Oregon butterflies and their host plants | Natural World | Fold | The Weekly Source

Bbutterflies fluttering in the forest, prairie, or your backyard are a sure sign of summer in central Oregon. Warmer weather and blooming flowers bring out a wide variety of these amazing and delicate creatures, making them easy to spot and observe. It’s the bright colors that grab the attention of many people, but did you know that all butterflies are also deeply connected to the earth around them? They depend on native plants as hosts to lay their eggs, to provide the food young caterpillars need to survive, and as sources of nectar to sip on the liquid ingredients they need to feed themselves. One of the best-known examples is, of course, the monarch butterfly, which depends on milkweed as the sole host plant for the caterpillar’s egg-laying and leaf-munching. This complex relationship between butterfly and plant lends to the wonder of nature and also offers a clue as to where to look to find and identify the butterfly. Here are five butterflies to watch out for that are common in early summer, along with their host plants and nectar sources:

California tortoiseshell, Nymphalis californica. This medium-sized butterfly (~2.5 inches) is bright orange with black wing margins and black spots. They are very common in central Oregon and are often seen in late winter or early spring as they overwinter as adults, often hiding in crevices and other sheltered places. Tortoiseshell depends on the snow brush (Ceanothus velutinus) as host plants. This large shrub is a common understory plant in our pine forests which, when it blooms, is covered with masses of white flowers. The tortoiseshells will lay their eggs in clusters on the snow brush, then the caterpillars will eat the leaves once they emerge. The snowbrush is a source of nectar for these butterflies, but they will also drink other flowers, sap, and even dripping fir needles in the spring! Tortoiseshells can be seen in flight from spring through fall, and even on warm winter days.Pale Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio eurymedon. This strikingly large butterfly (3+ inches) has pale white to cream wings with black vitreous markings and bright orange and blue markings near its two long, slender tails. Like the California tortoiseshell, pallid swallowtails use snowbrush as a host plant, but they will also use the ocean and serviceberry. Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia) is a superb native shrub that is covered in white flowers each spring. You’ll find it (along with the Pale Swallowtail!) throughout central Oregon as an understory plant in our pine forests and along our streams and rivers. Sources of pale swallowtail nectar include chokecherry, mints, lilies, and penstemons. Look out for these beautiful butterflies that fly most often in early summer.

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  • Courtesy of Deschutes Land Trust
  • A California tortoiseshell butterfly rests on a flower during the summer in Skyline Forest.

Western Bluetail, Amyntula of Cupid. There are many different species of little blue butterflies in central Oregon. In order to tell the difference between them, you usually need to see the underside of their wings, which can be a bit tricky given their small size and constant movement. The western tailed blue is an average size for a blue (~1.25 inches), and it is one of the easiest blues to identify due to the tiny “tails” protruding from its hind wings ( hence its name). These winged gems depend on a variety of plants in the pea family (like astragalus and golden pea) for egg laying, and will produce nectar from them, along with other wildflowers, bunny brush, and more. Look for the Western Tailed-blue in damp spots along our local trails where it frequently “puddles”, sipping salts and minerals from the moist soil.

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Western tailed blue butterfly.  - COURTESY OF DESCHUTES LAND TRUST

  • Courtesy of Deschutes Land Trust
  • Western tailed blue butterfly.




Pale Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio eurymedon.
This strikingly large butterfly (3+ inches) has pale white to cream wings with black vitreous markings and bright orange and blue markings near its two long, slender tails. Like the California tortoiseshell, pallid swallowtails use snowbrush as a host plant, but they will also use the ocean and serviceberry. Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia) is a superb native shrub that is covered in white flowers each spring. You’ll find it (along with the Pale Swallowtail!) throughout central Oregon as an understory plant in our pine forests and along our streams and rivers. Sources of pale swallowtail nectar include chokecherry, mints, lilies, and penstemons. Look out for these beautiful butterflies that fly most often in early summer.

Click to enlarge
Pale Tiger Swallowtail butterfly in flight.  - COURTESY OF DESCHUTES LAND TRUST

  • Courtesy of Deschutes Land Trust
  • Pale Tiger Swallowtail butterfly in flight.


Admiral de Lorquin,
Lorquine Limenite. One of our most beautiful butterflies, the Lorquin never fails to attract attention! It is one of our largest local butterflies (~3 inches) and is vividly colored: jet black barred with bright white diagonal stripes, orange wingtips above and brick red and white below. Its host plant is usually willow, but also aspen, cottonwood, serviceberry, ocean and others. Willow is one of our most common shrubs, and it is found in a wide variety of habitats, including along our streams and rivers. Admirals of Lorquin are often seen perched on the bark of the Pacific, sipping fake orange, or visiting mustards, yarrows, thistles, dogbane and the like to refuel.

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Lorquin's Admiral Butterfly lands on an orange scythe at Whychus Canyon Preserve.  - COURTESY OF DESCHUTES LAND TRUST

  • Courtesy of Deschutes Land Trust
  • Lorquin’s Admiral Butterfly lands on an orange scythe at Whychus Canyon Preserve.

Two Stripe Plaid Skipper, Rural pyrgus. Skippers are another family of butterflies that have more robust and compact bodies, faster wing beats for taking flight, and hooked tips on their antennae. The two-banded checkered skipper has dark wings with white “checkerboard” patterns and ranges in size from 1 to 1.5 inches. They are common in late spring and early summer, often feeding on dandelions, strawberries, and other early flowers. Mallows are a favored host plant, as are potentillas and strawberries. You can spot these skippers in a wide variety of habitats, from woods and grasslands to pastures and backyards.

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A two stripe checkered skipper rests on one hand at the Metolius Preserve.  - COURTESY OF DESCHUTES LAND TRUST

  • Courtesy of Deschutes Land Trust
  • A two stripe checkered skipper rests on one hand at the Metolius Preserve.

Wondering where to find butterflies to observe? Head to Deschutes Land Trust’s Metolius Preserve where you can see all of these species. Park at the north trailhead and hike the Larch Loop for the best viewing opportunities. And always remember that butterflies are fragile creatures. They have delicate scales on their wings that can fall off when touched, so they are best viewed from a distance using binoculars. Happy butterfly!

Sarah Mowry is Director of Outreach for Deschutes Land Trust. Amanda Egertson is the organization’s stewardship director.

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