Butterflies and Moths

Blue butterfly on a flower
The Greenish Blue is one of almost 300 butterfly species found in Grand Canyon National Park.

NPS Robb Hannawacker


Scientific Name

Order Lepidoptera (292 butterfly and moth species in the Park)



  • Moths and butterflies are in the same Order (Lepidoptera), but often have physical differences. While there are exceptions, moths tend to be active at night (while butterflies are active during the day).
  • Butterflies have clubbed tips on their antenna and moths have linier or feather-like antenna. Moths often rest their wings folded over their back and butterflies rest their wings spread-out or closed upright over their back.
  • From a biological perspective, butterflies are another variety of moth. Moths (non-butterfly Lepidoptera) are thought to be 10 to 15 times more species abundant than butterflies.
  • Adult butterflies and moths have six legs, four wings, and a proboscis. Normally curled when not being used to feed, the proboscis is used to drink nectar and other liquids.
  • Butterfly and moth wings are covered with microscopic overlapping scales. Wing pigments and patterns are from the melanin in the scales. Crystal nanostructures on the scales can produce, blue, green and violet iridescence.
  • Butterflies of the Grand Canyon have an enormous range in size. The western pygmy blue butterfly (Brephidium exilis) is one of the world's smallest butterflies and has a wingspan of only 0.5 inches (1.27cm). The two-tailed swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata) is North America's largest butterfly, with a wingspan of up to 6.5 inches (16.5cm).
  • Grand Canyon has micro-moths only reaching a few millimeters in size. Understandably, many are still undescribed or known to science.
  • A summer migration of North America’s largest Lepidopteran is the black witch moth (Ascalapha odorata) attaining a wingspan of 9.45 (24 cm). They naturally occur in the tropical Americas, though some travel as far as the Grand Canyon and further north. Round-trip migrations back to the tropics have not been documented.


  • Butterflies and moths are found in all parts of Grand Canyon National Park- from the pinyon-juniper forests of the South Rim, to the Colorado River, to the high elevation forests of the North Rim.
  • The sheer number of butterfly and moth species means that there are a variety adaptations that each species possess to live and thrive at the Grand Canyon. Many species spend their entire existence in the Canyon while others migrate and only spend part of their life in the park. Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) live and breed at the Grand Canyon from May to August, and September they migrate hundreds of miles to coastal California. Some migrate nearly 1500 miles to the mountains of Southcentral Mexico for the winter.
  • Butterflies are most frequently seen on the rims of the Grand Canyon from early June to mid-August. The warmer Inner Canyon can have butterflies active from February through November.


  • Butterflies go through complete metamorphosis in four stages of their life cycle: egg (ovum), caterpillar (larva), pupa (chrysalis), and adult (imago).
  • Once a caterpillar is fully grown, it stops feeding on leaves and moves to a protected location where it will molt into chrysalis (pupa). As an immobile chrysalis it undergoes its last stage of metamorphosis, changing to an adult butterfly.
  • Most adult butterflies feed on nectar from flowers, but also mineral nutrients in puddles, decaying fruit, dung, sap, animal sweat, tears and even carcasses. Many butterflies rely on specific plants for caterpillar food. Monarch butterfly caterpillars (Danaus plexippus) only feed on milkweed (Ascepias sp.)
  • The lifespan of an adult butterfly varies between species. Many species live for only two weeks, while few can live up to 9 months.

Last updated: April 26, 2024

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PO Box 129
Grand Canyon, AZ 86023



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