Butterflies & Moths

Summer is really here, not quite by calendar, but definitely the temperatures, and bugs. As an Entomologist, I love when insects become active, but I know not everyone feels the same about bugs. I do not like mosquitoes and other annoying bugs that bother me outside and I especially dislike those that do damage to my plants. However, most of our insects are beneficial and therefore do not need to be killed.

Beneficial Insects

Many of our insects are a benefit to us. Insects provide us with useful products such as honey and silk, eat or kill other insects, decompose things like dung and carcasses, and pollinate our plants. Without insects we wouldn’t have many of our foods including apples and cucumbers and we wouldn’t have more flowers and trees.

Pollination services are important to provide us with flowers and fruits that we enjoy every day. Approximately 75% of all plants need pollination from animals, including insects, the remaining plants can be self-pollinated or wind-pollinated. It is estimated that 1 out of every 3 bites you take is provided by bees. However, there are many other great pollinators including many beautiful butterflies and moths.


Butterflies are so interesting and they are beautiful on both the top and bottom of their wings. Each butterfly has a unique pattern and coloration to separate the different species. The Monarch butterfly is one of our most widely known pollinators and it has a copy-cat. There is another species called a viceroy that looks exactly like the monarch except that the viceroy has a line through both hindwings. It does this so predators leave it alone.

Another group of my favorite butterflies is the swallowtail butterflies. In Nebraska, we can find the Eastern tiger swallowtail, the black swallowtail, and the zebra swallowtail commonly. The Eastern tiger swallowtail is a yellow swallowtail compared to the black and zebra striped species. These all have a point that projects from the uniform rounded corner of the hindwings, as do all swallowtail butterflies.

And we can’t forget the painted ladies, who migrate through Nebraska annually. The painted lady butterfly is a pinkish-orange butterfly with black blotches on the wings. Painted ladies are a butterfly that migrates through Nebraska every year from the south, they do not overwinter here. Some years, they come through in large populations.


Moths can be great pollinators as well. I was outside last weekend and a white-lined sphinx moth, also called a hummingbird hawk moth, came to pollinate my petunias. It is called that because it flies around plants with fast moving wings, similar to a hummingbird.

I also really enjoy Luna moths, which are less common in Nebraska but can be found on occasion. They are quite large, bright green colored moths with a few black spots that look like eyes on the wings. This is a unique moth with amazing color, they are always a treat to find.

And who can forget the cecropia moth, which is the largest moth native to North America. The wingspan can be up to 6 inches across. They are fuzzy and the wings are mostly gray/brown with spots of red and tan with a tan edge around both the front and hind wings. These are also so much fun to find. And if you get the opportunity to find a caterpillar, they are so interesting. The caterpillars are pale green with blue, red, and yellow knobs along the body.

Pollinators come in many forms but are always an important part of the ecosystem. Take time to look for and enjoy the butterflies and moths you find in your landscape, I know I always do!

If you have any further questions please contact Nicole Stoner at (402) 223-1384, nstoner2@unl.edu, visit the Gage County Extension website at www.gage.unl.edu, or like my facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/NicoleStonerHorticulture and follow me on twitter @Nikki_Stoner 

Nicole Stoner
Extension Educator
Gage County
June 2024