012:

What beautiful pictures. Your hub is very interesting and full of fact that I did not know. This year I spent 3 months in Florida and it seemed like every week, I would see a different sort of butterfly that we do not have in Western New York. Voted Up and Shared.

Sasha Kim on September 16, 2012:

Wow that's a small town ^_^ Must have been beautiful! But it seems Oklahoma is very nice as well.

Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on September 16, 2012:

Outside a little country town called Scio. If I remember correctly, about 60 miles north of Eugene. I have a lot of family and friends in Eugene still! :)

Sasha Kim on September 16, 2012:

Oh? What part of Oregon? I'm in Eugene, just an hour and a half south of Portland.

Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on September 15, 2012:

@Mama Kim--Thanks you! I might try Oregon butterflies one day. I lived there for three years, and I remember some very lovely butterflies out in the fields.

Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on September 15, 2012:

@sgbrown--Thank you! I've not seen a zebra swallowtail anywhere save for the zoo, but they are so beautiful. I did have a lot of Red Admirals this year, and some Viceroys and Sulphurs. I put out several puddlers and and nectar plants this year for them, but they were probably all down the road in the cow field. Hope you identify your butterflies!

Sasha Kim on September 15, 2012:

You have some beautiful butterflies in Oklahoma! I can see you making a series out of this! Care to make one for Oregon? ^_^ Voted up and pinned... a bunch!

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on September 15, 2012:

Wonderful hub! I have seen most of these butterflies here in Southern Oklahoma, but not all. I would love to see one of the zebra swallowtails. I am going to use your hub to identify some of the butterflies I have taken pictures of. You have included great information and your pictures are wonderful. Voted up and more! :)

Watch the video: Butterflies of Oklahoma (August 2022).