The following photographs represent my chance encounters with butterflies. If you're looking for a systematic photographic survey, I recommend the Butterflies of New Mexico web site maintained by Joe Schelling. Joe has helped me with multiple IDs.
The images are organized alphabetically by taxonomic level. Unlike moths, virtually all butterflies all fall into a single superfamily, the Papilionoidea, so my taxonomic breakdown begins with a separate page for each family. (The other pages cover the Hesperiidae (skippers), Lycaenidae (gossamer-winged butterflies), Papilionidae (swallowtails) and Pieridae.) The images below are organized by genus and species. When you encounter a slide show, hover your cursor over the images to control them. If you see an error, please contact me via the Contact tab at the top of the page.
Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)
Arizona sisters supposedly prefer settings with with oaks and water. Both of those habitat values can be found at the lower end of Embudito Canyon (where I took my August 2021 photo). My earlier (September 2020) photos were taken in Juan Tabo Canyon, where there's plenty of oak but no water source that I know of.
If you look at one of my August 2021 photos of an Arizona Sister sipping at the edge of a pothole (the one where the wings are open), there's a lot going on. Two dead moths are floating in the water. Less obviously, two tiny bees are hovering impatiently, focused on the butterfly (at one o'clock and six o'clock, relative to it). No idea what the bees are up to.
In the first series of images (taken during a hike to San Miguel Mountain, part of Nacimiento Ridge in the Jemez Mountains) the butterflies are feeding from chamisso arnica flowers. The second series was taken during a hike up Redondo Creek in Valles Caldera National Preserve. In those photos, the butterflies are feeding from dandelions. The series also includes one photo from a hike on Mt. Taylor; those particular butterflies seemed more interested in each other than in feeding.
Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)
We encountered this individual near the stand of well-established hackberry trees in lower Embudito Canyon. The larvae eat hackberry leaves and one food source for the adults (which usually don't visit flowers) is hackberry sap.
Mead's Wood Nymph (Cercyonis meadii)
The reason I'm including such a blurry picture (above) is because Mead's wood nymphs are locally rare. The clincher for the ID is a large rufous patch on the underside of the forewing. That's almost entirely masked in the main photo, but you can see that patch in a second, even blurrier picture to the left.
Wood Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)
The thing to look for with this butterfly is the two large spots on the underside of each forewing. However, the hindwing may mask one of the spots.
Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia)
Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus)
One way to distinguish a queen from a monarch is to notice how the undersides of the queen's forewings and hindwings are the same shade of orange.
Monarch (Danaus plexippus)
Notice how the undersides of a monarch's hindwings are pale, while the undersides of a queen's wings (above) are a consistent orange.
Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)
When I encountered a variegated fritillary lying on the stream bottom in San Lorenzo Canyon, in November 2019, I thought it was dead. After my first couple of photographs I tried to turn it over, and it fluttered off. Not very far—it must have been near the end. Still, one tough critter to have lasted so late into the fall.
Gray Buckeye (Junonia grisea)
In New Mexico these butterflies were formerly classified as the Common Buckeye, Junonia coenia. To read more about buckeyes and their current classification, check out this blog.
American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)
This is my candidate for New Mexico's Ugliest Butterfly. The one I photographed in the Bosque in September 2021 had surprisingly ragged wings, but seemed to have no problem flying.
Weidemeyer's Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii)
As I learned the first time I saw them, these gorgeous butterflies aren't above sipping from fresh scat. If you look closely at the image from Sulphur Canyon, you can see a fly and a second insect just below the scat. The handheld butterfly from Mount Taylor was lying dead on the CDT when we came by. The August 2021 example looked beat up but was going strong.
Spiny Elm Caterpillar, Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
These intimidating-looking caterpillars morph into the Mourning Cloak butterfly. The undersides of the wings are dark and dull, with ragged-looking edges; when the wings are closed it's difficult to see the butterfly among dead leaves. The upper sides of the wings are maroon with blue spots. The adults hibernate during the winter and are among the first butterflies you'll see in New Mexico each spring.
Field Crescent (Phyciodes pulchella)
Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)
Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)
When the Hoary Comma's wings are completely closed, it looks like a piece of dead leaf. Even the legs contribute to the camouflage, looking like tiny dry twigs. Then the wings open in a burst of orange.
Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)
West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella)
The West Coast Lady has three small but obvious eye spots in the underside of each hindwing. Also, compared to the Painted Ladies you see below, the black-and-white wing tip area is less elaborate.
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
In the photo where the wings are fully open, the red admiral was hanging upside down and I rotated the image.
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
The Painted Lady has four (sometimes five) small but obvious eye spots on the underside of each hind wing. Each warm season, Painted Lady butterflies migrate northward from wintering grounds in northern Mexico. They're a common site in and near Albuquerque.