The History and Future of Our Butterflies


Table 1: Butterflies Which May Have Increased or Decreased in Massachusetts 1600-1850 

Table 2: Butterflies Which May Have Increased or Decreased in Massachusetts 1900-2000

Table 3: Switchers: Butterflies Known to have Switched to a Non-native Host Plant in Massachusetts

Table 6: Species likely to Increase or Decrease in Massachusetts as a result of Climate Warming


Table 1:  Butterflies Which May Have Increased or Decreased in MA 1600 - 1850

as a result of agricultural and other development  

Probably Increased

Probably Decreased

Pipevine Swallowtail (ornamental vine)

West Virginia White (forest loss)

Black Swallowtail  (growth of agriculture)

Banded Hairstreak (lumbering-oaks)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (edge/early successional)

Hickory Hairstreak   (lumbering-hickory)

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail (edge/successional)  
Spicebush Swallowtail (edge/early successional)

Hessel’s Hairstreak (lumbering-white cedar)

Mustard White (growth of agric;later declines)

Early Hairstreak  (lumbering-beech)

Clouded Sulphur  (imported clovers)

Atlantis Fritillary

American Copper (open habitat;questionably native)

 Eastern Comma (forest loss; but increase in hops)

Bronze Copper (increase in open wet meadows)

Compton Tortoiseshell  (forest loss)

Coral Hairstreak (increase-decrease-increase of  early successional woodlots)

Northern Pearly-Eye (forest loss)

Striped Hairstreak (increase-decrease-increase of early successional woodlots)

Mulberry Wing (decrease in sedge meadows)
Brown Elfin

 Broad winged Skipper (decrease in wild rice)

Eastern Pine Elfin  (first decrease; then increase)

 Black Dash (decrease in sedge meadows)

Juniper Hairstreak (early successional habitat)


Gray Hairstreak  (hops cultivation)


Eastern Tailed-Blue (increase in weedy host plants)


Azure spp.  (edge & early successional  habitat)


Variegated Fritillary  

Great Spangled Fritillary


Aphrodite Fritillary


Regal Fritillary


Silver-bordered Fritillary  (increase in wet meadows)


Meadow Fritillary  (open pasture)


Harris’ Checkerspot (increase in  moist meadows)


Pearl Crescent  (increase in disturbed habitat)


Baltimore Checkerspot (increase of moist meadows)


Mourning Cloak (use of ornamental willow, poplar and elms)


Gray Comma  (currant cultivation)


Milbert's Tortoiseshell (increase in weedy nettles)  

Red Admiral  (increase in weedy nettles)


American Lady (increase in pasture)


Common Buckeye (increase in open areas)  

Red-spotted Purple/White Admiral (edge and early successional) (dung)


Viceroy (edge and early successional)


Eyed and Appalachian Browns


Little Wood Satyr


Common Wood Nymph


Monarch  (increase in open areas and host plants)


Silver-spotted Skipper (import of new host - locust)


Hoary Edge  

Northern Cloudywing


Dreamy and  Sleepy Duskywings


Juvenal’s, Horaces', and Wild Indigo Duskywings


Common Sootywing


Upland Skippers: Arctic, Least, Leonard's, Indian, Peck’s, Tawny-edged, Crossline, Long Dash, Northern Broken-Dash?, Hobomok, Dun, Dusted, Common Roadside




[Arrivals after 1900: Cabbage White, Orange Sulphur, Silvery Blue, Hackberry and Tawny Emperors??, Common Ringlet, European Skipper]      


Table 2: Butterflies which may have Decreased 1900-2000 due to loss of open habitat,

or Increased due to immigration, adaptation to new host plants, or expansion of habitat



Increases: immigrants; new hosts or habitat

Black Swallowtail  (decline of agriculture) Spicebush Swallowtail (early successional habitat)
Mustard White Cabbage White  (introduced non-native)

Clouded Sulphur

Orange Sulphur  (range expansion; non native hosts)

Bog Copper (loss of wetlands in eastern Mass.)

 Frosted Elfin

Edwards’ Hairstreak (loss of scrub oak barrens )

 Henry’s Elfin (adoption of buckthorn)

Juniper Hairstreak (loss of old field habitat)

Silvery Blue  (range expansion, introduced host plants )


Aphrodite Fritillary

Great Spangled Fritillary

Regal Fritillary  (extirpated; loss of large grasslands)

Baltimore Checkerspot after 1980 (adoption of non-native host plantain)

Silver-bordered Fritillary (loss of wet meadows)

Red-spotted Purple /White Admiral (increase of forests, early successional and edge habitat)

Meadow Fritillary  (loss of upland meadows)

Viceroy (increase of early successional and edge habitat)

Harris’ Checkerspot (loss of wet meadows)


Baltimore Checkerspot until the 1980s  

Gray Comma  (decrease of host plant)

Northern Pearly-Eye (re-growth of forests)

Common Sootywing  (decline of agriculture)

Common Ringlet (range expansion, introduced host lawn grasses)


Wild Indigo Duskywing (adoption of introduced host plant crown vetch


Silver-spotted Skipper (adoption of non-native host)

  Hoary Edge
  Southern Cloudywing
  Horace's Duskywing
  Arctic Skipper (range extension southward)
All univoltine wetland skippers except Broad-winged and Dun; e.g. Black Dash, Mulberry Wing

European Skipper (introduced non-native)

Many upland skippers:  Leonard's, Cobweb , Indian, Hobomok, Tawny-edged, Long Dash, Common Roadside

Broad-winged Skipper (adoption of Phragmites)

  Pepper-and-Salt Skipper
  Northern Broken-Dash
  Little Glassywing (northward range expansion)
  Delaware Skipper (northward range expansion)


Fiery Skipper, Sachem,  American Snout,, Zabulon Skipper  (northward range expansions )


Table 3: SWITCHERS: Massachusetts Butterflies Known to have Switched to a Non-native Host Plant

in addition to, or instead of, the original host 

Species  Non-Native Host(s)  Presumed Native Host(s) in Massachusetts
Black Swallowtail Queen Anne's Lace, Parsley, Dill, Fennel, Carrots ** Sium spp. Cicuta spp.
Giant Swallowtail Citrus spp. ;Ruta graveolens Zanthoxylum americanum
Mustard White garden and weedy crucifers**; Cardamine pratensis var. pratensis Cardamine diphylla, concatenata
Clouded Sulphur Clovers, e.g. Medicago sativa  **  
Orange Sulphur Alfalfa  
American Copper Sheep Sorrel, Curly Dock, Garden Sorrel  ** (none- butterfly probably not native)
Bronze Copper Curly Dock (Rumex crispus)  ** Great Water Dock (R. orbiculatus) and others
Henry's Elfin


Buckthorns Vaccinium; Nemopanthus mucronatus; poss. other hollies on Cape Cod
Gray Hairstreak Trifolium repens, Melilotis, Malva spp. , Humulus** Lespedeza spp.;   Desmodium spp.
Eastern Tailed-Blue Rabbit's Foot Clover **  
Silvery Blue (Northern ssp.) Cow Vetch; Crown Vetch unknown
Baltimore Checkerspot Lance-leaved Plantain Chelone glabra; switch in 1980's
Question Mark Stinging Nettle, Hops ** Elm, hackberry, false nettle
Eastern Comma Stinging Nettle, Hops ** Elm, wood-nettle (Laportea)
Gray Comma cultivated Ribes spp. ** native Ribes spp.
Milbert's Tortoiseshell Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)** Urtica gracilis
American Lady Echinops ritro Anaphalis; Antennaria, Gnaphalium
Red Admiral Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) ** Wood-nettle (Laportea); Boehmeria
Common Buckeye Lance-leaved Plantain** ;              Butter-and-Eggs (Linaria vulgaris) Purple Gerardia (Agalinis purpurea); other gerardias
Common Ringlet Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) Stipa spp.
Southern Cloudywing recently found on red clover Desmodium  spp; Lespedeza spp.
Northern Cloudywing red and white clovers, vetches  ** Desmodium spp.; Lespedeza spp.
Wild Indigo Duskywing Crown Vetch  (Coronilla varia) Baptisia tinctoria
Common Checkered-Skipper Common Malva (Malva neglecta)** none
Common Sootywing Chenopodium album  ** Chenopodium +Amaranthus spp.
Silver-spotted Skipper Robinia pseudacadia (not  native to Mass.)** Apios americana; Amphicarpaea bracteata
Peck's Skipper Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis)** Leersia oryzoides; Little Bluestem
Tawny-edged Skipper Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis) Schizachyrium & Panicum grasses
Broad-winged Skipper Phragmites australis (native in part) Zizania  aquatica  (wild rice)

                                                                    **=known by 1900 to be using non-natives

       Note 1: "Native" means "reported to have been present in Massachusetts before the arrival of European settlers."         

Note 2:  There are few rigorous studies of how often a species’ eggs/larvae are found on one host rather than another in nature.  Historical authorities such as Scudder reported what the most widely used host plants were thought to be, drawing on both field observations and laboratory rearings.. Today’s host plant studies usually distinguish between what a species will accept in confined laboratory conditions and what it uses in the wild, and how well it thrives on a particular host. It is also now more clear that a species’ hosts in nature may differ a great deal according to locality.


Table 6: Species likely to Increase or Decrease in Massachusetts

as a result of Climate Warming  


Likely Increases

Likely Decreases

Giant Swallowtail

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

Pipevine Swallowtail

Mustard White

Little Yellow

West Virginia White

Oak Hairstreak

Silvery Blue

Frosted Elfin

Bronze Copper

Henry's Elfin

Bog Copper

Red-banded Hairstreak

Acadian Hairstreak

White M Hairstreak

Hickory Hairstreak

American Snout

Brown Elfin

Variegated Fritillary

Hoary Elfin

Common Buckeye 

Bog Elfin

Hackberry Emperor Early Hairstreak
Tawny Emperor

Aphrodite Fritillary

Appalachian Brown

Atlantis Fritillary

Long-tailed Skipper

Silver-bordered Fritillary

Southern Cloudywing

Meadow Fritillary

Sleepy Duskywing

Harris’ Checkerspot

Horace’s Duskywing

Gray Comma

Common Checkered-Skipper

Compton Tortoiseshell

Swarthy Skipper

Milbert’s Tortoiseshell

Fiery Skipper

White Admiral (subsp.)

Sachem Skipper

Northern Pearly-Eye

Little Glassywing Eyed Brown

Zabulon Skipper

Common Ringlet

Broad-winged Skipper

Dreamy Duskywing
Dun Skipper

Arctic Skipper

Dusted Skipper

European Skipper
Ocola Skipper

Leonard's Skipper


Indian Skipper


Long Dash


Hobomok Skipper
  Two-spotted Skipper


Pepper and Salt Skipper


Common Roadside Skipper







Increases: can take place either through movement of current ranges north (for example, White M Hairstreak, Southern Cloudywing, Zabulon Skipper), or through increase of numbers due to more favorable breeding season (for example, Horaces' Duskywing). Specifically, a species might become a "new resident", successfully over-wintering when it had not earlier (for example, possibly Pipevine Swallowtail, Common Checkered-Skipper, or Little Yellow).  In some species, increases in the number of broods may be possible: for example, fresh individuals of, say, Wild Indigo Duskywing in September may indicate three broods, rather than the two broods we know of at present. Or finally, there are late-season migrants which may simply be seen more frequently during the summer, such as Common Buckeye, Sachem, Fiery Skipper, Ocola Skipper, and Long-tailed Skipper, which may go through brood cycles but which probably cannot over-winter.



© Sharon Stichter 2010 , 2011, 2012

page updated  12-18-2012




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