Butterfly Families

A group of Alexandra's Sulphur butterflies on the ground
Alexandra's Sulphur (Colias alexandra)

NPS/R. Bray


Under the scientific classification of insects, butterflies and moths fall under the order Lepidoptera. From here, they split off into many families including the following found in the park.

See the Rocky Mountain National Park Documented Butterfly List for distinct species that fall under these families. Visit the IRMA Portal NPSpecies web page for updates on the park's working species list.

Grizzled Skipper on a flower
Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus centaureae)

NPS/R. Bray

Hesperiidae (Skipper Family)

  • Skippers are in the Hesperiidae family.
  • They look and fly like moths.
  • They have hooked antennae.
  • In the park, most species are small and black or earth-toned.

A Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)
Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)

NPS/R. Bray

Papilionidae (Swallowtail Family)

  • Swallowtails are large and strong fliers with trailing tails.
  • Four species are commonly seen in the park in patterns of black and yellow.
  • Look for them in the montane life zone.

Rocky Mountain Parnassian (Parnassius smintheus)
Rocky Mountain Parnassian (Parnassius smintheus)

NPS/R. Bray

An exception in the park Swallowtail family is the Rocky Mountain Parnassian (Parnassius smintheus).
Two Margined white butterflies (Pieris marginalis)
Margined White (Pieris marginalis)

NPS/R. Bray

Pieridae (White and Sulphur Family)

  • The Sulphur and White Family has 12 species commonly found in the park.
  • They are mostly medium in size and hard to tell apart.
  • Their colors range from yellow to orange to white.
Lupine blue (Plebejus lupini) butterfly
Lupine Blue (Plebejus lupini)

NPS/R. Bray

Lycaenidae (Gossamer Wing Family)

  • The Gossamer Wing Family consists of small butterflies, many brightly colored.
  • They are high to low elevation species.
  • There may be more than 15 species of blues found in the park.
  • Seven are common, and their upper sides are hard to tell apart.
Ruddy Copper (Lycaena rubidus)
Ruddy Copper (Lycaena rubidus)

NPS/R. Bray

  • Coppers are another group in the Lycaenidae family.
  • Four species of coppers fly in the park.
  • The male Ruddy Copper flies in July and August in the montane and lower sub-alpine.
  • Other members of the Lycaenidae family in the park include the elfins and the hairstreaks.
 Weidemeyer's Admiral butterfly (Limenitis weidemeyerii)
Weidemeyer's Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii)

NPS/R. Bray

Nymphalidae (Brushfoot Family)

  • Brushfoot Family members have four walking legs instead of the usual six. Their other two legs have evolved into brushes used to taste-test host plants and to clean their proboscis.
  • This family is the biggest group in the park, and they exploit a range of plant shapes, sizes, and colors.
  • Look for the Weidemeyer’s Admiral flying in mid-to late summer along the Fern Lake and Wild Basin trails.
Dotted Checkerspot butterfly (Poladryas arachne)
Dotted Checkerspot (Poladryas arachne)

NPS/R. Bray

  • The Dotted Checkerspot is one of the Crescent and Checkerspot sub-groups of the Nymphalidae family.
  • It flies in open sunny meadows from July through mid-August.
Mormon Fritillary butterfly on a yellow flower
Mormon Fritillary (Speyeria mormonia)

NPS/R. Bray

  • The Speyeria or Greater Fritillaries are another group in the Nymphalidae family.
  • Most have beautiful silver spots on the undersides of their hind wings.
  • Look for the Mormon Frittillary along the Poudre Trail near Milner Pass.
Green Comma butterfly (Polygonia faunus)
Green Comma (Polygonia faunus)

NPS/R. Bray

  • Anglewings or Commas are represented in the park by several species.
  • All have scalloped edges to their wings.
  • They over winter as adults, unlike most butterflies that pass the winter in the egg, caterpillar, or chrysalis stage.
Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

NPS/R. Bray

  • Monarchs are the most recognized butterfly in the park, but among the least frequently seen.
  • Their host plant, showy milkweed, is not common in the park.
  • Most years, only a few monarchs are seen flying within our boundary.

(text by S. Mason)

Last updated: February 17, 2018

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Estes Park, CO 80517


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