Butterflies Brighten Minnesota’s Whitefish Chain

A painted lady butterfly rests on a sunflower near the Whitefish Chain of Lakes. Photo by Kate Perkins

The Whitefish Chain of Lakes here in Minnesota is home to a diverse variety of life- from plants to birds to mammals to bugs. But one creature we really appreciate is the delicate, soaring butterfly- so we're listing a few here to keep an eye out for.


Monarchs are perhaps one of the most recognizable butterflies out there. They're common across Minnesota, including around the Whitefish Chain.

Did you know that all butterflies have host plants? These are certain types of plants that different types of butterflies use to lay their eggs. The monarch butterfly's host plant is milkweed, and only milkweed. If you look closely at milkweed, which tends to grow in sunny areas and often on roadsides, you might be able to find a monarch caterpillar. While the adult butterflies also feed on the nectar of other flowers and plants, the caterpillars hatch on the milkweed and eat primarily milkweed as they grow. Look for the yellow, black and white striped caterpillars on the undersides of the leaves.

This monarch caterpillar munched away at milkweed this summer just south of the Whitefish Chain. Photo by Kate Perkins

The caterpillars start very small (less than a half an inch long) and grow to be a few inches long. If you have a garden at home, growing milkweed is a great way to encourage monarch butterflies.

Painted Lady

(Pictured at top.) This butterfly is found across America and the world. It has several different host plants including thistles, earning it the nickname "thistle butterfly." These butterflies are migratory, and can fly up to 100 miles in a day, at up to 30 mph! Because Minnesota is so cold in the winter, these butterflies only visit for the summer before heading south again. Learn more at this website with fun facts about the painted lady.


Swallowtail butterflies are perhaps most easily identifiable by the beautiful shape of their wings, which come to a sort of tail at the bottom. They are also larger than monarchs, at nearly five inches across. These butterflies will use a variety of plants as hosts for their eggs, including birch trees. You might see them gliding high among the tops of trees. Their caterpillars look a bit like snakes, with eye spots on one end.

There are many, many more butterflies that are common in Minnesota and around the chain. Inaturalist.org has a great list to check out that includes more than 60 species. Try going for a walk or exploring the lakeshore to see how many varieties you can find.

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