Sonoran Desert Lepidoptera

With two pairs of often colorful wings, Lepidoptera are among the favorites in the bug world. The color is due to a unique structure of scales on the wings. Moths are similar to butterflies, but antennae without a distinct club at tip and wing scales with softer edges. Butterflies are mostly diurnal and moths mostly nocturnal - with many exceptions. Easier to photograph and more photogenic than many insects.

Pipevine Swallowtail

Battus philenor

Large, irridescent blue-black butterfly with tails. Flies conspicuously especially near larger washes and along riparian habitats. More info


Danaus gilipus

 © by Mike Plagens

Common red-brick colored butterly that flies lazily in riparian habitats and along major Sonoran Desert washes. More info


Danaus plexippus

Very rare butterly in the Sonoran Desert. Few migrants pass though in fall and winter. Lighter orange color than Queen. More info

Painted Lady

Vanessa cardui

 © by Mike Plagens

Very common orange and black butterfly especially late fall through winter and spring. Medium sized; visits flowers. More info

Snout Butterfly

Libytheana carinenta

Dark brown and rusty orange on a smallish butterfly with long, prominent palps. Frequent at Baccharis flowers. More info

Arizona Red Spotted Purple

Limenitis arthimis arizonensis

Large irridescent blue-black butterfly similar to pipevine but w/o tails. Near willows in moist riparian habitat. More info

Giant Swallowtail

Papilio cresphontes

Very large butterfly mostly seen in town around citrus trees. Lines of bright yellow spots on rich brown backcolor. More info

Desert Black Swallowtail

Papilio polyxenes coloro

Uncommon swallowtail in the Sonoran Desert. Black with more- or less-extensive yellow. Desert hills and ranges, especially where turpentine broom is found. More info

Dainty Sulphur

Nathalis iole

 © by Mike Plagens

Smallest of the mostly yellow butterflies. Black markings on dorsum; flits close to ground. More info

Sleepy Sulfur

Eurema nicippee

Butter orange, medium-sized butterfly. Very common across the Sonoran Desert. Visits flowers and puddles. More info

Cloudless Sulfur

Phoebis sennae

Large, mostly pure yellow and fast flying. Visits flowers but is wary. More info

Orange Sulphur

Colias eurytheme

Orange-yellow butterfly with a black border. Common near alfalfa fields and along riparian zones in the Sonoran Desert. More info

Southern Dogface

Zerene cesonia

Bright yellow with black border and 'dog face' pattern on top. Few marking visible on underside. The tips of the forewing are pointed. More info

Checkered White

Pontia protodice

Mostly white butterfly with dark checkering - amount of checkering varies consideraly. Common near mustards. More info

Empress Leilia

Asterocampa leilia

Rusty orange-brown butterfly associated with Desert Hackberry shrubs. Row of eye spots on underside. Common along washes/canyons. More info

Common Buckeye

Junonia coenia

Medium sized butterfly with row of large, distinct eyespots along outer margin. Especially in riparian zones. More info

Mourning Cloak

Nymphalis antiopa

White or cream border around deep burgandy and with blue spots. Stays close to willows in riparian areas. Early spring flyer. More info

Variegated Fritillary

Euptoieta claudia

Orange-brown butterfly of late summer and fall. Marked with dark chevrons and row of spots along wing sub-margin. More info

Elada Checkerspot

Texola elada

Small orange and checkered butterfly closely associated with desert honeysuckle or other acanthaceae plants. More info

Bordered Patch

Chlosyne lacinia

Medium sized butterfly with hindwing band of white or orange on nearly black background. Common along major desert washes and riparian zones. More info

California Checkerspot

Chlosyne californica

Medium sized butterfly with bright patch of orange/yellow on nearly black background. Conspicuous band of orange submarginal spots. Common along major desert washes and riparian zones. More info

Variable Checkerspot

Euphydryas chalcedona

Smallish butterfly mostly dark brown background marked with spots of red, orange. and yellow. Along canyon bottoms in upper elevations in spring. More info

Ceraunus Blue

Hemiargus ceraunus

 © by Mike Plagens

Small, pale blue-gray butterfly with chevrons below and clear blue above. Dark eye-spot at posterior margin of hind wing. More info

Marine Blue

Leptotes marina

Common blue butterfly near mesquites in the Sonoran Desert. Top side mostly blue; reverse side a series broken brownish bands and small eye spots at margin. More info

Echo Spring Azure

Celastrina echo

Above silvery blue with a narrow black border on forewing. Below, wings are powdery blue with an array of dark or paler dashes and spots. More info

Western Pygmy Blue

Brephidium exile

 © by Robert Witzeman

Possibly the world's smallest butterfly. Brown with irridescent silvery and blue. Common near flood plains, agriculture, and riparian zones. More info

Reakirt's Blue

Hemiargus isola

Small blue butterfly with a row of distinct block spots on the reverse of the forewing. More info

Acmon Blue

Plebejus acmon

Blue above with a band of orange on hindwing. Pale with dark spots on reverse. About 2½ cm. Upper foothills in the Sonoran Desert. More info

Palmer's Metal-Mark

Apodemia palmeri

Smaller than Mormon Metal-Mark with leass extensive coppery background. Frequent at flowers, esp. Seep bacharis. More info

Mormon Metal-Mark

Apodemia mormo

Rich, coppery-orange and chocolate background with white spots. Small, ca. 25mm wingspan. Foothills of mountains. More info

Fatal Metal-Mark

Calephelis nemesis

Bright or darker brown flecked with metalic-looking specks. Riparian corridors alighting on flowers. Small. More info

Arizona Sister

Adelpha bredowii eulalia

 © by Mike Plagens

Rich brown with bold yellow-orange and white bands. Rare in desert proper. Shady canyons in foothills where oak trees are present. More info

Red Admiral

Vanessa atalanta

Rare winter-spring visitor to the Sonoran Desert. Dark brown with bright orange-red bands across wings. Hardly ever stops at flowers. More info

Great Purple Hairstreak

Atlides halesus

 © by Mike Plagens

At first glance mostly black but irridescent blue and green with changing light direction. Hair-like tails on posterior wing margin. More info

Leda Hairstreak

Ministrymon leda

Small butterfly with 'fake' antennae at posterior margin. Gray marked with red chevrons. More info

Gray Hairstreak

Strymon melinus

Top side is dark gray, underside light gray. Red spot near tail. Often around hilltops and at flowers. Common. More info

Scrub Mallow Hairstreak

Strymon istapa

Small hairstreak with faint, hair-like tails. Top side is gray-brown washed with blue on hindwing. More info

West Goast Lady

Vanessa annabella

Very similar to Painted Lady (top row) but smaller and with distinctive blue centers to hindwing eyespots. Uncommon in Sonoran Desert. More info

Phyleus Skipper

Hylephila phyleus

Very common skipper - note hooked club to antennae. Rich orange-brown. Common at flowers and near bermuda grass. More info

Northern White Skipper

Heliopetes ericetorum

Not so common skipper largely white on top surface and mottled white and brown on reverse (shown here). More info

Golden-headed Scallopwing

Staphylus ceos

Small, velvety-black skipper with a few small white specks and of course a golden head. Common. More info

Arizona Powdered Skipper

Systasea zampa

Mostly a less common skipper in Sonoran Desert. Warm, powdery beige flannel look to wings. Alights on damp soil. More info

Funereal Duskywing

Erynnis funeralis

Velvet-black hind wings with a white border. Patrols along ground near streams or springs often alighting on ground. More info

Golden-banded Skipper

Autochton cellus

 © by R. Shantz

Restricted to highest elevations of Sonoran Desert. Yellow band across rich brown background. More info

Orange Skipperling

Copaeodes aurantiacus

Small mostly orange skipper. Common along washes and canyon. About 25 mm wingspan. More info

White Checkered-Skipper

Pyrgus albescens

Black and white checkered. Common most of year in disturbed sites and along washes in the Sonoran Desert. More info

Giant Skipper

Agathymus sp.

 © by Mike Plagens

Fast flying and hard to spot skipper butterflies. Caterpillars tunnel into agaves. More info

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Lichen Moth

Cisthene spp.

 © by Mike Plagens

Colorful moths often seen visiting flowers in daylight. Shades of orange, carmine or yellow with blue-black bordering. Several common species. More info

Veined Ctenucha

Ctenucha venosa

Boldly marked with red, blue, cream agains jet black. Visits flowers during daylight hours. More info

Crambid Moth


 © by Mike Plagens

Small, colorful moth that might be found at lights near water. More info

Crambid Moth

Noctueliopsis bububattalis

This little moth emerges with the first warm weather of Feb or March. Three zig-zag white bars across folded wings. More info

Pink Diamond Moth

Noctueliopsis aridalis

Small nocturnal moth of spring nights. Length of sitting moth about 8 mm. More info

Foothill Webworm

Bryotropha inaequalis

Spins 2 cm long tents on leaves of foothill palverde in late spring. More info

Bark Fragment Moth

Cacozelia basiochrealis

During the day resting moths must avoid being eaten by birds. This species looks like an inedible piece of tree bark. More info

Twirler Moth


Micro-moths in the Gelechiidae are also called Twirler Moths. There are likely scores of species in the Sonoran Desert each an associate of a different desert plant. More info

Twirler Moth


Micro-moths in the Gelechiidae are also called Twirler Moths. There are likely scores of species in the Sonoran Desert each an associate of a different desert plant. This one has dark trapezoid marks on the wings. More info

Shoot Worm


Larvae tunnel out fresh growth shoots on turpentine bush in the spring. Galls resemble small pine cones. More info

Salt Bush Case-bearer

Coleophora sp.

Coleophora moth on Atriplex © by Mike Plagens

Very small slender moth that can look like a piece of bark on the stem. Larva lives inside a silk case.. More info

Micro Moth

Gelechiidae ??

There hundreds if not thousands of species of tiny moths associated with the plants of the Sonoran Desert. More info

Heliozelid Leaf Miner

Coptodisca sp.

Neat holes in leaf created by tunneling larvae of a microlepidoptera, this one on cottonwood. More info

Creosote Inchworm

Digrammia colorata

This small pale moth is a close associate of the ubiquitous creosote bush. More info

Granite Moth

Digrammia californiaria

When resting on granite or gneiss this insect become invisible! Appeared to be in association with palo verde trees. More info

Baccharis Inchworm Moth

Elpiste metanemaria

Nocturnal moth with pale brown wings and oly about 2 cm wingspan. Thread-like antennae. On or near desert broom. More info

Oblique Looper Moth

Iridopsis obliquaria

Pale gray or darker with several black horizontal streaks. Feeds in mimosa leaves as caterpillar. More info

Pug Moth


The second pair of wings is rolled over giving the perched insect narrow profile while the abdomen may be contorted. The ploy is to look like broken twig. More info

Multi-Lined Geometer

Arcobara multilineata

Beautiful geometric patterns of shades of gray. Coming to lights at night. More info



As a caterpillar moths escape hungry birds by looking inedible. More info

Pug Moth


The second pair of wings is rolled over giving the perched insect narrow profile while the abdomen may be contorted. The ploy is to look like broken twig. More info

Tomato Hornworm

Manduca quinquemaculata

Very large, nocturnal moth from large caterpillar found on various plants mostly in nightshade family. Intricate markings in various shades of gray. More info

Five-lined Sphinx

Hyles lineata

Colorful day-flying moth that visits tubular flowers and can be mistaken for a miniature hummingbird. Common to very common in the Sonoran Desert. More info

Five-lined Sphinx

Hyles lineata

Moth larvae (caterpillar/worm) can be very abundant. Bright yellow and black feeding on plants in the Nyctaginaceae. More info

Snowberry Clearwing

Hemaris diffinis

This is a moth, not a bumblebee! Hovers at long-tubular flowers extracting nectar with long tongue. Wings mostly transparent. More info

Condalia Silk Moth

Agapema anona

Early spring flier with wings white and shades of gray. Southern and southeastern Arizona into Sonora. More info

Hubbard's Silk Moth

Syssphinx hubbardi

Flannel gray top wings and ruby red underwings. Nocturnal. Beautiful caterpillar on legume trees. More info

Prominent Moth

Oligocentria alpica

Prominent Moths are mostly colored to hide well on bark or shady boulders. Several common and a number of less common species found in the Sonoran Desert. More info

Noctuid Moth

Melipotis acontioides

 © by Mike Plagens

One of many, many kinds of noctuids found in the Sonoran Desert. Mostly gray and brown moths almost entirely nocturnal. More info

Perpendicular Moth

Melipotis perpendicularis

Apparently this moth has two generations per year with adults flying in spring and again in autumn. More info

Day-Flying Moth

Annaphila sp.

a spring-time, day-flying noctuidae © by Mike Plagens

The majority of moths fly at night but this one is diurnal in the spring. Bright orange on concealed hindwings. More info

Dead Leaf Moth

Among many moths in the superfamily Noctuoidea. When resting the wings are partly folded. More info

Cabbage Looper

Trichoplusia ni

Adult moth looks like a piece of tree bark. Caterpillar moves with looping body. Very common. More info

Bird Dropping Moth

Ponometia elegantula

This small moth when resting looks like a bird's fecal dropping — a means to avoid being eaten! More info

Bird Dropping Moth #2

Acontia cretata

Silky glistening white with some flecks of gold. Very convincing indeed. More info

Black-belted Moth

Cobubatha orthozona

The jet black bar across the wings separating rusty brown and gray suggests a common name. More info

Black Witch

Ascalapha odorata

Huge moth with eye-like pattern at posterior of wings and intricate concentric patterns of brown and black. More info

Dark Marathyssa

Marathyssa inficita

Another moth that looks like bark of a tree. Long narrow forewings. More info

Bursage Borer

Hymenoclea palmii

 © by Mike Plagens

When resting on plant appears as a dried leaf or bark fragment. Long, narrow wings. Larva tunnels inside stems. More info

Jessica's Underwing

Catocala jessica

Hides by day looking like bark on a tree. Reveals carmine/scarlet underwings when disturbed. More info

Tobacco Hornworm

Manduca sexta

A pupa, the transforming stage of a moth where, by metamorphosis the caterpillar becomes the moth. More info

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Copyright Michael J. Plagens, 1999-2021.