There are over 150 species of butterflies that occur in Arkansas, though only about 130 or so complete their full life cycle in the state. Some are vagrant species that merely pass through the state during the annual butterfly migration. To see the greatest variety of Arkansas's butterfly species, observers should visit as many types of habitat as possible, searching forests and woodland areas with pine, deciduous and mixed trees, prairie remnants and old fields, wetlands, glades, and other natural places in Arkansas. You can also visit a botanical garden or even check your own backyard for a view of these beautiful organisms.
Butterfly migration through Arkansas generally begins in March, although a few random adults may survive a warm winter and be seen earlier. Among the first species regularly observed each spring are Falcate Orangetip, Clouded and Cloudless Sulphurs, Eastern Tailed-blue, Question Mark, Red-spotted Admiral, and Painted Lady. As April progresses, other species arrive including over 40 kinds of skippers, 11 different types of hairstreaks, six swallowtails, American Copper, and Gulf Fritillary.
Butterfly migration in May generally brings the appearance of Diana Fritillary, Viceroy Butterfly, American Snout, Pearl Crescents, and Baltimore Checkerspots. In June, three species of Pearly Eyes, and Common Wood Nymph may join the cast, as well as Great-spangled and Regal Fritillaries. Among the last species to make their appearance each year are the Giant Swallowtail and Goatweed Butterfly. By October, the season is winding down. A few species routinely persist into November and may last for a time into warm Decembers.
More than 90 species of this magnificent insect have been listed on the butterfly checklist for Mount Magazine, the state's highest peak and home to Mount Magazine State Park. The park and the nearby town of Paris host a butterfly festival each June. The 4,885-acre Rick Evans/Grandview Prairie Wildlife Management Area in southwestern Arkansas includes the largest contiguous, publicly owned tract of blackland prairie in the U.S. The area offers a variety of habitats, but its prairie wildflowers make it of special significance to butterfly watchers.
In Northwest Arkansas, Fayetteville's Botanical Garden of the Ozarks opened its butterfly house in the fall of 2011. It is the only butterfly house in Arkansas and showcases the region's native species. Visitors can view the life cycle of various butterflies during the season, which runs from mid-May through October. The exhibit educates the public about how it can support native butterflies and showcases both host plants (caterpillar food) and nectar plants (adult butterfly food). Visitors are often witness to caterpillars pupating or butterflies emerging from their chrysalids, and children delight in seeing the different forms caterpillars take to defend themselves from predators.
In Central Arkansas, the Bell Slough Wildlife Management Area and Camp Robinson Special Use Area, located near Mayflower off Interstate 40 between Little Rock and Conway, are rapidly approaching Mount Magazine's species total of butterflies. At Petit Jean State Park near Morrilton, the Seven Hollows Trail passes through an area recovering from a year 2000 forest fire and is an excellent spot for observing butterflies and nature's pattern of succession.
Another hotspot for butterfly enthusiasts, especially in June, is the Ouachita National Forest's self-guided Pine-Bluestem Buffalo Road Tour in western Arkansas — an outdoor classroom perfect for quick outings to spot a variety of species. The Governor Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center at Pine Bluff and the Forrest L. Wood Crowley's Ridge Nature Center near Jonesboro, offer gardens and habitats attractive to butterflies.
As veteran butterfly watchers know, butterflies must warm their wings to a certain level before they can begin flight. Therefore, on cloudy, cool days in spring and autumn they may not fly at all. Many butterfly larvae (i.e., caterpillars) feed on specific types of plants and adults of those species frequently can be found near the host plants. Butterflies also gather around hilltops, mud puddles and fresh scat piles.
Additional Butterfly Facts & Information