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Arizona Butterflies and Moths

Updated on August 19, 2014

Personal Discoveries in the Sonoran Desert

This is a collection of my personal photos of various butterflies and moths which I have found in southern Arizona. Usually, I find butterflies when I am out looking for something else, such as birds or flowers. Usually, I find moths in my room at home.

There are 334 species of butterflies in Arizona, which is second only to Texas. We get a lot of tropical butterflies here.

Regarding the photo on the left, I don't know what this is yet. I don't even know for sure whether it is a butterfly or a moth. I found it on the Mount Lemmon Highway, and I have only seen it once.

Butterflies and moths both belong to the Lepidoptera. Butterflies have thin antennae, usually with a knob at the end. Moths have antennae that look somewhat like a feather; they have a pinnate structure (thinking of leaves).

I have identified most of the leps I have seen.

Photos are mine.

Butterflies and Moths caught in the wild, and sometimes in the house!

Photographing butterflies in the wild isn't nearly as easy as photographing them in a butterfly exhibit. In my Lens on Tropical Butterflies, I show a number of tropical species that I got in various butterfly exhibits.

I come across new butterflies at the most unexpected times. Most of the time, I have to use a telephoto lens to get a macro shot! They tend to fly off before you can get close enough to use a macro lens.

Most of the moths I have photographed were inside my house. They come in, in the summer, and we have had quite a variety. I will also add some of these.

The photo on the right above is a Southern Dogface, Zerene cesonia. As you can see, occasionally they can be coaxed onto your finger. I got this fellow at Patagonia Lake, in extreme southern Arizona. This butterfly is named a Dogface because the pattern on the upper wings looks a little like a dog's face.

Queen Butterfly

Danaus gilippus

I would guess this is the most commonly seen butterfly in southern Arizona.

I got the first photo at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum butterfly garden. The second one was near the Sam Lena park in Tucson, and the third was in a butterfly garden at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix.

Even though this photo is not in perfect focus, it is one of my favorites because I love the beautiful columbine on which the butterfly is resting. I don't know whether this is a native species or not, since the only columbines I have seen in the wild are pure yellow.

This next photo was taken at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Southern Dogface

Zerene cesonia

These butterflies are also fairly common. The underside doesn't look that remarkable, but the top side of the wings has a pattern that some people think resembles the head of a dog.

Here are more photos of the Southern Dogface. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, near Tucson. I got the second one in the butterfly garden at theTo the best of my recollection, I got the first photo along the Mount Lemmon Highway. The third one was in Catalina State Park, near Tucson.

These butterflies were found in three different locations.

Mexican Yellow

Eurema mexicana

This butterfly is very similar to the Southern Dogface, on both sides of the wings. Notice that this butterfly has an extra point on its lower wing.

To be honest, in spite of the fact that these two butterflies are classified in different genera, I'd be willing to bet they're the same species! I'll talk about that sometime.

Painted Lady

Vanessa cardui

Also a common butterfly, and in my opinion, one of the prettiest of our desert.

The first image was taken of a butterfly found on the Sweetwater Trail that goes up to Wasson Peak in the Tucson Mountains. The plant is Brittlebush, Encelia farinosa.

The next picture was taken in the butterfly garden at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The plant is Lantana, Lantana horrida.

The final one was taken in Madera Canyon, in the Santa Rita Mountains of southern Arizona.

Shiny Black Butterflies

The next three species I want to talk about are extremely active. They're not nearly as easy to photograph as the ones I have showed you so far.

In fact, if you try to photograph them, you are just as likely to get an image like this, as something decent. :)

The butterflies are predominantly black, and the shiny blue color is refraction. The wings of some butterflies have tiny structures that refract sunlight in this way, so the blue color is not a pigment. It is spectral. You can see this faintly in this picture.

Spicebush Swallowtail

Papilio troilus

This is the more common of the two butterflies. They are constantly in motion. Catching one still enough to take a picture requires patience.

I got the first photo in the butterfly garden at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. I don't remember where I got the other one.

I got this photograph in the butterfly pavilion at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix.

Pipevine Swallowtail

Battus philenor

I found this one on Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains, north of Tucson, Arizona.

As you can tell, this butterfly was not interested in sitting still for me, even though he hung around a long time.

The flower is Thistle, Cirsium neomexicanum.

Black Swallowtail

Papilio polyxenes

I found these butterflies when I was out looking for birds. The location is a park just south of Colossal Cave. There were at least four of these butterflies present, and only four species of birds, all of which I had seen before. The butterflies made the trip worthwhile.

In the first photo, you can see that the butterflies spent most of their time slinking around between rocks. In the second photo, I got an excellent opportunity because this butterfly was ovipositing in the creek bed, and she stayed a long time, so I got lots of pictures.

White Lined Sphynx Moth

Hyles lineata

I'm taking an interlude for a moth. This is a species of Hummingbird Moth. They are often mistaken for hummingbirds, because of the way they fly, and their size. They are about the size of a small hummingbird.

I have seen this species three times. Twice was in broad daylight. This surprised me because moths are night creatures. The first photograph was taken in the butterfly garden at the Desert Museum. The flower is Lantana, Lantana horrida. The second was taken in Miller Canyon, at dusk, and it was dark enough I had to use flash. The flower is Evening Primrose, Oenothera primiveris.

In the photo below, the flower is a Desert Evening Primrose, Oenothera primiveris. They bloom in the mountains in the summer. The flower opens around 4 in the afternoon, blooms all night, and closes in the early morning. They are pollinated by moths, of course. :)

In spite of the fact these moths are active, always hovering, I have found them fairly easy to photograph.

California Patch

Chlosyne californica

I found this butterfly on the trail up Wasson Peak, alongside the Painted Lady I showed you earlier. This is the only time I have seen this species.

Bordered Patch

Chlosyne lacinia

Sometimes you get lucky and can get both the up wings and the un wings.

I found this butterfly on the Mount Lemmon Highway. This is a variable species, as you will see.

Bordered Patch


I found this one in Madera Canyon.

Arizona Sister

Adelpha eulalia

I'll betcha they have a stepsister for each state in the west. There is a California Sister, too, and it looks identical to me.

I saw this one in Madera Canyon, and I have also seen one in Patagonia, on the other side of the mountain range. The day I saw this one, I had hiked almost a mile up the Carrie Nation Trail, which is a pretty good hike for me. I was looking for Elegant Trogon. When I got to the tree where they supposedly had a nest, I set up shop, and waited. Several hours. No Trogons. But I got this butterfly (and others) to make up for it. This butterfly was probably 50 feet away, and I got the photo with a 1300mm lens.

Mourning Cloak

Nymphalis antiopa

From the same trip up the Carrie Nation Trail.

Unfortunately, not a clear picture. Maybe next time. :)

Texan Crescent

Anthanassa texana, Phyciodes texana

Yet another species from that trip in Madera Canyon. I saw a slew of different brown butterflies that day, it seems.

The butterflies were fairly placid that day, and it has been the only time I have seen many of these.

The second photo is from the butterfly garden at the Desert Museum. I don't know the name of the flower it is on.

Another from the Carrie Nation Trail, same species:

In some cases, the variation in coloring is difference between the genders, but not always.

Empress Leilia

Asterocampa leilia

Still from the Carrie Nation Trail.

Top to Bottom

Sometimes you get lucky and get a shot like this.

From the top:

Monarch Butterfly - Danaus plexippus

Pipevine Swallowtail - Battus philenor

Giant Swallowtail - Papilio cresphontes

Shot taken at the butterfly pavilion at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix.

American Snout

Libytheana carinenta

I got the first photo in the park south of Colossal Cave.

The second one is from the butterfly garden at the Desert Museum: The plant is Lantana horrida.

This one came from the road up to Madera Canyon.

Notice the color variations, and also the huge snout on this species.

Fiery Skipper

Hylephila phyleus

From the ridiculous to the sublime. Or something. Skippers are generally small butterflies, and while many butterflies will have somewhat of a structure you might call a "nose", Skippers tend to have completely rounded, truncated faces.

This one was hanging out about halfway up the road at Incinerator Ridge on Mount Lemmon. He was reasonably cooperative, but too small and far away for the equipment I had with me.

I don't remember where I got the one above. I got the one below near the Sam Lena park in Tucson. That is several thousand feet lower in elevation.

Golden Banded Skipper

Autochton cellus

The identity of this butterfly came as a complete surprise. It doesn't look like a Skipper to me, until I look up close. For one thing, it is quite a bit larger than other Skippers I have seen. For another, skippers generally hold their four wings at four different angles, and do not rest with wings spread wide open. I found this one at the Chuparosa Inn in Madera Canyon.

Confused Cloudywing

Thorybes confusis, I think

There are a number of species of Dicot Skippers, and I have trouble telling them apart. Obviously, if I got this one wrong, and you know it, I would appreciate the information.

The flower is a Sunflower, Helianthus annuus. These are fairly abundant in Arizona, and some grow quite tall, while others don't. I don't remember where I got this picture.

Gray Hairstreak

Strymon melinus

I especially like this picture because in addition to the butterfly, I got a plant with both a flower and a fruit on it. I have no idea what plant this is. I found this one at Tucson Botanical Gardens.

Hairstreaks are small butterflies. This is the only one I can recall ever seeing anywhere.

Mormon Metalmark

Apodemia mormo

Photo taken near Madera Canyon. I don't know the flower, or who his friend is.

Giant Swallowtail

Papilio cresphontes

I got this photo at the butterfly pavilion at the Desert Botanical Gardens. If I recall correctly, this exhibit opens in April for the general public. The enclosure is made of green mesh, so it is open to the air. They keep local species rather than tropical. I have only been there twice.

This is the same butterfly I caught in the threesome above.

The second photo was taken outside at the Tucson Botanical Gardens.

Marine Blue

Leptotes marina

I found this butterfly on the road between Sonoita and Parker Canyon Lake. Blues have the most gorgeous blue color on their top wings, but they sure don't like to sit with their wings open. Because they are so tiny, and shy, it is really hard to get a photo of them at all. This is probably the ONLY decent picture I have ever gotten of a Blue.

The plant is Velvetpod Mimosa, Mimosa dysocarpa. It is budding. When in bloom, the flowers will look like bottlebrushes and they range in color from nearly white to deep pink. I'll post some photos when I make a Lens on Sonoran Desert Wildflowers. These plants are abundant on the road to Madera Canyon, and I see them in late summer.

Lemon White

Ganyra limona

Another photo from the butterfly pavilion at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix.

Cabbage White

Pieris rapae

This butterfly was on the grounds at the Tucson Botanical Gardens.

Red Admiral

Vanessa atalanta

I found this one at Agua Caliente Park east of Tucson. I was actually looking for an American Redstart, and saw one but couldn't get a picture. :( This butterfly, however, caused quite a stir. There was a group gathered, watching it. I have only seen this species once, so far.

I had no idea Arizona had so many butterflies, and many of them quite distinctive.

Vesta Crescent

Phyciodes graphica

I don't remember offhand where I found this one.

Dull Firetip

Apyrrothrix araxes arizonae

Found in Miller Canyon, Huachuca Mountains, near the hummingbird area on Beatty's Guest Ranch. That's a Columbine he's on, I think.

Zebra Longwing

Heliconius charithonius

There are many Heliconius butterflies that can be found in Mexico and places south. Few make it to the United States. This one is found in extreme southeast Arizona. I got the photo in a butterfly exhibit, however, in this case in the Butterfly Pavilion in the Desert Botamical Gardens in Phoenix.


Dryas iulia

This is the other longwing that can occasionally be found in Arizona. I think I may have seen this one in the wild, but I am not positive, and I got this photo in the Butterfly Pavilion as well. I have no idea why this one isn't also called a Heliconius.


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