To accommodate construction, Shaver's Creek Environmental Center will be closed Tuesday, May 28, through Thursday, May 30.

Common Eastern Butterflies

With nets over their shoulders, guide books in pockets, and jars for observation in hand, the Shaver’s Creek staff set out to find the butterflies. Every year, groups all over the nation search for butterflies in a national butterfly count that is compiled by the North American Butterfly Association. Shaver’s Creek staff identified and kept count of all the different species found in five different areas. The information is compiled and used to help answer scientists’ questions about butterfly distribution, abundance and conservation.

Butterflies are a beautiful part of summer here at Shaver’s Creek. They can often be seen sunning on the paths, flittering in the meadow and feasting on nectar in our native plants garden. There are a lot of different types – approximately 20,000 species in the whole world! About 725 of those occur in North America.

If you would like to join in some butterfly fun, Shaver’s Creek will be a part of the Wings in the Park festival Saturday July 20th 10AM-2PM at Tudek Park in State College. There will be supplies and demonstrations to make your own net while supplies last! As well, we will be teaching butterfly ID about some of the common Pennsylvania butterflies!

In case you can’t attend, below are 14 of the most common central Pennsylvania butterflies – all were seen on during the count! Check out the pictures, descriptions and facts to see if you can identify one the next time you’re near a flittering fellow!

Cabbage White


Odds are, that if you see a white butterfly in central PA, it is a Cabbage White, as they are found in lots of different habitats. To be sure, look for either a pair of black dots (male) or two pairs of black dots (female) on the upper forewing. Cabbage Whites get their name from the caterpillars which eat plants of the Mustard family, which includes cabbages!

Orange Sulfur


This brightly colored butterfly is common to see in open fields and along roadsides. Males are typically yellow orange with a dark border around their dorsal wings. Females have similar coloring but they have spots within their dark border. There have been rare findings of females with white coloring as well.


Pearl Crescent


A quite common and widespread butterfly, the Pearl Crescent typically has a 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 inch wingspan; the female is typically slightly larger. Orange and brown coloring varies depending on the season. Up to five broods (generations) can be produced each year.


Silver-Spotted Skipper


Distinguished by an eye-catching silvery spot on its hindwings, this is the largest skipper in North America. Their forewings are marked with bands of orange. They’re often found along forest edges and in open fields dashing quickly from flower to flower, moving in the skipping pattern for which they are named.


Eastern Tiger Swallowtail


This butterfly is quite noticeable with markings of yellow and black stripes on its wings and body and a large wingspan of 3 1/2 – 6 1/2 inches. Males usually have minor orange and blue spots near the tail. Some females are brown or black, mimicking the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail.



Eastern Tailed-Blue


This quite small butterfly has a wingspan of 3/4 – 1 inch. The upper sides of its wings are a shiny blue and brownish-gray along the borders. Eastern tailed-blues can be told from other butterflies by an orange spot and small tail on each hindwing.


Great Spangled Fritillary


The most common fritillary, this butterfly has scalloped wings that measure 2 1/2 – 4 inches. The upper sides of their wings are marked with black spots while the undersides of their wings have spots of silvery white. This butterfly can be found in open, moist places such as forests, wood openings, and meadows.


Red Spotted Purple


Don’t let the name confuse you! This butterfly is mostly black and blue, lined with white dashes and orange spots on the tips of the forewings. The undersides of its wings look a bit more purple, with more orange spotting and lined in white dashes.


Baltimore Checkerspot


The state butterfly of Maryland, this butterfly is marked with distinct white and orange spots across its black wings. It is most often found in wet meadows. These butterflies typically only have one brood per year. They seek out a white-pink flower of the Turtlehead plant to lay eggs.


American Snout


This butterfly has a pair of long snouts which are called labial palpi. They are used to detect different smells and help the butterfly find food. The upper side of the wings are brown with orange patches in the middle. The forewings are marked with white spots and have a square shaped tip.


Eastern Comma


When closed, this butterfly often resembles a crumpled leaf due to its patchy brown markings and roughly shaped wing outline. However, when open, the Comma has black spots on its orange forewings. The hindwings are brown. It is named for the white comma shape on the underside of the hindwing.


Question Mark


Although this butterfly looks like the Eastern Comma, it is larger, and rather than a comma on the underside of the wing, it has a question mark. It also has a larger hindwing tail. You can find these butterflies flying from May until September.




The celebrity of the butterfly world, the Monarch has large orange wings lined with black. It uses the Milkweed plant during all stages of life, drinking the nectar, laying eggs on the leaves, and eating the leaves as a caterpillar. Eating these leaves makes the Monarch poisonous to many other animals!




The Viceroy is a mimic of the Monarch but can be distinguished by the black band that crosses its hindwings. It has bright colors on both sides of its wings, unlike the Monarch which has a much lighter underside. The viceroy is found in meadows, marshes, and swamps with willow, aspen, and poplar trees.

Photo Credits:

Jerod Skebo — Eastern Tailed-Blue, Great Spangled Fritilary, Pearl Crescent, Red-Spotted Purple, Silver Spotted Skipper
Ken Slade — Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Orange Sulfur, Question Mark (Creative Commons)
John Flannery — American Snout, Viceroy (Creative Commons)
Michael Head — Baltimore Checkerspot (Creative Commons)
John Tan — Cabbage White (Creative Commons)
Johinda Dockens — Eastern Comma (Creative Commons)
Jill Hannelly — Monarch