Swallowtails (Family: Papilionidae)
Includes tiger swallowtails and black swallowtails, as well as many others.
The name "swallowtails" refers to the tail - like appendages on the hindwings of many species in this family. (If you see a medium to large butterfly with these tails on its wings, you are almost certainly looking at a swallowtail of some kind.)
Swallowtails also tend to have wing colors and patterns that make identifications relatively simple.
(Although about 600 Papilionidae species exist worldwide, there are less than
40 species in North America.)
Brush-footed Butterflies (Family: Nymphalidae)
Brush-footed butterflies make up the largest of all butterfly families, with approx. 5000 species worldwide. (Approx. 200 species are found in North America.)
Brush-footed butterflies will have a short pair of legs that are used to taste food, and two pairs of longer legs that are used for propulsion.
(Monarchs, crescents, checkerspots, peacocks, commas, satyrs, morphos, longwings, admirals, emperors, and others belong to this family.)
Whites & Sulphurs (Family: Pieridae)
Most species in family Pieridae have yellow or pale white wings, with orange
and / or black markings, and are small to medium in size.
Species in family Pieridae have three pairs of walking legs, unlike the brush-foots, with their shortened front legs.
Family Pieridae are abundant throughout the world, with an estimated 1,100 different species, while North America is home to some 75 species.
Most species within the family Pieridae have limited ranges, as they must have access to cruciferous plants and legumes.
The most widespread, and the most familiar species withing this family is certainly the Cabbage White.
Gossamer-winged Butterflies (Family: Lycaenidae)
Identification is significantly more difficult with family Lycaenidae. The species within this family tend to be quick, small, difficult to catch, and difficult to photograph, making identification difficult. (Hairstreaks, blues and coppers make up this family.)
Because of the "sheer appearance" of the wings of the species in this family, and because the wings are often streaked with bright colors, they are collectively called "Gossamer-winged." (If you find small butterflies that seemed to flash in the sun, they are most likely Gossamer-wings.) ( Approx. 4700 species worldwide.)
Blues and coppers are usually found in temperate zones, while Hairstreaks are found mainly in the tropics.
Metalmarks (Family: Riodinidae)
Metalmarks live primarily in the tropics, and are small to medium in size. There are around 1,400 species in this family, although only a few dozen are found in North America.
The family gets the name "Metalmarks" from the from the metallic looking spots
found on their wings.
Males use only their two pairs of rear legs for propulsion.
Skippers (Family: Hesperlidae)
Skippers are quite easy to differentiate from other families. They have a thicker thorax, more similar to a moth's, and unlike other butterfly species that have "clubbed" antennae ends, the Skipper family has "hooked" antennae ends.
The name "Skipper" is derived from their quick, skipping movements from
flower to flower. The Skippers tend to be quite flashy in flight.
Their coloration, though, tends to be drab browns and grays, with orange or white markings.
There are estimated to be 275 species of Skippers in the North America,
with the majority being in the more arid states of Texas and Arizona.
Worldwide, there are estimated to be over 3,500 species.
Some species of Skippers are said to be able to outrun a horse, with speeds in flight of over 30 mph.