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.


Badlands Butterfly List

Anise Swallowtail

Spring Azure

Goatweed Butterfly

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Silvery Blue

Hackberry Emperor

Two-tailed Swallowtail

Melissa Blue

Little Wood-Satyr

Checkered White

Lupine Blue

Prairie Ringlet

Western White

Variegated Fritillary

Common Wood-Nymph

Cabbage White

Great Spangled Fritillary


Olympia Marble

Manitoba Fritillary

Silver-spotted Skipper

Clouded Sulphur

Regal Fritillary

Perius Duskywing

Orange Sulphur

Edwards’ Fritillary

Common Checkered Skipper

Dog Face

Gorgone Checkerspot

Common Sootywing

Sleepy Orange

Silvery Checkerspot

Least Skipper

Dainty Sulphur

Sagebrush Checkerspot

Uncas Skipper

Gray Copper

Pearl Crescent

Western Branded Skipper

Bronze Copper

Question Mark

Leonard’s Skipper

Ruddy Copper

California Tortoiseshell

Pahaska Skipper

Purplish Copper

Mourning Cloak


Coral Hairstreak

Milbert’s Tortoiseshell

Tawny-edged Skipper

Acadian Hairstreak

Red Admiral

Delaware Skipper

Striped Hairstreak

American Lady

Hobomok Skipper

Juniper Hairstreak

Painted Lady

Kiowah Skipper

Gray Hairstreak

West Coast Lady

Dusted Skipper

Reakirt’s Blue


Common Roadside Skipper

Eastern Tailed-Blue

Weidemeyer’s Admiral

Strecker’s Giant Skipper

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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25216 Ben Reifel Road
Interior, SD 57750


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