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Ten Beautiful Oklahoma Butterfly Species and How to Attract Them

Jayme is a writer and artist from Oklahoma who has survived 9 consecutive years of gardening wins and fails.

Short introduction to 10 beautiful Oklahoma butterfly species.

Short introduction to 10 beautiful Oklahoma butterfly species.

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 (butterflies that prefer marshier locations have been especially affected). The effect of butterfly loss can be seen when crops dwindle due to inadequate pollination.

Even though they are fragile in appearance, butterflies are resilient. When water supplies dry up, they take to 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 small dish filled with moistened sand and gravel, you may have the privilege 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

Black Swallowtail

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.

Monarch

Monarch

Monarch

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!

Viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

Viceroy

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

Red-Spotted Purple

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. The 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 Spotted Fritillary

Great Spotted Fritillary

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.

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Vanessa atalanta

Red admirals are known not only for their spectacularly colored black-and-red wing patterns 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

Painted Lady

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 Butterfly

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly

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 nat