Insect enthusiasts and lepidopterists love the assortment of butterflies in Colorado. When trekking through wildflower fields, forests, or by the streams in the spring to early fall, there are plenty of opportunities to see these winged beauties fluttering about.
Home to an assortment of butterfly families and members here is a comprehensive list of the types and species you can find while venturing through the Centennial State, organized by group.
Also referred to as an “apollo,” Parnassians (Parnassius) butterflies are most often found in North America, Europe, and Asia’s mountainous environments. They aren’t usually the most colorful, showing off white, gray, and sometimes yellow shades.
Rocky Mountain Parnassian
The Rocky Mountain Parnassian is a medium-sized butterfly that features white or off-white wings with black and gray highlights on the forewings. Roughly two inches long and having red or orange spots on the hindwing, the best time of year to find them is from the end of May to early September in forests, plains, or rocky terrains where Sedum plants are.
Swallowtails are brightly colored, large, and live on every continent except Antarctica. This family has the biggest butterflies in the world.
Commonly discovered from late summer to early fall, the Pipevine Swallowtail lives in environments like stream bottoms, open fields, woodlands, meadows, and foothills. Primarily black with a blue tint and orange spots on the hindwing, which is more evident in males than females, the average size is 2.75-5 inches.
A large butterfly that averages 2.75-3.5 inches in size, the Anise Swallowtail lives in elevations ranging from 0 feet to 14,000 feet, in habitats like mountains, foothills, forests, and plains. Identified by their primarily black backgrounds with white or yellow rows of panels and a separate trail of spots along the edge of the wings, they can be found flying between March to August.
Other types of Swallowtail in Colorado: Black Swallowtail, Indra Swallowtail, Western Tiger Swallowtail, Pale Swallowtail, and Two-Tailed Swallowtail.
Hairstreaks and Elfins Family
Hairstreaks and Elfins are a unique family known for the hair-like design on their hind wings.
Colorado Hairstreak (Official State Insect)
The Colorado Hairstreak is the Colorado state insect and can be spotted from late June to August in the area’s foothills and canyons. Adults eat tree sap instead of flowers, and they are anywhere from 1.25-1.5 inches long in wingspan. Their bottom sides are usually gray, and their tops feature blue or purplish hues with orange spots and fine white veins through their wings.
Western Pine Elfin
The Western Pine Elfin is a reddish-brownish beauty that has jagged colorful stripes along their backs and black crescent shapes underneath. Rather small, averaging less than 1 inch to a little over 1 inch long in wingspan and living in forests along streams, trails, and open areas, they fly during April and early July.
More species of Hairstreaks and Elfins in Colorado are the Western Green Hairstreak, Juniper Hairstreak, White-lined Green Hairstreak, Thicket Hairstreak, Brown Elfin, Moss’ Elfin, Hoary Elfin, Behr’s Hairstreak, Coral Hairstreak, Striped Hairstreak, Banded Hairstreak, Hedgerow Hairstreak, and the Gray Hairstreak.
Formally known as Riodinidae family members, Metalmarks are known for their brilliant designs on their wings.
Nais Metalmarks are orange with black spots and symmetrical white spots on the front wing tip area. They only get as large as 1 ⅜ inch and can be found in streamsides, wetlands, flats, foothills, and slopes from May to July. Even though there are over 1,000 species of Metalmarks globally, only 24 inhabit North America.
The Whites Family is a sub-class of the Pieridae Family and has nine well-known species living in Colorado. True to its name, most butterflies in this group feature the color white as their primary color.
This beautiful species of butterfly flutters around forests with Ponderosa Pine trees and foothills from July to September. With a medium wingspan of 1.75-2.25 inches, the Pine White is recognized for its high and graceful flying. The background of this insect is white and features black outlining with ovals on the forewing tips and more subtle black highlights on the hindwing.
A small species ranging from 1-1.25 inches, male Julia Orangetips have a white background while females are a light yellow. Both boasting bright orange wingtips, the hindwing of this species has a light green tint with a blend of colors. Julia Orangetips are most often spotted flying between April to late June in mountainous plains and next to streams.
Other Whites members include the Western White, Cabbage White, Olympia Marble, Large Marble, Margined White, Spring White, and Checked White butterflies.
These butterflies are usually shades of yellow or orange and are also under the umbrella of the more prominent Pieridae family.
Flight times for the Clouded Sulphur fall between March and October and typically have a 1.5-2.5 inches long wingspan. Males are bright yellow, often with black trim, while females are yellow or light green with yellow spots or black edging. They live in open areas like fields, meadows, mountain environments, and foothills.
Queen Alexandra’s Sulphur
The Queen Alexandra’s Sulphur is distinguished by its yellow background color with black edging and a spot on the underwing. Deriving its name from the wife of England’s King Edward VII, these medium-sized butterflies are often out flying from May through September in woodlands, forests, wetlands, and foothills.
More butterflies in Colorado’s Sulphur variety include Orange Sulphur, Southern Dogface, Sleepy Orange, Mexican Yellow, Mead’s Sulphur, and Dainty Sulphur.
Coppers, also known as Gossamer-winged butterflies, have a color in the red, brown, and orange spectrums. They are common all over North America and are relatively small.
Residing in fields, pastures, meadows, and open spaces along the road or next to sheep, these butterflies can be seen from late May through July. Small with a wingspan usually between 1.33-1.5 inches, Gray Copper butterflies are mainly gray with orange and black trimming and black spots over their wings.
Blue Copper butterflies are small and range from 1-1.75 inches in wingspan. They live in damp meadows, brushy areas, canyons, foothills, and open areas and are typically seen in the summer from May to August. Male Blue Coppers are usually bright blue with no spots and thin black edges while females are light blue or another dull color with white fringe and black spots.
The rest of Colorado’s Copper clan include Edith’s Copper, Ruddy Copper, Lustrous Copper, Bronze Copper, Purplish Copper, and Tailed Copper butterflies.
Butterflies under the Blues Family are also part of the Family Lycaenidae. Many of these insects feature a colorful spectrum of blue shades and beautiful patterns.
Marine Blues have light blue or gray base colors with some brownish overlay stripes. Ranging from less than 1 – 1 ⅛ inches, they can be discovered living in fields, foothills, and gardens. This butterfly species are known to migrate and can travel as far as Southern Oregon. In Colorado, Marine Blues are out from April to September.
A tiny insect with a wingspan of ⅛ – 1 ⅜ inches, the Arrowhead Blue lives in the open woods, fields, streamsides, slopes, and trails. Flying from March to July, they can easily be spotted by their light to dark gray background and white markings that resemble arrowheads.
As caterpillars, the Arrowhead Blue leaks a sweet serum that ants use as food, causing them to protect the unborn butterflies from predators.
Colorado has many other Blues butterflies including the Western Tailed-Blue, Echo Azure, Hops Azure, Silvery Blue, Rocky Mountain Dotted Blue, Reakirt’s Blue, Melissa Blue, Greenish Blue, Boisduval’s Blue, Shasta Blue, Lupine Blue, Arctic Blue, and Western Pygmy Blue species.
Milkweed Butterflies Family
Milkweed butterflies are some of the most recognized around the world. They get their common name from laying their eggs on milkweed plants.
Monarchs are iconic and one of the most well-known butterfly species. In Colorado, they come out from June through September and can have a wingspan up to just short of 5 inches long. These orange and off-white insects have detailed black trimming and white spots lining their wings, with an overall design that resembles stained glass.
Queen butterflies are in flight just in July and August and feature a bright orange-brown color with black edging and white dots on the hindwing. These are considered a large species and have a wingspan that can span between 2 ⅝ to 3 ⅞ inches.
Snout butterflies are unique because they have intricate designs on the outside of their wings, but they look like dead leaves when folding up. They also have longer mouths, giving them their name “snouts.”
Thanks to its camouflage skills, the American Snout is a medium-sized butterfly that’s not often spotted in the wild as it lives in forests, fields, roadsides, and meadows. Often found in southern Colorado, the American Snout can get up to 2 inches and flies from May through August.
Fritillaries are often mistaken for Monarchs with their orange and brown bodies and black speckled patterns on their wings. Some think that their leopard-like spots are used for camouflage.
Medium-sized, Arctic Fritillary have a maximum wingspan of 1.5 inches. They have orange and black colors in the median band and have v-shaped markings in red, brown, or white along with the parameter of the wings. Challenging to identify since they are usually constantly moving, these butterflies’ unique features are typically not easy to see.
Spotted from mid-June to August, Zerene Fritillaries are often found in forests, shrub-filled areas, and meadows. They have an average wingspan of 2-2.75 inches and are brightly colored orange with black markings and spots, many of which are triangular.
More Colorado Fratillaries include the Variegated Fritillary, Aphrodite Fritillary, Edwards’ Fritillary, Coronis Fritillary, Callippe Fritillary, Northwestern Fritillary, Mormon Fritillary, and Silver-Bordered Fritillary.
True Brushfoots Family
Brush-footed butterflies, also known as Nymphalidae, are a large class of butterflies known for only standing on four feet instead of six. They curl up their front two legs, which have brush-like follicles in some species. This family has many stunning and bright-colored species that are fun to see out in the wild.
These butterflies have intricate patterns of orange, brown, and cream-colored spots and crescents with a dark brown background. Northern Checkerspots are present in the wild from April to August and can be found in clearings, by streams, aspen woodlands, and foothills. Their wingspan ranges from 1 ⅜ to 1 ⅞ inches, and they are considered medium-sized butterflies.
Other brushfoots in Colorado are the Fulvia Checkerspot, Gorgone Checkerspot, Silvery Checkerspot, Arachne Checkerspot, Variable Checkerspot, the Rockslide Checkerspot, Pallid Crescent, Pearl Crescent, Northern Crescent, Green Comma, Satyr Comma, Field Crescent, Texan Crescent, and the Hoary Comma.
Common Buckeye, Milbert’s Tortoiseshell, Mourning Cloak, American Lady, Painted Lady, West Coast Lady, and the California Tortoiseshell are also found in Colorado.
Admirals and Relatives
Admirals are also in the Nymphalidae Family, and their official tribe name is Nymphalini. They also fall under the brush-footed group.
These butterflies are distinctive and have a dark brown background with orange bands around the wings. The Red Admiral can reach a maximum 2.5-inch wingspan and fly between April and September in parks, open areas, woodlands, forests, streamsides, and almost any open space with plants.
The Viceroy is one of the most iconic butterflies and looks similar to the Monarch. It’s an orange butterfly with black edging and veining in its wings, accompanied by white dots. You can find Viceroys by water, damp meadows, and foothills from May to September.
A black butterfly with white spots and blocks on its wings, the Weidemeyer’s Admiral is usually found by aspen and willow trees in woodlands and streamsides. This species can have over a three-inch wingspan and is out fluttering from May to September.
Spread-wing Skippers Family
Formally known as “Pyrginae,” Spread-wing Skippers were put into their own group in the late 19th century. They hold their wings close to their core when resting and spread them wide open when basking.
The Dreamy Duskywing is a small black and brown species that lack white spots like many other Spread-wing Skippers. They are only seen flying from May to July in damp forest areas, by water, and in foothills.
Colorado has many other Spread-wing Skippers like the Silver-Spotted Skipper, Northern Cloudywing, Mexican Cloudywing, Rocky Mountain Duskywing, Mottled Duskywing, Pacuvius Duskywing, Afranius Duskywing, Persius Duskywing, Grizzled Skipper, Two-Banded Checkered-Skipper, Common Checkered-Skipper, and the Common Sootywing.
Formally known as the Apaturinae sub-family, Emperor butterflies are often stunning in design.
This butterfly has a brown-orange upperside with a row of white spots and a few black spots. Hackberry Emperors don’t sit on flowers much, instead opting for perspiration on humans. They are medium-sized and can be discovered on tree trunks or leaves in foothills, parks, gardens, and wooded areas from May through August.
Satyrs and Wood-Nymphs Family
This group of butterflies also falls as a sub-family in the more prominent Nymphalidae family. They are commonly known as “Browns” and have dome-shaped eggs.
The Common Wood-Nymph is mostly dark brown with two large black spots with yellow rings on its forewings. These are medium-sized species that live in grasslands, hillsides, and woodlands. Their flight season is from late May to mid-September.
Other butterflies in this group include the Common Ringlet, Small Wood-Nymph, Canyonland Satyr, Ridings’ Satyr, Common Alpine, Chryxus Arctic, Uhler’s Arctic, and Jutta Arctic.
Grass Skippers Family
This species is a subfamily of the Hesperiinae group and was established in 1809 by Pierre André Latreille. This is the largest Skipper subfamily globally, with over 2,000 different types. Several Grass Skipper varieties live in the Colorado area and range from shades of brown to yellow.
These butterflies are orange with blackish borders and prominent black antennas. They don’t fly very well and are pretty weak with rounded wings. Least Skippers tend to live in the eastern part of the state but occasionally stray west. This butterfly is tiny with an average wingspan hovering around 1 inch and can be seen flying around from June to September.
Places to See Butterflies
There are also establishments and attractions that make it easier to discover them in a concentrated area. Try visiting one of these locations when you’re on a mission to see a diverse selection of butterflies in Colorado.
Butterfly House at Chatfield Farms – Denver
Working in conjunction with the Denver Botanic Gardens, this butterfly house is home to over 300 Colorado-native species of butterflies. This is a seasonal habitat and exhibits that are only open during the warmer months, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
This venue features a whimsical garden for visitors to stroll through and is included in the price of admission to the rest of the attraction.
Sunstreak Tours is an international company that arranges trips for butterflying. One of their tours is their Colorado Rockies and the Front Range package, which takes place in July and is a nine-day adventure. The cost of this tour includes accommodations, meals, and transportation.
This guided experience spends a reasonable amount of time at high elevations and looking for various butterfly species.
The Gardens on Spring Creek – Fort Collins
Visiting the butterfly house at this facility is included in the admission fee, but visitors are only allowed inside on timed entries from 10 am to 3 pm. This ensures that these delicate insects are kept safe and undisturbed in their habitat.
There are around 400-600 free-flying butterflies and moths in this building and over 100 tropical plants. Visitation is limited to 15 guests at once in 15-minute sessions.
Western Colorado Botanical Gardens – Grand Junction
Open from Tuesday to Friday by appointment only, the butterfly pavilion has many species and is a peaceful place to browse and admire these tiny creatures. Groups of five people are the max allowance to be inside the butterfly and tropical greenhouses at a time, so plan accordingly. The gardens are also an event venue that caters to and customizes wedding experiences.
Butterfly Pavillion – Westminster
Westminster’s Butterfly Pavillion is a popular conservation and non-profit invertebrate zoo in Colorado, a first of its kind in the world. This family-friendly attraction has more than 5,000 animals, including over 1,600 butterflies, making it a haven for insect-lovers and providing something for everyone to look at.
The facility was first opened in 1995 and built on 11 acres with many exhibits, learning opportunities, and hands-on experiences to provide insect awareness and education. Seeing everything at this zoo takes around two hours from start to finish.
Even though some people would say that butterflies are just another insect, these fragile creatures are beautiful and unique in their own way. The next time you’re hiking in the Colorado wilderness or visiting one of the local botanical gardens or zoos, keep your eyes peeled for these listed species.