When wildflowers bloom on the South Dakota prairie, watch for these bright jewels fluttering about! Of the estimated 14,500 butterfly species in the world, 177 live in South Dakota and 69 have been documented in Badlands.
Butterfly distribution depends upon the presence of appropriate host plants, which in turn vary according to local soil, moisture, temperature, and elevation. The mixed-grass prairie of Badlands is dominated by grasses like wheatgrass, buffalograss, and blue grama, but associated forbs serve as host plants for butterfly larvae and provide food for adults. The familiar orange-and-black monarch butterfly feeds on milkweed, tolerating toxins produced in the plant that render the butterfly unpalatable to birds.
Another large, distinctive butterfly seen in Badlands is the two-tailed swallowtail. Reaching five inches in wingspan, this bright yellow-and-black insect favors chokecherry, green ash, and wild plum as a host plant. Mourning cloaks, purplish-brown with wings edged in creamy yellow, prefer willows and cottonwoods.
Many other species, including sulphurs, whites, coppers, hairstreaks, blues, frittilaries, and skippers, may also be observed. Please remember to enjoy butterflies at a distance—it is illegal to net or collect them in the national park. Cameras and binoculars can be very useful tools for enjoying these living gems.
Species Attribute Definitions
Occurrence values are defined below. One or more Occurrence Tags may be associated with each Occurrence value.
Present: Species occurs in park; current, reliable evidence available.
Probably Present: High confidence species occurs in park but current, verified evidence needed.
Unconfirmed: Species is attributed to park but evidence is weak or absent.
Not In Park: Species is not known to occur in park.
Adjacent: Species is known to occur in areas near to or contiguous with park boundaries.
False Report: Species was reported to occur within the park, but current evidence indicates the report was based on misidentification, a taxonomic concept no longer accepted, or other similar problem of error or interpretation.
Historical: Species' historical occurrence in park is documented. Assigned based on judgment as opposed to determination based on age of the most recent evidence.
Animals: May be seen daily, in suitable habitat and season, and counted in relatively large numbers.
Plants: Large number of individuals; wide ecological amplitude or occurring in habitats covering a large portion of the park.
Animals: May be seen daily, in suitable habitat and season, but not in large numbers.
Plants: Large numbers of individuals predictably occurring in commonly encountered habitats but not those covering a large portion of the park.
Animals: Likely to be seen monthly in appropriate habitat and season. May be locally common.
Plants: Few to moderate numbers of individuals; occurring either sporadically in commonly encountered habitats or in uncommon habitats.
Animals: Present, but usually seen only a few times each year.
Plants: Few individuals, usually restricted to small areas of rare habitat.
Animals: Occurs in the park at least once every few years, varying in numbers, but not necessarily every year.
Plants: Abundance variable from year to year (e.g., desert plants).
Unknown: Abundance unknown
Native: Species naturally occurs in park or region.
Non-native: Species occurs on park lands as a result of deliberate or accidental human activities.
Unknown: Nativeness status is unknown or ambiguous.
The Checklist contains only those species that are designated as "present" or "probably present" in the park.
The Full List includes all the checklist species in addition to species that are unconfirmed, historically detected, or incorrectly reported as being found in the park. The full list also contains species that are "in review" because their status in the park hasn't been fully determined. Additional details about the status of each species is included in the full list.
The checklist will almost always contain fewer species than the full list.