Butterflies of New Mexico: Introduction

by Steven J. Cary

INTRODUCTION (updated July 18, 2021)

Welcome to the Butterflies of New Mexico home page. It is graciously hosted by the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) in Los Alamos. The purpose of this site is to make available to the public much of what is known about butterflies in New Mexico. Below is a list that enables you to click and navigate to particular families. From each family you can click and link to individual species accounts. This capability is in mid-installation, so we appreciate your patience. Other important content follows the interactive list.


Click on a link below for the butterfly family, or portion of a family, you want to explore.

Swallowtails (Papilionidae)

Whites (Pieridae: Pierinae)

Sulphurs (Pieridae: Coliadinae)

Coppers (Lycaenidae: Lycaeninae)

Hairstreaks (Lycaenidae: Theclinae)

Blues (Lycaenidae: Polyommatinae)

Metalmarks (Riodinidae)

Skippers I: Neotropical Skippers (Hesperiidae: Eudaminae)

Skippers II: Mimic Skippers (Hesperiidae: Pyrrhopyginae)

Skippers III: Spread-Wing Skippers (Hesperiidae: Pyrginae)

Skippers IV: Skipperlings (Hesperiidae: Heteropterinae)

Skippers V: Fold-wing Skippers (Hesperiidae: Hesperiinae)

Skippers VI: Giant Skippers (Hesperiidae: Megathyminae)

Brushfoots I: Snouts (Nymphalidae: Libytheinae)

Brushfoots II: Milkweed Butterflies (Nymphalidae: Danainae)

Brushfoots III: Fritillaries and Longwings (Nymphalidae: Heliconiinae)

Brushfoots IV: Admirals (Nymphalidae: Limenitidinae)

Brushfoots V: Emperors (Nymphalidae: Apaturinae)

Brushfoots VI: Tropical Brushfoots (Nymphalidae: Biblidinae)

Brushfoots VII: Daggerwings (Nymphalidae: Cyrestinae)

Brushfoots VIII: True Brushfoots (Nymphalidae: Nymphalinae)

Brushfoots IX: Leafwings (Nymphalidae: Charaxinae)

Brushfoots X: Satyrs (Nymphalidae: Satyrinae)

New Mexico is home to more than 300 different butterfly species, placing it in the top three states for butterfly species richness, alongside Texas and Arizona. Admittedly, various excellent published field guides (including Glassberg 2011 or Brock and Kaufman 2003) already cover all of New Mexico’s species. Comprehensive online resources exist as well, including Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA) at www.butterfliesandmoths.org. One consequence of their continental geographic scope, however, is that they must compromise on local details. For New Mexico, or any other state, they do not provide all of the hows, whys and wheres, the details one typically needs to actually go out and find, study or photograph many of those butterflies.

This present work will fill in some of the missing and critically interesting geographic details. When ‘Species A’ looks different in New Mexico compared to California or Florida, this site/book will illustrate that by using New Mexico images wherever possible; I think that will prove to be more than 90 percent of the time. I use mostly my photos to start with, but I know there are better photos out there for many species and subspecies. If you have one, especially from New Mexico, please share it with me and I will be happy to include those that improve the overall product. This volume already is using many butterfly photos generously contributed by these accomplished regional photographers (alphabetically): David Anderson, Marc Bailey, Bob Barber, Bill Beck, Jim Brock, Matt Brown, Bill Dempwolf, Stephanie Dzur, Johdan Fine, Bernie Foy, Bob Friedrichs, C. J. Goin, Elaine Halbedel, Cathryn Hoyt, Ken Kertell, James Lofton, Mark Meyer, Ralph Moore, Christian Nunes, Douglass Rankin, Bryan Reynolds, Joe Schelling, Bob Sivinski, Gak Stonn, Raymond VanBuskirk, Selvi Viswanathan, Jim VonLoh, Hira Walker, Mark Watson, Andy Warren, Rob Wu and Dale Zimmerman.

Photos do not stand alone and it may be the text that proves most helpful to some users. In contrast with the overview level of presentation in my Butterfly Landscapes of New Mexico (2009), this present effort provides considerable detail for each species and for many subspecies. It discusses New Mexico habitats, New Mexico flight seasons, New Mexico host plants, New Mexico geography. For each species, text will describe how to identify it and variations likely to be encountered. Describing wing size, shape and markings requires use of anatomical terms which will be abbreviated for convenience; these include forewing (FW), hindwing (HW), dorsal (D) and ventral (V).

This online effort is now and always will be a work in progress. New information comes in continually, whether from field observations during the warm season or from new scientific publications any time of year. I intend to update the contents of this volume on at least an annual basis to incorporate new information as it becomes available. That is one of the major advantages of this digital ‘book’ over a cellulose version, which would be out of date upon its printing. So, if you see something amiss, please contact me so I can fix what needs fixing. If you haven’t checked in on this volume for a while, come on back and see what’s changed.

Butterfly lovers come in a wide range of approaches, from photographers and gardeners to nature guides, students, scientists, artists and professional resource managers. The various needs and desires of such a diverse group cannot all be met here, or anywhere, for that matter, but I and PEEC hope this book adds significantly to the information that is already out there. We hope this present effort will help to connect each of you with your butterflies in a meaningful way. Feedback from you will be essential in making this volume as useful as possible. Please share your reactions; we want your feedback.

This present effort follows in the footsteps of two prior resident chroniclers of New Mexico butterflies. Starting as a youth in his Albuquerque backyard, Michael E. Toliver constructed the first working list of New Mexico butterflies in the 1970s. After Mike left the state for college and a successful academic career, the gauntlet was taken up by Richard Holland. Richard brought his butterfly collecting avocation to Albuquerque in the 1960s after claiming his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from MIT. He studied butterflies of individual mountains ranges in great detail and published his findings in scientific journals, with the result that the state list grew in numbers and in geographic detail. Richard kept the list alive by making continual updates and in the late 1990s he self-published almost-annual versions through 2001. Although it became primarily his own effort, Dick retained Mike as the lead author and always referred to it “the Toliver manuscript.”

With Mike now more than 40 years an Illinoisan and with Richard having recently completed his final metamorphosis, I stand on their shoulders, admiringly, and hope they enjoy this portrayal of New Mexico’s butterflies.