Butterflies with black wings that have blue on the undersides belong to a group known as ‘brush-footed’ butterflies in the family Nymphalidae. This large family contains over 6,000 species worldwide that are characterized by their unusual front legs that resemble brushes. There are several Nymphalidae butterfly species that have black wings with blue undersides, primarily in the subfamilies Morphinae, Satyrinae, Heliconiinae, and Nymphalinae. Identifying the specific species requires analyzing features like the wing shape and pattern, body size, geographic location, and habitat. With some detective work, it is possible to pinpoint the black and blue butterfly in question.
Common Black and Blue Species
Here are some of the most widespread Nymphalidae species that have dark wings with blue undersides:
|Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)||Very large butterfly found in Central and South America. Brilliant metallic blue underside with black wings edged in bright blue.|
|Junonia coenia (Common Buckeye)||Medium-sized butterfly native to North America. Upperwings brown with eye spots, underside brown and orange with blue spots along the margins.|
|Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral)||Medium-sized reddish-brown wings with red-orange bands and white spots on the upperwings. Underside is brownish-black with bright blue bands and white spots near margins.|
|Polygonia c-album (Comma)||Distinct comma wing shape. Upperwings brown with white comma markings, underside brown with intricate green and blue markings.|
|Aglais io (European Peacock)||Found in Europe and Asia. Features dramatic ‘eyespot’ markings on upperwings. Underside is brown with many blue eyespots outlined in white or yellow.|
This table summarizes some of the most common Nymphalidae species with blackish upperwings and blue patterning on the undersides. However, there are many more possible species that fit this general description across multiple continents.
To identify the specific black and blue butterfly species, it’s important to look closely at distinguishing physical characteristics:
Wing color and pattern: The size, shape, and positioning of the blue markings are unique to each species. For instance, Morpho peleides has bright blue along the edges, while Junonia coenia has scattered blue spots.
Wing shape: The angle of the forewings and hindwings can help distinguish similar species. Morpho butterflies have very elongated forewings, for example.
Size: Wingspan can range from 1-8 inches across Nymphalidae species. This gives a clue to the identity.
Eye spots: Markings that resemble eyes, like those on Aglais io, are found on certain brush-footed butterflies.
Tails: Some species like Junonia coenia have tiny tail-like extensions on the hindwings.
Range: Knowing the geographic location and habitat where the butterfly was found is crucial information.
With close observation and notes on these features, experts can pin down the exact species. For amateurs, photographs and consulting field guides are essential for making a definitive ID.
Since there are hundreds of possible Nymphalidae species, the geographic location where the black and blue butterfly was spotted greatly aids identification by narrowing down the options. Here are some clues that the location provides:
North America: If seen in the United States or Canada, likely candidates include the Common Buckeye, Red Admiral, and Gray Comma.
Central or South America: The spectacular Blue Morpho is widespread across tropical forests in this region. Other possibilities are Hamadryas butterflies.
Europe: The European Peacock and other Anglewing species fly here, as do some Satyrinae meadow browns.
Asia: Many Satyrinae species like the Himalayan Satyr and Lemon Pansy occur in Asia, as do Crows and Tigers like Tawny Rajah.
Africa: The dominant subfamily here is Charaxinae, including Glider and Leafwing species with black/blue colors.
Australia: Check for native Australian species like the Varied Eggfly or Australian Painted Lady.
Knowing if the sighting was made on a certain continent, habitat, or region is an extremely useful clue for butterfly identification. Consulting a field guide for that specific area is recommended.
In addition to geography, the habitat where the butterfly was observed provides valuable clues to its identity. Here are some habitat hints:
Forests: In forested areas, search for forest-dwelling Morphinae like the Blue Morpho or Satyrinae species.
Meadows/grasslands: Many Satyrinae live in open meadows, like Graylings or Ocellated Brown butterflies.
Wetlands: Look for Heliconius or Acraeinae species adapted to marshy areas.
Deserts: Satyrinae desert species like the Arizona Powdered-Skipper may be present.
Suburban parks/gardens: Species like Buckeyes, Admirals, Commas and Tortoiseshells frequent these areas.
The habitat preferences of the black and blue butterfly offer context for its identity. Consulting a field guide catered to that habitat in the known geographic range gives the best chance for accurate ID.
Butterfly species can look different depending on the time of year and stage of their life cycle. Here are some seasonal factors that play a role:
Dry vs. wet season forms: Some butterflies have distinct seasonal forms based on environmental conditions. Dry season forms are smaller and darker.
Migratory generations: Species like Painted Ladies can have different color patterns in successive annual generations.
Winter vs. summer morphs: Anglewing species exhibit lighter winter coloration compared to darker summer morphs.
Male vs. female: Females tend to be more drab and camouflaged than showy males in some species.
Emerging vs. worn: Freshly emerged individuals will be more vividly colored than worn, tattered adults later in life.
Paying attention to the season, weather, and life stage provides essential context to explain color variations and determine the species.
Mimics and Lookalikes
There are certain black and blue species that mimic each other, making identification tricky. Additionally, some moths and other insects mimic Nymphalidae butterflies. Here are some lookalikes to watch for:
Viceroy vs. Monarch: Viceroys copy the orange and black pattern of toxic Monarchs to gain protection.
Satyrinae vs. Morphinae: Some Satyrinae like the Haitian Cracker are colored like Morphos.
Admirals vs. Tortoiseshells: These two groups have similar orange forewings with dark edges and spots.
Swallowtail mimics: Some Charaxinae species like the Mocker Swallowtail imitate Swallowtail patterns.
Owl butterflies: Various Caligo species mimic owls with eye-like markings to startle predators.
Day-flying moths: Certain black and blue colored moths, like the Lytrosis unitaria, look just like Nymphalidae butterflies.
Careful attention is required to distinguish mimics from their models by subtle differences in wing shape, size, and flight style.
Identifying a black butterfly with blue markings requires a methodical approach using location, habitat, characteristic features, season, and mimicry clues. While hundreds of Nymphalidae species match this general description, the geographic range and environment where seen provide critical context. Consulting both general and regional field guides while noting key wing patterns, shapes, sizes, and behaviors will help pinpoint the species. With some deductive reasoning, you can solve the mystery of which black and blue butterfly you observed.