Every year in September, North America’s favorite butterfly–the orange and black Monarch– begins its migration to Mexico for the winter. The ability to complete this 1,200 to 2,800 mile journey means the Monarch has the most highly evolved migration pattern of any known species of butterfly or moth and perhaps any known insect. Unfortunately, climate change is making winters in Mexico colder and wetter, while summer breeding grounds are becoming increasingly hot and dry. It doesn’t help that rampant herbicide use in America has all but eliminated its primary food source, the milkweed plant. “In the 1990s, estimates of up to one billion monarchs made the epic flight each fall…Now, researchers and citizen scientists estimate that only about 33 million monarchs remain, representing more than a 90% drop across North America.”
2. Mitchell’s Satyr
This rare American butterfly has a wingspan of up to 1.75 inches and is distinguished by rows of orange-ringed, black circular eyespots on each of its chocolate-colored wings. The spots make it look like the butterfly is watching you. Urban and agricultural development has destroyed its habitat areas, while contamination from pesticides, fertilizers and nutrient runoff, invasive species and even butterfly collectors have also caused population numbers to shrink.
3. Ceylon Rose
The Ceylon rose is a beautiful and extremely rare swallowtail butterfly found only in Sri Lanka. It’s mostly black and white, with some distinct pink spots. The main threat to the Ceylon rose is deforestation as a result of timber extraction and conversion to agriculture. It has been classified as critically endangered since 2003.
4. Blue Morpho
Morpho butterflies dwell in the canopy layer of Central American forests and rarely come near the lower layers. They’re easy to spot thanks to massive wings that sport a bright, iridescent blue color. (They can be up to 8 inches across!) When the blue Morpho flies, the contrasting bright blue and dull brown colors flash, making it look like the Morpho is appearing and disappearing. Blue Morphos are severely threatened by deforestation of tropical forests and habitat fragmentation.
5. Bhutan Glory
First discovered by a British explorer in Bhutan’s forests about 80 years ago, the Bhutan Glory is a member of the Swallowtail family with a nearly 5 inch wingspan. The insect has beautiful, large red patterns on its rear wing. It is so rare, many thought it to be on the brink of extinction, but in 2011 it was “rediscovered” in several locations in and around Bhutan. Although protected by Indian law, the Bhutan glory is still threatened by excessive deforestation.
6. Chimaera Birdwing
This glorious black and yellow butterfly feeds on the nectar of hibiscus plants and African tulip trees in the rainforest of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Habitat loss is the main threat to the chimaera birdwing as forests are destroyed for agriculture, tree plantations, and urbanization, but so far it’s hanging on, and is classified as “Near Threatened.”
7. Luzon Peacock Swallowtail
First discovered in 1965, this butterfly is native to the Philippines. With a wingspan of over 4 inches, the Luzon Peacock brandishes the striking colors of its namesake. The insect is mostly black, with fore and hind wings splashed with bright colored scales. It has been listed as Endangered since 1996. Habitat destruction and over-collection are the biggest threats to the Luzon Peacock’s survival.
8. Jamaican Giant Swallowtail
This insect is the largest butterfly species in the Americas and native to the island of Jamaica, which unfortunately makes it prized among collectors. If they can escape the nets, adults usually grow to be about 6 inches across, and are dark in color with yellow and blue bands and spots. These butterflies prefer to dwell in habitats that are remote and undisturbed, which is difficult on an island with limited space and a growing population.
9. Golden Kaiser-i-Hind
This green and gold butterfly belongs to the Papilionidae family, which is highly threatened around the world. It is found in China and possibly Vietnam. Considered an endangered species, it is quite threatened by the wildlife trade, despite being protected by Chinese law.
10. Wallace’s Golden Birdwing
This butterfly is named after British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who discovered the species in 1859. At the time, Wallace described it as an insect of indescribable ‘beauty and brilliancy’ and it’s hard to argue with that description. This butterfly lives in the lowland areas of the Maluku Islands in Indonesia, which are also the focus of rampant, unsustainable logging that has drastically reduced its numbers.
11. Purple Emperor
The Purple Emperor used to be quite common in the British Isles. This large brown butterfly sports iridescent wings that shine blue or purple in the light. Unlike other butterflies, which feed on the nectar of flowers, “His Majesty” prefers to eat the honeydew secreted by aphids, and sometimes feasts upon dung and rotting animal carcasses. The decline of this butterfly in recent years is attributed to the widespread and large-scale loss of ancient woodlands.
12. Island Marble
Once a native of Canada, this green and white butterfly is now is known to inhabit only two small islands (San Juan and Lopez) in northwest Washington state. Habitat loss and an extremely small and isolated population make the Island Marble one of the most endangered insects in the world. Conservationists in Washington are fighting to have the Island Marble classified as endangered.
13. Richmond Birdwing
This colorful insect is one of Australia’s largest butterflies. Habitat destruction and drought are two of the prime causes for the drastic reduction in population of late. An invasive species of vine, which causes 100 percent mortality rate among the Richmond Birdwing’s larva, is another reason there are so few left in Australia. Thankfully, concerned Aussies are spreading the word, encouraging citizens to replant the correct food and breeding vines for these beautiful butterflies. Learn more at www.richmondbirdwing.org.au.
14. Sapho Longwing
These unique and dainty butterflies are native to Costa Rica, but have also been seen in the rainforests of Belize. They are one of the few species of butterflies that breed only on one specific plant, which may be the reason for their higher rate of extinction. If the plant goes extinct, due to climate change or habitat destruction, the butterfly will surely follow.
15. Spicebush Swallowtail
This North American butterfly likes to hang out in the Eastern states from southern Canada to Florida; and west to Oklahoma and central Texas. Marshes, bogs, swamps and agricultural areas are some of its prime habitats. Unfortunately, these are also the focus of development and heavy pesticide/herbicide use.
16. Banded Peacock
This butterfly is found in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and parts of South Asia, and is known as a fast flyer. It gets its name from its black color and green wing bands, which are reminiscent of a peacock.
17. Question Mark Butterfly
This small North American butterfly likes to hang out in wooded areas and city parks, or any area that has lots of trees and free space. Its name comes from “The silver mark on the underside of the hindwing is broken into two parts, a curved line and a dot, creating a ?-shaped mark…”
18. Common Buckeye
Don’t let the name fool you: there’s nothing boring about this plucky little butterfly. Found in southern Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia and all parts of the United States except the Northwest, it is most often spotted in the South, on the California coast, and throughout Central America and Colombia. This probably explains why it was featured on the 2006 United States Postal Service 24-cent postage stamp.
19. Banded Orange Tiger
Found from Brazil north through Central America to central Mexico, this butterfly performs a valuable service as a pollinator, feasting on flower nectar while flashing its brilliant black and orange coloring.
Native to Columbia, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador, the Glasswing butterfly is large and features magical transparent wing panels. These determined little pollinators don’t like to rush their meals and may spend hours on a single flower bloom while nectaring. Intensive farming with agrochemicals and increased ranching in the Andes, along with logging and coal mining, are a serious threat to the future of the glasswing species
21. Palos Verdes Blue
This is considered to be the rarest butterfly in the world. At one point, it was presumed extinct until researchers discovered a population clinging to life in San Pedro, California in 1994. A captive breeding program since then has been successful, but there are still only several hundred in the wild. Unfortunately, the two plants on which is lays eggs are fast becoming scarce on the Palos Verdes peninsula because of housing development.
22. Saturn Butterfly
This insect is found almost exclusively in the dark shady forest understorey of Singapore’s nature reserves. Their drab and cryptic undersides help camouflage them among the forest leaf litter as they forage for food.
23. Schaus Swallowtail
The Schaus Swallowtail was first listed as threatened species in 1976 due to the decline of its tropical habitat, mosquito control practices, and over collecting. Since then, several hurricanes, in particular Andrew in 1992 and Georges in 1998, severely damaged Schaus’ habitat, and butterfly numbers plummeted as low as a few dozen. It is now officially endangered.