Because of its climate, Hawaii is a great place for butterflies, with many endemic species establishing themselves there. There are, interestingly, over 1000 species of butterflies and moths in Hawaii, and today, we’ll be taking a look at 20 of the most common types of butterflies in Hawaii, such as:
- Asian Swallowtail
- Sleepy Orange
- Cabbage White Butterfly
- Large Orange Sulphur
- Red Admiral
- California Tortoiseshell
- Monarch Butterfly
- Kamehameha Butterfly
- American Lady
- Painted Lady
- Amyntor Greenstreak
- Gram Blue
- Western Pygmy Blue
- Smaller Lantana Butterfly
- Long-winged Greenstreak
- Spring Azure
- Fiery Skipper
- Banana Skipper
- Sandhill Skipper
- Hawaiian Blue
Table of Contents
1. Asian Swallowtail
Scientific name: Papilio xuthus
The only representative of the swallowtails is the Asian swallowtail, also known as the Chinese yellow swallowtail – you can find them on all islands, usually around lemon, orange and lime trees.
They’re an invasive species, but they’re not a threat to local species. Rarely growing larger than 4 inches, their wings are usually yellow with a black pattern on the back.
- Size: no more than 4.3 inches.
- Color: yellow wings with a black pattern.
- Habitat: open areas, usually near host trees.
2. Sleepy Orange
Scientific name: Eurema nicippe
Spread across all Hawaiian Islands, the sleepy orange likes warm and wet environments; swamps, waterways, ponds, water valleys, etc. They’re no larger than 2.25 inches, and their topside is colored with a beautiful orange.
The tips of their wings are colored with a black blotting, while the underside is entirely orange. You can often spot them together in large groups, especially near host plants – usually different senna species.
- Size: about 2.25 inches.
- Color: orange with black blotting on edges, undersides are entirely orange.
- Habitat: wet environments such as swamps.
3. Cabbage White Butterfly
Scientific name: Pieris rapae
Native to the Middle East, these butterflies spread to Hawaii in the late 19th century, and you can now find them on all islands. They’ve also managed to spread to the rest of the world.
Very rarely reaching 2 inches in site, these butterflies look just like a small version of the large white butterfly. Their upper side is creamy-white with a few brown spots, making them very easy to recognize.
- Size: about 1.5 inches.
- Color: creamy-white with two or three brown spots.
- Habitat: open spaces and suburban areas.
4. Large Orange Sulphur
Scientific name: Phoebis agarithe
This species wasn’t reported on islands Ni’ihau and Kauai of the Aloha State, but it’s common on other islands where it usually lives in gardens, pastures, and parks, even in urban areas.
They can reach 2.5 inches in sites, while the males are usually a very bright orange, while females can be both orange and creamy-white. This makes it easy to distinguish the males from the females.
- Size: up to 2.5 inches.
- Color: males are orange, females can be both orange and creamy-white.
- Habitat: pastures, parks, and gardens.
5. Red Admiral
Scientific name: Vanessa atalanta
Reported on all Islands of Hawaii, the red admiral can’t survive cold winters, which is why it enjoys the Hawaiian climate. These animals display interesting behavior when it comes to butterflies – they’re territorial and they’ll defend their territory from other males.
They can reach 3 inches in wingspan, and they’re usually black with a distinct red stripe on each wing, followed by a few white spots at the tips of the wings. The bottom of their hindwings is also red.
- Size: up to 3 inches.
- Color: black with a red stripe, a red bottom of their hind wings, and a few white spots.
- Habitat: moist environments, but also parks and fields.
6. California Tortoiseshell
Scientific name: Nymphalis californica
The Californian tortoiseshell is an invasive species and it’s by now spread to all the main islands of Hawaii. There, it’s known to have seemingly random boosts in population.
They’re about 2.75 inches wide, usually orange with a beautiful black spotting and a dark rim on the bottom of their wings. Californian tortoiseshells are an important
- Size: up to 2.75 inches.
- Color: orange with black spotting and a black rim.
- Habitat: woodlands and brush areas.
7. Monarch Butterfly
Scientific name: Danaus plexippus
Reported on islands Kauai, Oahu and Maui, Monarch Butterfly is one of the most widespread butterflies in Hawaii. They’re usually about four inches wide, and they’re a favorite to many collectors because of their intricate coloring.
Their wings are orange with a black webbing, as well as a black rim covered with white spots while the underside is exactly the same. They’re possibly the most recognizable butterfly in the entire country.
- Size: about 4 inches.
- Color: orange with black webbing and a black rim.
- Habitat: fields, meadows, and marshes.
- Interesting fact: they’re the first species of butterfly to emerge from cocoons on the International Space Station.
8. Kamehameha Butterfly
Scientific name: Vanessa tameamea
Also known as the ‘Hawaiian butterfly’, this species is endemic to Hawaii, found only in this state. It is not only the state insect of Hawaii, but it’s also one of two endemic butterfly species in Hawaii.
Growing up to 2.5 inches in wingspan, these butterflies have three sets of color – black on the outer side of the wings, red in the middle, and orange around the body.
They can be difficult to spot because of their irregular flight.
- Size: up to 2.5 inches.
- Color: black on wing tips, red in the middle, and orange around the body.
- Habitat: they prefer streams and koa-tree forests.
9. American Lady
Scientific name: Vanessa virginiensis
This species was introduced to Hawaii by hand, where it has now spread all over the state, which makes it one of the most common butterflies in the entire country.
For the most part, they’re orange, with black tips and white spots on their wings. The underside is mostly brown with a few white spots with seemingly no pattern to it. They can grow up to 2 inches in width, and they’re very easy to recognize.
- Size: 2 inches in wingspan.
- Color: orange with black tips and white spots, underside is brown with white spots.
- Habitat: mostly open fields and dry areas.
10. Painted Lady
Scientific name: Vanessa cardui
The most widespread butterfly in the world is common on all Hawaiian Islands, where it usually lives in open fields, grasslands, and meadows. They’re also one of the most recognizable butterflies in the world.
Their underside is a combination of brown, black and white, while the upper side of their wings is black on top of the wings and orange in the center and the bottom. Both parts are covered with black and white spots.
- Size: about 2.8 inches.
- Color: black wing tips with white spots, the rest of the wings are orange with black spots.
- Habitat: open fields and grasslands.
11. Amyntor Greenstreak
Scientific name: Cyanophrys amyntor
A very rare species, the greenstreak has been spotted in Hawaii multiple times. However, given their small numbers, you’ll be very lucky if you actually spot them.
These butterflies are about an inch wide, making them very difficult to notice. On top of that, they’re great at blending in, as they’re entirely green and they look like a leaf.
- Size: about 1 inch.
- Color: entirely green, blending in with the environment.
- Habitat: lowland forests.
12. Gram Blue
Scientific name: Euchrysops cnejus
Common on all Islands of Hawaii, these butterflies spread from Asia. They’re barely an inch in size, but they’re a beautiful sight to see. The very center of their body is usually blue.
That blue is surrounded by brown stripes, making it look like they’re part of a tree. Both males and females usually have four (or even more in some cases) black spots on the bottom of their hindwings.
- Size: about an inch.
- Color: a blue center with a brown outer space.
- Habitat: mostly bushes.
13. Western Pygmy Blue
Scientific name: Brephidium exilis
The smallest butterfly in North America has spread to Hawaii, making them the smallest butterfly species on the islands. They rarely grow to be larger than ¾ of an inch, but they’re usually even smaller than that.
The top side of their wings is copper-color, while the center is blue. The underside is a combination of copper and white, with no blue center. You’re most likely going to find them in marshes and barren areas.
- Size: from 0.5 to 0.75 inches.
- Color: copper with a blue center – underside has white center.
- Habitat: barren areas and marshes.
14. Smaller Lantana Butterfly
Scientific name: Strymon bazochii
Not much larger than the previous entry, the smaller lantana butterfly was introduced to Hawaii in 1902, where it now inhabits all islands. It’s very rarely larger than an inch.
Their hindwings are beautifully blue, while the forewings are rainbow-colored, with multiple colors transcending in the sunlight. You can find them near basil and lantana plants.
- Size: about an inch.
- Color: hindwings are blue, forewings are rainbow-colored.
- Habitat: near basil fields and lantana plant fields.
15. Long-winged Greenstreak
Scientific name: Cyanophrys longula
Reaching 1.2 inches in width, the long-winged greenstreak migrated to Hawaii and it’s been documented on all islands. It is, however, a rare species and you’re not likely to come across it.
They’re mostly blue with a thick, black rim on the topside of the wings. Their underside is mostly green, making them blend in with the environment. They’re a very rare species, so unfortunately, not much is known about them.
- Size: about 1.2 inches.
- Color: blue with black rim, the underside is entirely green.
- Habitat: they have no distinct habitat.
16. Spring Azure
Scientific name: Celastrina ladon
Also known as the echo blue, we can find this species only on Molokai Island of Hawaii, where it usually inhabits the edges of deciduous woods. This small butterfly isn’t that common in Hawaii.
They’re about 1.4 inches in size, and they’re entirely metallic, pale blue with a white rim. Their underside has a black rim and white speckles.
There’s still some debate regarding the taxonomy, so there are actually four subspecies (all almost identical) under this name.
- Size: about 1.4 inches.
- Color: metallic, pale-blue, with a white rim on the topside and black rim on the underside.
- Habitat: forest edges.
17. Fiery Skipper
Scientific name: Hylephila phyleus
There are documented sightings of the fiery skipper on every island of Hawaii, so they’re a fairly spread out species, usually living in sunny fields, gardens and lawns, even near urban areas.
They’re about an inch wide, and their underside is completely orange. The topside is orange with black markings, making it look like they’re on fire, hence the name. Because of their distinct look, they’re very easy to recognize and they’re a favorite of collectors.
- Size: about 1 inch.
- Color: orange underside, topside is orange with black markings (making it look like they’re on fire).
- Habitat: open grasslands, gardens, and fields.
18. Banana Skipper
Scientific name: Erionota thrax
This species was introduced to Hawaii and it’s spread to all islands, and we can now recognize four different subspecies. They can grow up to 3 inches in wingspan.
They’re almost completely brown, with a few cream-colored spots on their forewings. In the wild, they’re most often seen near banana plants and palm trees.
- Size: 3 inches.
- Color: completely chocolate-brown with a few cream spots on forewings.
- Habitat: agricultural fields and urban areas.
19. Sandhill Skipper
Scientific name: Polites sabuleti
Documented only on Kauai Island, these butterflies usually inhabit meadows, lawns, marshes, and grasslands. There, they reach sizes of up to 1.3 inches, and they’re not difficult to recognize.
The center of their topside is green and the wings are mostly fiery-orange with a white rim. The underside is almost completely cream-colored. You’ll most likely find them feeding on flower nectar.
- Size: about 1 inch, sometimes they reach 1.3 inches.
- Color: center is dark green, wings are fiery-orange. The underside is cream.
- Habitat: lawns, grasslands, meadows, and marshes.
20. Hawaiian Blue
Scientific name: Udara blackburnii
The last entry on this list is a species endemic to Hawaii, found exclusively on Hawaiian Islands and nowhere else in the world. These butterflies can grow up to 1.2 inches and they’re very easy to recognize.
Their underside is a light marine-blue color with plenty of tiny black spots, while their topside is dark brown, almost red. This coloring allows them to easily blend in with the shrubbery.
- Size: about 1 inch.
- Color: topside is dark brown, the underside is a light marine-blue.
- Habitat: no specific habitat.