How to Identify Butterflies

Butterflies are everywhere and many people don't know how to identify them. They can be identified by their color, shape and size. First, make sure it is actually a butterfly. Butterflies have four wings with scales, slender bodies, clubbed or hooked antennaes and are active during the day.


Determining the shape of the butterflies is an easy step. Each shape is different than the next. The different shapes of butterflies are called swallowtails, milkweed, longwings, fritllaries, and whites and sulphurs. Swallowtails are the largest and whites and sulphurs are the smallest.


There are numerous colors that butterflies can be identified by. The majority of butterlies are more than one color, which can make it more difficult to identify butterflies. Butterflies may also have different colors on the top of its wings than on the bottom. The main colors include black, blue, brown, copper, green,grey, orange, purple, red, white and yellow.


The size of a butterfly may be the hardest way to identify a butterfly. The size of a butterfly is determined by the its wingspan. They measure from one forewing tip, top of the wing, to the other.Most of the time people will not be able to measure the wingspan of the butterfly in order to determine the exact size. A small butterfly is between 3/4" and 1 3/4", a medium butterfly is between 1 3/4" and 3 3/4", and a large butterfly is between 3 3/4" and 6 1/2". The smallest butterfly in the world is the blue pygmy, with a wingspan of just over 1/2" found in southern California. The largest in the world is New guinea's Queen Alexandra's birdwing which can measure up to 12".

Put It Together

Knowing all of these things together will not automatically tell exactly what butterfly a person has found. However, once the shape, color(s) and size are determoned it will make identifying a butterfly easier when looking it up.

Great Eggfly

Identifying Sites

Florida Museum of Natural History Butterfly Rainforest-Gainesville has a guide that helps guests identify butterflies by color. Guests just click on the color the butterfly they saw or took a picture of, and the guide shows a picture and names of all blue butterflies they have in its butterfly garden.Gardens with Wings allows viewers to view butterfly pictures by shape, color or size in order to identify butterflies. They also allow people to look up butterflies by name.