Friday 5: 5 Native Butterflies at the Marshall Butterfly Pavillion

It’s time for another Friday 5!  Last week I said I would highlight some of the butterflies I saw on one of my recent insect zoo visits.  The butterflies at the Marshall Butterfly Pavillion at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix is a little unusual for a butterfly house because it features butterflies native to the United States rather than the tropical species most butterfly houses favor. We have some really spectacular butterflies in the US though! Case in point, the following 5 butterflies I photographed in the Marshall exhibit:

Zebra Heliconian


Zebra longwing butterfly, Heliconius charithonia

The longwing butterflies have fascinated scientists and collectors for ages.  They tend to be brightly colored and have a lot of intricate markings that scientists use to study genetics, mimicry, and other big biological problems.  The longwings are mostly tropical and we don’t have all that many species in the US, but we do have a few.  The zebra longwing butterfly (also known as a zebra heliconian) shown here is pretty darned impressive!  This particular individual is a little worn and a little ragged, but he (or she) is still very beautiful.  I love the little hints of red!  I think what makes the longwings so lovely is their elegant wing shape.  As their common name suggests, they do have long, narrow wings and these make them stand out against their bulkier-winged butterfly relatives.  I wish we had these in Arizona (we might get an occasional individual that took a wrong turn somewhere in Mexico!), but they are sadly not native to my state.  However, because they are featured in a butterfly exhibit only 2 hours away, I can go see live ones whenever Marshall is open during the cooler months.  Score!

Painted Lady

painted lady

Painted lady, Vanessa cardui

Painted ladies are super common in Arizona.  Actually, they are super common in most of the US and many other parts of the world.  That doesn’t make them any less gorgeous though!  I think there’s something so perfect about the combination of orange and black in butterflies.  The underside of the wings in this species are stunning!  They’re reasonably docile too, so they are commonly sold as butterflies for releases at weddings and other events and are often found in live insect exhibits.  When I was working with Insect Discovery in the spring, we had a cage of painted ladies in which our little second graders could sit and make observations about the butterflies.  They loved it, and I loved the bigger, more impressive painted lady enclosure that was the Marshall Butterfly Pavillion.  It doesn’t matter if I could walk outside the enclosure and see the exact same species on a flower in the gardens – they still made me smile.

Julia Heliconian


Julias (Dryas julia) sucking on an orange

Another of our North American longwing butterflies, the julias are a less ornate than their relatives the zebra longwings.  But look at that stunning orange color!  I took so many photos of these, mostly because the flaming safety orange coloration stood out so well against absolutely everything in the exhibit: the blue glass in the photo, the green plants, the white mesh that made up the walls of the enclosure.  They have the same elegant long wings as the zebras too, and the same range that doesn’t include Arizona.  Sigh…  I’d love to see one of these in the wild!  Maybe someday I’ll make a trip to Texas or Florida to see all the rare and unusual butterflies and dragonflies that you can find there, and nowhere else in the US.

Pipevine Swallowtail


Pipevine swallowtail, Battus philenor

This is a swallowtail.  Ignore the lack of tails in the image!  This particular individual had lived a long life by the time I saw it.  Pipevines are common in Arizona, most of the eastern half of the US, and the lower half of the western US.  They are large, 3-5 inches across, so these really stand out.  They might not look quite as showy as some of the other large swallowtails, but the underside of their wings have lovely yellow, orange, and red spots on dark black.  If you get them positioned just right, the upper surface of the wings takes on this amazing blue iridescence too!  I’m not always the biggest fan of butterflies (is it wrong to hate a type of insect because they’re too popular?), but when a pipevine flies by, I stop a moment and appreciate how amazing nature is.  Gorgeous!



White, Pieris sp.

Another somewhat battered individual.  Apparently I wanted to document the poor, downtrodden butterflies while photographing within the Marshall exhibit…  In any case, many of the whites are very common butterflies – and the scourge of gardeners across the US!  Their caterpillars eat brassicas, the sulfur-rich vegetables you love to hate like cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower and can cause considerable damage to these food crops.  (Incidentally, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower are technically all the same species!)  I like the whites because they’re not quite so gaudy and ostentatious as most butterflies and have a much more subdued elegance to them.  This is the only white I saw in the entire exhibit, a sort of disheveled looking individual cramming itself between flower petals to get at the nectar.  It looked so awkward in this position that I fell instantly in love with it.  I imagine this is the butterfly equivalent of a sticky 3-year-old stoned out of his mind on pixie sticks, reaching for another stick because he just can’t help himself.  :)

See!  We’ve got great butterflies in the US!  We might not have morphos flitting through forests or the spectacular birdwing butterflies, but our butterflies are still awfully nice.  It was rather refreshing to see an American exhibit that actually celebrated our local butterflies rather than looking to the tropics for specimens.  That’s rare, but it made my trip to Marshall seem extra special as a result.

Anyone care to share their favorite North American butterfly?  Leave a comment below!


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