Columbia County Butterflies

A butterfly atlas tells us which species are occuring where and when. For example, here are Massachusett's, Vermont's, and Connecticut's butterfly atlases. Such atlases not only increase public awareness about butterflies, but also are important conservation tools because they can highlight rare habitats. We're more modest - at this point, we're just trying to gather information on Columbia County. While we've not ramped up to a full atlas project for the County, our first step has been to create an iNaturalist project for this endeavour. By logging your sightings there, you can see how your information is contributing to the overall map. You're welcome to submit your sightings directly to us via email, we're happy to help with IDs.

Below are some resources we have gathered over the years and some tips for identification. We would recommend you choose an identification book and then review our table of sightings so that you have an idea of the universe of possible species (although, of course, it will be great if you find a species we haven't seen!).


Butterfly Course Resources:


Our first lecture on the County's Butterflies: Part I (by Dylan), an overview of butterfly natural history and conservation.

    Part I: Video

    Part I: Slides (pdf)

Our first lecture on the County's Butterflies: Part II (by Conrad), a summary of the County's butterfly diversity and habitats.

     Part II: Video

     Part II: Slides (pdf)


Our Additional Resources:

Article on butterflies and agriculture in the Hudson Valley summarizes our experiences looking at this interaction in our area (pdf file).

A table of the confirmed and likely butterfly fauna of the County provides information on which butterflies you are most likely to see and information on trends over the last 150 years (pdf file).

Ecological Classification of Openland Butterflies. This pdf file, with narrative and a table, briefly presents an ecological categorization of the County's openland butterflies in the context of regional butterfly conservation.

Early Season Skippers a pdf file with a set of images illustrating how to distinguish four of our common, early-season skippers.

The Three Witches a pdf file with a set of images for the identification of this set of mid-summer skippers.

A Guide to September Dryland Butterflies a pdf file showing some of the more common and rarer butterflies we see on dry openlands late in the summer.

Great-Grandfather's Butterflies, a web page with our newspaper article pondering the evolving abundance of our local butterflies.

Erin Allen's 2019 thesis (.pdf) looking at the butterflies of our Native Meadow Test plots (and the surroundings) at the Hudson Vally Farm Hub.

Circle Diagrams Illustrating the Life Histories of Some of our Butterflies (.pdf) This file illustrates the approximate life cycles of a few of our butterflies, in tandem with a calendar of our observations for the given species.

An Approach to Butterfly Conservation in Columbia County? (.pdf) This is a workplan, not a conservation plan. We don't yet know enough to make such a plan, although we have some inklings. This is just a simple framework for the learning process. Feedback welcom.


Some Great Off-site Resources:

Massachusetts Butterfly Atlas, probably the most regionally-relevant, on-line ID resource for butterfly enthusiasts in our area.

The Butterflies of Massachusetts, Sharon Stichter's in-depth and enthralling consideration of the butterflies just to our east; lots of locally relevant info. on ecology, trends and other conundrums.

Vermont Butterfly Atlas, another great, semi-regional resource.

Butterflies and Moths of North America, a good web site for overall distributions and information.

NABA sightings list, a nice way to find out what other people, elsewhere are seeing.

We Butterfly, a data-rich site plumbing the depths of NABA's butterfly data bank to present butterfly population trends from around the Country; well worth a visit.

ebutterfly, a observation mapping site dedicated to butterflies.

Dick Walton's nifty skipper ID resources, in case you want to know, or at least appreciate, these little butterflies.


Book Resources:

With no insult meant to those whom we do not cite, the five books which we turn to most regularly for the identification of adult butterflies are the following:

Butterflies of the East Coast by Rick Cech and Guy Tudor; a great resource for identification and ecology; a guide not just to butterflies but also their biology. While the coverage of this work stretches down to Florida and so includes species we won't see, its East Coast focus narrows the field substantially. Its large format means you'll need a backpack for fieldwork. Available used on-line and well worth it.

Butterflies of North America by Jim Brock and Ken Kaufman; a compact, easy-to-use reference. The pan-continental approach may make it daunting for beginners, but it's a great reference for quick look ups.

Butterflies through Binoculars: A Field Guide to the Boston-New York-Washington Region by Jeffrey Glassberg; Jeffrey Glassberg has created a variety of very useful and appealing guides, including version for the whole continent; we choose this relatively old volume because of its conveniently relevant, restricted geographic scope.

The Connecticut Butterfly Atlas by Jane O'Donnell, Lawrence Gall and David Wagner; some more good, regional butterfly info. Not great for IDs, but does include caterpillar photos; beware the poor binding.

The Butterflies of Masschusetts: Their History and Future by Sharon Stichter; much of the information from her rich web site in book form. Not a field guide but our best regional accompaniment to field guides.

Butterflies of Ontario by Peter W. Hall, Colin D. Jones, Antonia Guidotti, and Brad Hubley. Missing some of our southern species, and including some more boreal ones, but a really nice guide including ID tips, caterpillar (and sometimes egg) photos, and helpful behaviour info. Plus you get a fine introduction to Ontario geography!

Caterpillars of Eastern North America: A Guide to Identification and Natural History by David Wagner. Alright, this includes moths too, but the fact is that most caterpillars you find will belong to moths, so this book will lessen the frustration of trying to shoehorn all caterpillars into a butterfly identity. A tremendous resource. Also available as an Apple or Android app.
Butterflies of Pennsylvania by James L. Monroe and David M. White. A great guide for intermediate-level butterflyists - the photos of pinned specimans can be confusing for field ID, but the deep dives into identification niceties are welcome.


Since we first started to compile these resources, a strange creature called "the app" has come along. Not our personal first choice for fieldwork, but here are suggestions (of course, you can also get an ebook version of recent field guides):
NWF Guide to Butterflies. We've yet to test drive this, but it seems to promise regional sorting meaning that you can tell it where you are and it will only present you with the butterflies of your area. Does not get great reviews. For ipad/iphone.
Caterpillar Id USA East Coast. An app version of Wagner's classic book (see above), probably worth checking out. For Apple or Android.