Brushfooted Butterflies - Nymphalidae Family

I really don't belong here but was just stopping by to say 'Hi'.  I'm a Citrus papilio.

Brushfooted Butterflies are
the largest butterfly family.

Worldwide there are about 6500 species with 200 of them in North America.

This group is so large that there are many sub-families for these butterfly species which include...

Photo: Wernerl

  • Danaidae which is family to the Monarch,
  • Libytheidae which is family to the Snout Butterfly.
  • Heliconiinae, or Longwings, where Batesian Mimicry was discovered.

The different characteristic for brushfooted butterflies are the small front legs. Sometimes difficult for the human eye to see, their front pair of legs are smaller in size than others. Because of this they are also called the four-footed butterfly. These small legs allow them to taste their food.

Some have called this small front leg in a developed brushfooted butterfly a Proleg. Technically a Proleg is more common with the caterpillar. Prolegs are not true legs and have no joints.

Colors of every kind are found in the Nymphalidae family.  Orange, red, black and white are common themes used differently and creatively throughout this butterfly species.

Other common species in the brushfooted butterfly family:

  • Monarchs - Sub-family Danaidae, Larvae feed on various milkweed plants.
  • Crescents - Most types of Crescents are found in North America.
  • Peacocks - Found in the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia and as far east as Japan.
  • Passionvine - Found in tropical environments of North and South America.
  • Admiral - Known to be fast fliers, sub-family Limentidinae, found in Europe, Scandinavia North America and North Africa.
  • Emperor Butterfly (His Majesty) - Found in woodlands of UK and Europe.
  • Painted Lady (Cosmopolitans) - Found on every continent except Antarctica.
  • Blue Morpho Butterfly - Found in North and South America.

  • Lacewings - Found from India to Southern China and continuing to expand.

Morphogens and the Nymphalidae Family

With the Blue Morpho part of the Nymphalidae family this would be a good time to mention Morphogens. Scientists were curious to know about the development of eye spots on the wings of butterflies in this family.

It was learned the genes that control the formation of these eye spots with many brushfooted butterflies were the same genes that control the formation of our human arm and the wings of a bird - even fins on fish!

Through killing and transplanting cells during the caterpillar and pupal stage before the adult butterfly would emerge, scientists were able to take away any eye spots or relocate them to a different place of the wing.

Proteins, called morphogens, have the ability to influence the development of these cells. These morphogens are active in certain locations and have the ability to tell DNA genes what to do, or to make an eye spot.

In contrast to the Nymphalidae family, the Pieridae family of butterflies have spots on their wings of a single color. Some of the same genes are shared between families but it is not the same mechanism, morphogens, that produces these spots in the Pieridae family.  Learn more about butterfly colors of wings.

Photo: Hakoar

This picture shows the Blue Morpho with wings folded up. Lot's of Spots!

Look closely at the picture below.  Lighting is where spots on the bottom-side show through. 

Scales on the wings of the Blue Morpho Butterfly reflect light.

This picture show the iridescence of scattering on wings.  Wing color is actually brown.

Photo: Petegallop

Viceroy Butterfly on Flower
Photo: Travis Marler

Other Brushfooted Butterflies include:

Vanessa Butterfly - This is a genus of Nymphalidae that are found throughout the world.  Very familiar names include White and Red Admiral butterflies, Painted Lady butterfly, Purple Emperor butterfly, Small tortoiseshell butterfly, Peacock Butterfly and Comma Butterfly.  Many which are amongst the following pictures of brushfooted butterflies.

Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele)

Found in southern Canada down to most of United States except many southern border states. 

Preferring wooded areas but can be seen in gardens.  Host plants are violets.

Photo: Jeffrey J. Conville

High Brown Fritillary (Fabriciana adippe)

Found in Great Britain, across Europe, Asia and into Japan.  This butterfly can be seen flying in wooded areas to rocky banks where host plants of wild violets can be found.

Photo: Anky10

Mormon Fritillary (Speyeria mormonia)

Found throughout North America in the mountain regions of the west.  Host plants are violets.

Photo: Willie Manalo

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly (Agraulis vanillae)

Seen throughout the Gulf of Mexico from southern border U.S. states to areas of Central America, Mexico and Caribbean.  

This is a large butterfly averaging over 3 inches (8 cm).  Because host plants are poisonous, butterfly larva are toxic to predators.

Photo: Luis Tejo

White Morpho Butterfly  (Morpho polyphemus)

Found in Central America, Mexico and Costa Rica we are more familiar with the Blue Morpho, but there are a small number that are white.

See also the picture of the White morpho's wings filling with hemolymph.

Photo: Gilles Malo

White Peacock Butterfly  (Anartia jatrophae)

Host plants are diverse.
  This butterfly is found southeast North America, Central America and South America.

Not strong fliers they don't wander far from their preferred water and shoreline climates.

Wing span for the White Peacock averages 2-1/4 inches (8 cm).

Photo: Kateleigh

Straightline Mapwing  (Cyrestis nivea nivalis)

With about 25 species, the cyrestis genus is found throughout south-east Asia, Thailand and Malaysia to India and beyond.   

See detail of wings of map-wing on the Exotic Butterfly page.

Photo: Yulan

Great Nawab Butterfly    (Polyura eudamippus)   -  Male

Photo: Nexus7
Photo: Thawats

Averaging just over 3 inches (9 cm), there are 24 species withing this genus.  It is found throughout Northern Africa, China, Malaysia, Thailand to India, Nepal and Australia.  Host plants include Albizia, Celtis and Rhamnella. 

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

The sub-family is Danainae, which their only host plants are milkweeds.  Primarily Monarch's are found throughout southern Canada, United States, Central America and northern South America.  More at mimicry and the butterfly migration pages.

Photo: Danapaul14

Lacewing butterfly (Cethosia sp.)

Caterpillars feed on Passiflora, which are poisonous.  From the Heliconiinae sub-family, colors resemble Tiger Longwing (below).  Batesian mimicry is prevalent within species.  They are also known for their sexual dimorphism.

Photo: Aleksandrs Jemeljanovs

Tiger Longwing Butterfly (Heliconius hecale)

Heliconius butterflies was when Henry Walter Bates discovered mimicry amongst species.  Longwings are tropical butterflies, including the Tiger Longwings.  Found in the southern United States throughout South America, host plants are Passion flower vine.

Photo: Gilles Malo

Pearl Crescent Butterfly (Phyciodes tharos)

Known as a true brushfooted butterfly, Pearl Crescent is found throughout the United States except for the west coastline.  Very distinguishing to the males are the black tips of the antennae.  Males also prefer patrolling for females in open fields. 

Photo: Stevebrigman

Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta)

The Red Admiral is found in warmer areas of North America, Asia and Europe but will travel north and hibernate.  These, along with Monarch's, are considered easier to raise than many other butterfly species.  See the how to raise butterflies page and their host plants.

Photo: Fototdietrich

Piano Key Heliconius (Heliconius melpomone)

Found in tropical areas of Central and South America, Piano Key Butterflies colors vary but the backwings edge show the variation of trailing colors.  They are a hybrid of the Postman Butterfly, also H. melpomone. 

Photo: John Anderson

Peacock Butterfly (Inachis io)

Recognized for their eye spots that scare predators away, the Peacock is found in England, Europe, Asia and Japan.  Preferred host plants are Common Nettle (Urtica dioica), Small Nettle (Urtica urens) and Hop (Humulus lupulus).

Photo: Gary Uttley

Southern White Admiral (Limenitis reducta)

Found in northern Spain across southern France, Italy, across to Turkey, Asia to Japan.   Host plant is honeysuckle (Lonicera species).  Very territorial, males perch when seeking a mate. 

Depending on light hitting wings, butterfly colors can appear vibrantly blue to dark and ruddy. 

Photo: Naturefriend

Purple Emperor Butterfly (Apatura ilia)

Found in Europe and Asia, this picture is the male.  The female is also beautiful with more brown throughout her wings with cream to rose pastel colors, rarely hints of purple.

Depending on region, sexual dimorphism and polymorphism within species is common.

Photo: Per Christensen

Related Articles:

Butterfly Wings -
               The wings of butterflies are precision flying machines.

Butterfly Migration -
               Monarch wings are designed for long flights.

Little White Butterflies -
                You've seen them, they're all over.

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