Fluttering Jewels: Explore the different types of Butterflies of Hawaii

Kamehameha butterflies native endemic to Hawaii

In the lush paradise of Hawaii, where vibrant flora dances in the gentle breeze and the air is alive with the symphony of nature, there exists a hidden world of fluttering wonders: butterflies. These delicate creatures, adorned with intricate patterns and hues ranging from the subtlest pastels to the most striking neons, add a touch of enchantment to the islands. Join us on a journey through the kaleidoscope of butterfly species that call Hawaii home.

Kamehameha Butterfly (Vanessa Tameamea)

Native to Hawaii, and named after the legendary Hawaiian king, the Kamehameha butterfly is one of two iconic species that are native to the island and been the state butterfly of Hawaii since 2009. Their wingspans ranges from 2.5 to 3.5 inches, and are known to have graceful and erratic movements, characterised by short bursts of flight and followed by brief pauses and glides when in search for nectar. With its deep reddish orange wings adorned with black markings and a dash of white on the upper side of their wings, it gracefully flits among the native plants, including the iconic māmaki (Pipturus albidus), part of the Urticaceae family plant (nettle relatives).

Koa Butterfly (Udara Blackburni)

The Koa Butterfly, also known as Hawaiian Blue Butterfly or Blackburn’s blue, is the second butterfly that is endemic to Hawaii and is part of the family of Lycaenidae. Their wingspan is approximately 1 inch and can be recognized by the iridescent blue and black hues on the upper side of the wings, which shimmer in the sunlight. When they perch, their wings are folded which reveal the undersides of the wings which are green in color. The Koa caterpillars are primarily found feeding on the Koa tree and also on ‘a’ali’i, olomea, and mamaki plants. 

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus Plexippus)

Native to North and South America, but with their remarkable migratory behavior they have now established their presence in the islands. Monarch caterpillars exclusively feed on milkweed plants, specifically the Crown Flower (also known as Giant milkweed or Calotropis Gigantea). They have evolved to tolerate the toxins found in milkweed sap, which makes them unpalatable to predators. Their wingspan ranges from 3.5 to 4 inches and are easily recognizable by its vibrant orange wings patterned with bold black veins and white spots. The outer edges of the wings are lined with a thick black border speckled with tiny white spots. The bright orange coloration serves as a warning to predators, signalling the butterfly's toxicity.

Citrus Swallowtail (Papilio Xuthus)

A medium to large sized swallowtail butterfly that is native to Eastern Asia. They were introduced to Hawaii in the 1970’s and can commonly be found in urban areas where Citrus trees are common such as lemon, lime and tangelo. The caterpillars produce a smelly orange osmeterium from behind the head when disturbed to ward off predators. Their wings display a striking combination of black and yellow markings with a wingspan of 3.5 to 4.5 inches, making them relatively larger than other butterflies. They are easily recognizable by their distinct patterns, including bangs, spots and stripes, and also have an elongated “tails” extending from their hindwings. 

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis Vanillae)

With its mesmerizing combination of bright orange wings adorned with black markings, and iridescent silver spots, the Gulf Fritillary is a tropical delight that are native to the southern United States, particularly in the Gulf Coast region, hence its common name. Their wingspan ranges from 2.5 to 3.5 inches and reveal a mottled pattern of brown and orange hue when the wings are folded, providing a camouflage against predators when the butterfly is at rest. They are often seen fluttering around gardens and open spaces sipping on nectar from a variety of flowering plants and specifically their host plant which is the passion vine (lilikoi), adding a pop of color to the landscape. 

Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris Rapae)

They are believed to have originated in Europe, specifically in the Mediterranean region and has since spread to other parts of the world, primarily through human activities such as trade and transportation. Introduced to Hawaii, the Cabbage White butterfly is a common sight in gardens and agricultural areas. Cabbage whites enjoy a variety of mustards as larval host plants from leafy garden vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage to weeds such as london rocket, flixweed, garlic mustard, and whitetop. Relatively small with a wingspan ranging from 1.6 to 2.4 inches, their delicate white wings reveal a cream color and faint yellow or greenish tinges resembling much like a cabbage, making it a subtle yet elegant presence amidst the vibrant Hawaiian flora. The Cabbage White Butterflies are recognizable with their small black spots (one or two) near the center of the forewings. These spots are more prominent in males and may be absent or faint in females. 

Eurema Butterfly (Eurema Nicippe)

Commonly known as the sulfur butterfly, the Eurema species are native to the Americas and comprises several variations, including the Cloudless Sulphur and the Sleepy Orange. The species name is derived from the genus of its favorite host plants, Senna, a member of the pea family. These dainty butterflies ranging from 1.5 to 3 inches, are easily recognizable from their bright orange-yellow hues in their wings. Though markings vary in intensity and pattern between species, they typically have black and gray markings along the veins and edges of the wings. Their flight is charactized by quick, darting movements. These beautiful vibrant butterflies bring a sense of brightness to Hawaii's sunny skies.

As we marvel at the diverse array of butterflies that grace the Hawaiian islands, it's important to remember the vital role they play in the ecosystem. Beyond their aesthetic appeal, butterflies serve as pollinators, aiding in the reproduction of countless plant species. By protecting their habitats and preserving native flora, we ensure that these fluttering jewels continue to enchant future generations with their beauty.

Whether you're strolling through a tropical garden, hiking along verdant trails, or simply relaxing on a sandy beach, keep an eye out for these winged wonders. For in the delicate flutter of a butterfly's wings lies a glimpse of the magic that pervades the enchanting landscapes of Hawaii.