Butterfly and Moth Guide

Initially this guide displays common species likely to be flitting right now. Use the selectors below to view by color, include rare species, or search by name.

Over 100 species of butterflies and skippers have been identified in the Los Alamos area, and over 150 in the Jemez Mountains. This guide mainly includes the common species, but even some of these are difficult to tell apart. For example, we have 4 species of fritillaries with very subtle differences.

In addition, there are an equally large number of moths in the area. However, most moths are active at night they are not as readily observed. Therefore, this guide primarily focuses on the moths that are more obvious due to their size or the fact that they are active during the day. The easiest way to tell a moth from a butterfly is to look at the antennae. The moth has feathery or saw-edged antennae, while the butterfly has antennae that look like a long shaft with a bulb at the end. In addition, moths and butterflies tend to hold their wings differently. Moths tend to fold their wings down to form a tent over their abdomen, hiding it from view. In contrast, butterflies usually hold their wings vertically up over their backs.

Both butterflies and moths develop through a process of complete metamorphosis with four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The young are very different from the adults and often eat different types of food. Pictures of the caterpillar larva for many of the species in this guide are included.

Get current information by joining PEEC Butterfly Watchers and taking a look at PEEC’s Butterfly, Skipper, and Moth set on Flickr. Additional information can be found in Butterflies through Binoculars: The West and Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America. Close-focusing binoculars are the best equipment for watching adult butterflies and moths.

Butterfly and Moth References

Butterflies and Moths of North America
Cary, S., 2009 Butterfly Landscapes of New Mexico. New Mexico Magazine
Glassberg, J., 2001 Butterflies Through Binoculars: The West. Oxford University Press
How to Build a Butterfly Garden

Subject Area Experts (all guides)

Steve Cary (butterflies)
Beth Cortright (insects)
Terry Foxx (invasive plants)
Leslie Hansen (mammals)
Richard Hansen (fish, mammals)
Dorothy Hoard (butterflies, trees)
Chick Keller (flowers, herbarium)
Shari Kelley (geology)
Kirt Kempter (geology)
Garth Tietjen (reptiles)
David Yeamans (birds)

Web Development and Content Management

Pat Bacha
Jennifer Macke
Graham Mark
Akkana Peck


Please contact us for local nature questions and sightings. We welcome comments, corrections, and additions to our guides.

For more information about local nature, please visit our Nature Blog or subscribe to PEEC This Week.

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Showing 5 of 83 butterflies and moths.
Great Purple Hairstreak

Photo: reiver

Great Purple Hairstreak

Photo: Bob Walker

Great Purple Hairstreak

Photo: Arica Shields

Great Purple Hairstreak, Great Blue Hairstreak

(Atlides halesus)

Family: Lycaenidae (Gossamer-winged Butterflies)
Size: 1.3 - 2 in (3 - 5 cm)
Color: blue, brown
Flits: Mar 01 - Dec 01

Status: native; common
Food source: Nectar from flowers including goldenrod and wild plum
Host: mistletoe
Habitat: mixed woods infested with mistletoe
Typical location: White Rock Canyon

The Great Purple Hairstreak is a Neotropical species with a range from the southern parts of the US down through the Isthmus of Panama. Its primary coloration is bright blue above and brown with white, yellow, and red spots below. It has an orange abdomen. Larvae feed on the parasitic mistletoe but pupate under the bark of the parasitized tree.

Info    Photos   
Mourning Cloak

Photo: Sally King

Mourning Cloak

Photo: Jerry Oldnettel

Mourning Cloak

Photo: Wthrower

Mourning Cloak, Camberwell Beauty

(Nymphalis antiopa)

Family: Nymphalidae (Brush-footed Butterflies)
Size: 2.9 - 2.4 in (7 - 6 cm)
Color: black, brown
Flits: Feb 01 - Nov 30

Status: native; common
Food source: tree sap, rotting sap, and occasionally flower nectar
Host: willows, cottonwoods, Siberian elm
Habitat: woods, openings, parks, and suburbs, especially near water

Velvety black with bright yellow band on upper hindwings.

Info    Photos   
Green Comma

Photo: Chick Keller

Green Comma

Photo: Jerry Oldenettel

Green Comma, Green Anglewing, Faunus Anglewing

(Polygonia faunus)

Family: Nymphalidae (Brush-footed Butterflies)
Size: 1.8 - 2.5 in (4 - 6 cm)
Color: orange
Flits: Feb 01 - Dec 15

Status: native; common
Food source: flower nectar, dung, carrion
Host: willows, currants, alders
Habitat: forests, mountain streamsides, canyons

Wide dark bands and mid-wing spots on hindwings. Often seen on sunny days in winter.

Info    Photos   
Hoary Comma

Photo: Selvi Viswanathan

Hoary Comma

Photo: Selvi Viswanathan

Hoary Comma

Photo: Nicky Davis

Hoary Comma

(Polygonia gracilis)

Family: Nymphalidae (Brush-footed Butterflies)
Size: 1.4 - 1.6 in (3 - 4 cm)
Color: orange
Flits: Feb 01 - Dec 15

Status: native; common
Food source: sap and nectar from flowers of sweet everlasting among others
Host: currants, gooseberries
Habitat: from foothills to tree line, woodland streamsides, brushlands

Light band lacking a mid-wing spot on hindwings. Often seen on sunny days in winter.

Info    Photos   
Plume Moth

Photo: Chick Keller

Plume Moth

Photo: Siobhan Niklasson

Plume Moth

Photo: Joel DuBois

Plume Moth, Pterophorid Moth

(numerous species in several genera)

Family: Pterophoridae (Plume Moths)
Size: 0.5 - 1.6 in (1 - 4 cm)
Color: brown
Flits: Mar 01 - Nov 30

Status: native; uncommon
Food source: nectar and pollen
Host: large variety of plants including many from the sunflower family
Habitat: on flowers during the day; at light sources during dark

Plume Moths tend to have muted colors but be very distinctive. They have thin, long wings which are held at a 90-degree angle from the body, long thin abdomen, and extremely long legs. When resting, the wings are usually held in a tight roll but can be spread in such a way as to show off feathery plumes giving the Pterophoridaefamily its common name. These moths are weak and fluttery in flight. There are over 150 different named species of Plume Moth in the US. Many of these are fairly similar making it very hard to distinguish from one another.

Info    Photos   
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