Common SoCal Butterflies

The butterfly: gossamer wings fabricated of the thinnest, most finest tapestry cloth, at times bedecked with iridescent jewels that flash, shimmer and glisten...

It's surprising how many butterfly species there are that roam about the Southern California landscape, but then again, it shouldn't be a mystery. Taking into account the varied topography, diverse biomes and climes, it's a wonder we don't have more.

Many are passersby to destinations beyond our boundaries; others call SoCal home. One thing they all have in common, is all are incredibly beautiful; eliciting feelings of awe, joy, and wonder. All prefer their own habitats, whether dictated by climate or topography. What one may call home along coastal chaparral and our seaside homes, would find the interior hillsides and mountains foreign. These are some of the more common butterflies one may encounter, whether along the coast or up in the mountains. Many of these are relatively common garden visitors, unless noted otherwise.

(Slideshow version of content below. Contains a bit less information than here.)

Adelpha californica, California Sister

Common Name: California Sister.
Scientific Name: Adelpha californica.
Flight Period: April through September.
Host Plants: Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) and Canyon Oak (Quercus chrysolepis).

Notes: Rarely visiting flowers, is frequently seen flitting around oak trees, making for sparse garden visits. Spotted more where oaks grow. About the only time I've seen a California Sister is around stands of Coast Live Oaks.

 Agraulis vanillae incarnata, Gulf Fritillary

Common Name: Gulf Fritillary
Scientific Name: Agraulis vanillae incarnata
Flight Period: Continuously brooded. Has been observed nearly every month, although most noticeable in warmer months.
Host Plants: Passion Flower Vine (Passiflora spp.)
Notes: A tropical species not normally native to the area. Established in neighborhoods due to plantings of its host plant, the Passion Flower Vine. Gulf Fritillaries are many times mistaken for the Monarch butterfly due to similar coloration and size. A denizen of more tropical climes, this butterfly has established itself in California wherever Passion Flower vines grow.

Anthocharis sara, Sara Orangetip

Common Name: Sara Orangetip
Scientific Name: Anthocharis sara
Flight Period: January through June.
Host Plants: Crucifers, primarily native rock cresses and wild mustards.

Notes: Prevalent in fields of Wild Mustard.


Common Name: Monarch
Scientific Name: Danaus plexippus
Flight Period: Pretty much all year, especially in the warmer coastal areas where they tend to migrate to and overwinter.
Host Plants: Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.)

Notes: Usually encountered in lowland areas. There are two races of Monarch butterflies: the western, living west of the Rockies, and the eastern that inhabits the U.S. and southern Canada east of the Rockies. Western Monarchs migrate down from the northwest to overwintering sites along the California coast from Monterey to San Diego. The eastern Monarchs are famous for their yearly migrations from as far north as southern Canada, overwintering in Mexico.

 Erynnis funeralis, Duskywing

Common Name: Funereal Duskywing
Scientific Name: Erynnis funeralis
Flight Period: February through November.
Host Plants: Deerweed and Alfalfa.

Notes: Member of the Skipper family. A fast flyer, it tends to stop and sip water and nutrients from damp soils, better known as "puddling". This skipper is also attracted to flowers of our native Black Sage (Salvia mellifera).

Eurema nicippe or Abaeis nicippe, Sleepy Orange, Nicippe Yellow

Common Name: Sleepy Orange, Nicippe Yellow
Scientific Name: Eurema nicippe or Abaeis nicippe
Host Plants: Cassia spp.

Notes: There seems to be a bit of confusion (at least on my part) whether the taxa refer to two distinct species or are synonymous to one specie. "What's in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet;" ~Juliet Capulet
Flies in an erratic manner. Common in areas where the host plant is present. Most common in March through November.

 Hylephila phyleus, Fiery Skipper

Common Name: Fiery Skipper
Scientific Name: Hylephila phyleus
Flight Period: April through early November. Especially abundant in summer.
Host Plants: Bermuda Grass (Cynodon dactylon). Other species of Skippers use various grasses as host plants.

Notes: There are more than a dozen species of Skippers calling southern California home. The Fiery Skipper is one of the most commonly seen species of butterfly in SoCal.

 Junonia coenia, Common Buckeye

Common Name: Common Buckeye
Scientific Name: Junonia coenia
Host Plants: Plantain (Plantago erecta), Plantago lanceolata, Monkey Flower (Mimulus spp.) and garden Snapdragon (Antirrhinum spp.)

Notes: Territorial, the Common Buckeye will sit on a twig or branch, patrolling its area chasing off other large insects. Returns to same spot ready to protect its domain once again. A true misanthrope. Becoming less common as habitat destruction continues.

Leptotes marina, Marine Blue

Common Name: Marine Blue
Scientific Name: Leptotes marina
Flight Period: Primarily March through October, but can be spotted from February through November.
Host Plants: Plumbagos.

Notes: Widely distributed throughout SoCal, but mostly confined to lowland areas. If you have a well-flowering Plumbago growing, undoubtedly, you'll find these little ones flitting atop its crown.

Limenitis lorquini, Lorquin's Admiral

Common Name: Lorquin's Admiral
Scientific Name: Limenitis lorquini
Flight Period: Usually April through October.
Host Plants: Willow spp.

Notes: Resembles the California Sister (Adelpha californica) in coloration and size. This butterfly is usually associated with willows and moist riparian woodland vegetation, and may habit moist coastal canyons. Not particularly common in populated areas, it is seen in gardens occasionally.

 Nymphalis antiopa, Mourning Cloak

Common Name: Mourning Cloak
Scientific Name: Nymphalis antiopa
Flight Period: Can be seen during every month of the year.
Host Plants: Chinese Evergreen Elm (Ulmus parvifolia), Willow spp.

Notes: The males are aggressive and territorial. One of our more common butterflies in California. Widespread throughout the U.S. and is even found in Europe.

 Papilio cresphontes, Giant Swallowtail

Common Name: Giant Swallowtail
Scientific Name: Papilio cresphontes
Flight Period: Not known. I’ve seen them in summer and fall.
Host Plants: Citrus species, Common Rue (Ruta graveolens).

Notes: Largest butterfly in North America. Was not very common in SoCal until the end of the twentieth century. Found mostly in Arizona, Texas, and the southern states.

 Papilio eurymedon, Pale Swallowtail

Common Name: Pale Swallowtail
Scientific Name: Papilio eurymedon
Flight Period: February to August.
Host Plants: California natives such as Redberry (Rhamnus crocea), California Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica), California Lilac (Ceanothus spp.), and Holly-leafed Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia).

Notes: Primarily found in the hills and mountains. Exhibits hilltopping. Frequents moist, undisturbed canyon areas. Common in the hills above Laguna Beach.

Papilio polyxenes, Black Swallowtail (male)

 Papilio polyxenes, Black Swallowtail (female)

Common Name: Black Swallowtail
Scientific Name: Papilio polyxenes
Host Plants: Queen Anne's Lace, Common Rue. Possibly hosts on other umbellifers such as Carrot, Fennel, and Dill.

Notes: Not too common in southern California, although has been sited where sufficient quantities of host plants are located.

 Papilio rutulus, Western Tiger Swallowtail

Common Name: Western Tiger Swallowtail
Scientific Name: Papilio rutulus
Flight Period: December through September. Most prevalent in the summer months.
Host Plants: California Sycamore (Platanus racemosa), Cottonwood (Populus spp.) and Willow (Salix spp.)

Notes: One of our largest butterflies. Very similar in appearance to the Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon). Pale Swallowtails are cream-colored, whereas the Western is yellow.

Papilio zelicaon, Anise Swallowtail

Common Name: Anise Swallowtail
Scientific Name: Papilio zelicaon
Flight Period: Recorded February through September. Most prevalent from June through October.
Host Plants: Umbelliferous plants such as Wild Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Parsley, Dill, Carrot.

Notes: Was not very common until Wild Fennel became abundant in fields and open spaces.

 Phoebis sennae, Cloudless Sulfur

Common Name: Cloudless Sulfur
Scientific Name: Phoebis sennae
Flight Period: I've noticed it mostly from July into November.
Host Plants: Cassia spp.

Notes: More of a tropical butterfly, the Cloudless Sulfur has become increasingly common with the advent of Cassias introduced to the landscape. Somewhat similar in appearance to the Sleepy Orange (Eurema nicippe).

Pieris rapae, Cabbage White Butterfly

Common Name: Cabbage White Butterfly
Scientific Name: Pieris rapae
Flight Period: Early spring through fall.
Host Plants: Crucifers such as Mustard, Cabbage, Kale, Broccoli, etc. Also Zonal Geraniums and Nasturtiums. Can be destructive in larger numbers.

Notes: Imported from Europe via Canada and eastern United States around 1860. Very common in lowland areas throughout the U.S.

 Pontia protodice, Checkered White

Common Name: Checkered White
Scientific Name: Pontia protodice
Flight Period: Mostly spring and early summer.
Host Plants: Wild Mustard and other crucifers such as Cabbage, Kale, Brocolli etc. Not particularly destructive.

Notes: A North American native that is very similar in appearance to its cousin the European Cabbage White (Pieris rapae).

Strymon melinus pudica, Gray Hairstreak

Common Name: Gray Hairstreak
Scientific Name: Strymon melinus pudica
Flight Period: I've noticed it more in the summer months when Plumbago is in full bloom, to which it and many others in the Hairstreak family are attracted to.
Host Plants: In the suburbs the larvae are often found on cultivated Hibiscus flowers or leaves, Malva, Humulus (Hops), and Amorpha (False Indigo). Black Sage (Salvia mellifera) may also be utilized, as well as California Coffee Berry (Rhamnus californica) and Eriogonum spp. (Wild Buckwheat) in native plant areas.

Notes: Frequents gardens, especially when Plumbagos are present. An interesting attribute, melinus often moves the hindwings together in a rubbing motion while at rest which is also common in other Hairstreak species.


Common Name: Red Admiral
Scientific Name: Vanessa atalanta rubria
Flight Period: Year round; more prevalent in spring through fall.
Host Plants: Nettle (Urtica holosericea), Hops (Humulus lupulus), and Baby Tears (Soleirolia soleirolii) groundcover.

Notes: Also found in Europe. Friendly and curious in the garden, has been known to land on people. Somewhat common in gardens where its host plants reside nearby.

Vanessa cardui, Painted Lady

Common Name: Painted Lady
Scientific Name: Vanessa cardui
Flight Period: Throughout most, if not all of the year.
Host Plants: Cheeseweed, (Malva spp.); thistles, Cirsium spp.; Dwarf Nettle (Urtica urens); Lupinus spp.; Fiddleneck (Amsinckia spp.) and many other plants, particularly those belonging to the daisy family.

Notes: Probably the world's most widely distributed butterfly. Migratory. At times, large northward migrations occur when Mexican desert rainfall is so abundant as to produce prodigious amounts of larval food which supports vast quantities caterpillars, hence large numbers of flying adults. These migrations are usually in March/April.