Meet five of Michigan's beautiful butterflies

As we approach the end of July, you may notice more butterflies flitting about. Michigan is home to about 157 species of butterflies, and July and August are their prime months.

Before we highlight five of the most common ones, here are some butterfly facts you may not be aware of. For starters, their wings are transparent. They use their feet to taste. A butterfly’s lifespan is typically only two or three weeks, and their diets are strictly liquid. All butterflies have club-shaped antennae with a long shaft and bulb at the end. Moths, on the other hand, feature saw-edged or feathery antennae.


We all know what a Monarch looks like. Or do we? It’s easy to mistake Viceroys for Monarchs. Viceroys feature a black line drawn across the hind wings, something Monarchs don’t have. The Viceroy is also a bit smaller than the Monarch. Unfortunately, Monarchs are in decline (they’re down 90 percent from their population in 1992). Reasons include the proliferation of fertilizers, habitat loss, decline in milkweed where they lay their eggs, and the deforestation of their wintering grounds in Mexico. Every autumn, millions of them migrate there. You can help Monarchs by planting native milkweed. For more information on helping Monarchs, visit

Small White/Small Cabbage White

These are one of the most common butterflies in Michigan. They were accidentally introduced into North America from Europe in the 1860s. If you have a garden with cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, turnips and radishes, you’re well familiar with these butterflies. Adults lay their eggs on the underside of these plants. Once hatched, the caterpillars colonize the plants, damaging them as they feed and basically ruining the leaves. Adults, on the other hand, feed on flower nectar. There are several environmentally friendly ways to get rid of their caterpillars. For more information, visit

Northern Pearly-eye

These distinctive-looking butterflies can be found in shady woodlands. They avoid sunlight and are most active on cloudy/overcast days. Unlike other butterflies that feed on flowers, the Northern Pearly-eye prefers animal dung (gross!), fungi, carrion and sap from willows, poplars and birches. As caterpillars, they prefer assorted grasses.

Eastern Tailed-blue

This is a common butterfly of eastern North America. One of our smaller Michigan butterflies, it is easy to distinguish from other blue butterflies by two small thin tails. Males are blue on the upper side of their wings. Females are lighter blue to brown or charcoal. Males socialize at puddles or wet mud in what is referred to as “puddle parties.” You’ll find these butterflies in gardens, meadows and anywhere else where flowers are abundant. Eastern Tailed-blue larvae feed on various legumes and are known to secrete a substance which is favored by some ant species. The ant in turn protects the larva of the butterfly from other predators.

Great Spangled Fritillary

Our last butterfly is quite common in the U.P. They’re not choosy on where they live. You can find them in abandoned city lots, wooded streams, the edge of marshes, forests and meadows. As adults, they consume nectar from a wide variety of plants. As caterpillars, their preferred host plant is the Aster.
If you like butterflies, you can help them by planting butterfly-friendly plants and eliminating the use of harmful pesticides. Think about a butterfly garden. For more information on providing butterfly-friendly habitats, visit

Have questions or comments about this article or others I have written? Reach out to me at I would love to hear from you. In the meantime, get out and enjoy nature.