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

BugGuide
Butterflies and Moths of North America
Cary, S., 2009 Butterfly Landscapes of New Mexico. New Mexico Magazine
eNature
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

Contact

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 16 of 83 butterflies and moths.
Black Witch

Photo: Chick Keller

Black Witch

Photo: bkovarkez

Black Witch

Photo: Clifton Albrecht

Black Witch, Mariposa de la Muerte

(Ascalapha odorata)

Family: Erebidae (Erebid Moths)
Size: 4.5 - 6.5 in (11 - 17 cm)
Color: black, brown
Flits: Jan 01 - Oct 15

Status: native; common
Food source: nectar, sap, and juice of fallen fruit
Host: cassia and catclaw
Habitat: not a habitat specialist; rests on building during the day

The Black Witch is the largest moth in the continental United States and some resemblance to a small bat. Its wings are dark brown with wavy brown or black lines and a spot near the leading edge of the forewing that is shaped like a comma or numeral nine. Under certain circumstances, iridescent tinges of color may be seen around the spots and lines. Males are smaller than females and darker in color (top photo). Females have a distinctive undulating white bar crossing the wings (middle photo). The Black Witch is nocturnal and has an aura of darkness and misfortune associated with it. It is considered to be a harbinger of death or bad luck in many countries including Mexico. Alternatively, if you see a Black Witch after someone has died, it is interperted as meaning that the person has returned to bid you farewell.

Info    Photos   
Rocky Mountain Duskywing

Photo: Selvi Viswanathan

Rocky Mountain Duskywing

Photo: © Kim Davis and Mike Stangeland

Rocky Mountain Duskywing

Photo: Todd Stout

Rocky Mountain Duskywing

(Erynnis telemachus)

Family: Hesperidiidae (Skippers)
Size: 1.4 - 1.8 in (3 - 4 cm)
Color: gray
Flits: Apr 01 - Jul 30

Status: native; common
Food source: flower nectar
Host: Gambel oak
Habitat: open areas near woods

Gray forewings, brownish hindwings. Our most common duskywing, one of four that even experts have trouble telling apart.

Info    Photos   
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   
Western Green Hairstreak

Photo: Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard

Western Green Hairstreak

Photo: Robb Hannawacker

Western Green Hairstreak

(Callophrys affinis)

Family: Lycaenidae (Gossamer-winged Butterflies)
Size: 1 - 1.1 in (3 - 3 cm)
Color: green
Flits: Mar 01 - Aug 01

Status: native; uncommon
Food source: flower nectar
Host: buckwheat
Habitat: sagelands, often in lower mountains; open sunny slopes
Typical location: White Rock Canyon

Adults are tailless with variable coloring from gray to orange to orange-brown on green to yellow-green with typically only a little white. There have been six closely related subspecies described with Callophrys affinis agama depicted here. Caterpillars each leaves and flowers. The chrysalids hibernate over winter.

Info    Photos   
Juniper Hairstreak

Photo: Jim P. Brock

Juniper Hairstreak

Photo: cyric

Juniper Hairstreak

Photo: Connecticut Agricultural Experimental Station

Juniper Hairstreak

(Callophrys gryneus)

Family: Lycaenidae (Gossamer-winged Butterflies)
Size: 0.9 - 1.1 in (2 - 3 cm)
Color: green
Flits: Mar 15 - Oct 30

Status: native; common
Food source: nectar from various flowers including milkweed, wild carrot, dogbane, butterflyweed, white sweet clover
Host: junipers
Habitat: fields, bluffs, open wooded areas

Small, green with rust and white bands across hindwings. There are many regional variations often considered subspecies. However, populations in the same area that live on different host plants, may look different. In addition, cross-breeding between subspecies in the area has been reported.

Info    Photos   
Spring Azure

Photo: Mark Rosenstein

Spring Azure

Photo: Selvi Viswanathan

Spring Azure

Photo: Nicky Davis

Spring Azure

(Celastrina ladon)

Family: Lycaenidae (Gossamer-winged Butterflies)
Size: 0.8 - 1.1 in (2 - 3 cm)
Color: blue
Flits: Mar 15, 2000 - Sep 30, 0000

Status: native; common
Food source: flower nectar
Host: flowering woody shrubs such as dogwood
Habitat: woodland areas particularly near openings and water

The Spring Azure is recognized as part of the “Spring Azure Complex” of small blue butterflies. The categorization of the different potential species and subspecies within the complex is still in dispute. Northern New Mexico has “spring azures” all spring and summer. These butterflies are most active from the middle of the afternoon until dusk. Their flight is week and usually low to the ground.

Info    Photos   
Reakirt's Blue

Photo: Jerry Oldenettel

Reakirt's Blue

Photo: Catherine Cook

Reakirt's Blue

Photo: Jim P. Brock

Reakirt's Blue

(Echinargus isola)

Family: Lycaenidae (Gossamer-winged Butterflies)
Size: 0.8 - 1.1 in (2 - 3 cm)
Color: blue, brown
Flits: Mar 01 - Oct 30

Status: native; common
Food source: flower nectar from a variety of herbs
Host: legumes
Habitat: fields, desert, weedy areas, creek sides

Underwing has a band of bold black spots rimmed with white. The base of the wing sports two black spots.

Info    Photos   
Litocala Moth

Photo: J. Maughn

Litocala Moth

Photo: Andrey Zharkikh

Litocala Moth

(Litocala sexsignata)

Family: Noctuoidea (Owlet Moths)
Size: 0.6 - 0.6 in (1 - 2 cm)
Color: gray
Flits: Mar 15 - May 30

Status: native; common
Food source: nectar
Host: oaks
Habitat: forested areas

A day-flying moth usually seen in early spring. Often mistaken for a duskywing butterfly, but the distinctive yellow spots on the hindwings make it unmistakable.

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   
Painted Lady

Photo: Sally King

Painted Lady

Photo: Selvi Viswanathan

Painted Lady

Photo: MIRROR

Painted Lady, Cynthia Cardui

(Vanessa cardui)

Family: Nymphalidae (Brush-footed Butterflies)
Size: 2 - 2.3 in (5 - 6 cm)
Color: orange
Flits: Mar 01 - Nov 15

Status: native; common
Food source: nectar from composites, especially thistles, also aster, cosmos, red clover, buttonbush, privet, and
Host: thistles, mallow family including cheeseweed
Habitat: numerous sites, especially in open or disturbed soils including gardens, old fields

The most common of the three ladies. Innermost chevron on shoulder is white. Has four dots along base of hindwings.

Info    Photos   
Southwestern Orangetip

Photo: Mouser Williams

Southwestern Orangetip

Photo: Selvi Viswanathan

Southwestern Orangetip

Photo: Todd Stout

Southwestern Orangetip

(Anthocharis thoosa, Anthocharis sara thoosa)

Family: Pieridae (Whites and Sulphurs)
Size: 1.3 - 1.6 in (3 - 4 cm)
Color: orange, white
Flits: Mar 26 - Jun 15

Status: native; common
Food source: flower nectar
Host: mustards
Habitat: open woodland, desert hills

This orangetip is our only white with orange markings.

Info    Photos   
Spring White

Photo: Selvi Viswanathan

Spring White

Photo: Jerry Oldenettel

Spring White

Photo: Todd Stout

Spring White, California White, Colorado White

(Pontia sisymbrii)

Family: Pieridae (Whites and Sulphurs)
Size: 1.3 - 1.8 in (3 - 4 cm)
Color: white
Flits: Mar 01 - Apr 15

Status: native; common
Food source: flower nectar
Host: mustards
Habitat: desert hills and other dry slopes, rocky canyons and outcrops, roadsides, open coniferous forests

Our earliest white. Has marbled veining on under hindwings.

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   
Glover's Silkmoth

Photo: Garth Tietjen

Glover's Silkmoth

Photo: Beth Cortright

Glover's Silkmoth

Photo: Don Ehlen

Glover's Silkmoth, Columbia Silkmoth

(Hyalophora columbia, Hyalophora gloveri)

Family: Saturniidae (Giant Silkworm Moths)
Size: 3.1 - 3.9 in (8 - 10 cm)
Color: gray, orange
Flits: Apr 01 - Jul 15

Status: native; uncommon
Food source: adults do not feed
Host: a variety of trees and shrubs, with the most common being cherry, rose, willow and olive
Habitat: areas with wet soil

Once considered a separate species now treated as a subspecies of the Columbia Silkmoth. Adults only survive for a short period of time during which time they are actively involved in mating, often in the early morning hours. Young caterpillars are susceptible to being parasitized by several different species of wasps and flies.

Info    Photos