About Butterflies

tiger swallowtail butterfly © John Galluzzo,  Mass Audubon
tiger swallowtail butterfly © John Galluzzo, Mass Audubon

Butterflies occupy a happy spot in the human psyche. Only our most exuberant songbirds are as closely identified with the warm, colorful passion of summer. We tend to think of butterflies—quite rightly—as inhabitants of sunny meadows filled with wildflowers.

But butterflies live in a broad spectrum of habitats including forests, heathlands, bogs, swamps, even salt marshes—anywhere, in fact, where their caterpillar food plants and sources of nectars for adults are found. In addition to their aesthetic appeal, butterflies are among nature's most fascinating creatures. Did you know that:

  • One hundred three species of butterflies occur regularly in Massachusetts and another 27 species have been recorded as rare vagrants or have become extinct in the state.
  • Several species of Massachusetts butterflies such as the Mourning Cloak overwinter as adults—quite possibly in the walls of your house!
  • One species, the Harvester, is a carnivore, its caterpillar gorging itself on wooly aphids and then hiding under a pile of discarded aphid skeletons.
  • A few species eat poisonous plants as caterpillars and become unpalatable to predators like birds. Other, non-poisonous species gain protection by mimicking the color patterns of toxic ones and faking out their would-be attackers.
  • There are currently seven species of butterflies on the Massachusetts Endangered Species List.