13 Incredibly Rare Types of Butterflies

Emperor of India or Teinopalpus imperialis Papilio butterfly on Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Rukmini flower
Dmitrii Melgunov (Ritam) / Getty Images

Unlike other insects, butterflies are covered in bright, colorful scales that make them uniquely beautiful. There are 17,500 species of butterflies in the world and nearly 750 species in the United States — but, unfortunately, many are either endangered or vulnerable. The reasons are predictable; in addition to climate change and habitat destruction, the rarest and most beautiful butterflies are irresistible to human collectors. Plus, some butterflies that rely on fragile habitats are no longer able to find the food they need.

Despite their vulnerable state, rare types of butterflies are worthy of preservation. Below is a list of these uncommon yet magnificent insects from around the world.

1
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Lange's Metalmark

Lange's Metalmark Habitat

Ken-ichi Ueda / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

There are no more than a few hundred of these fragile, beautiful Lange's Metalmark butterflies (Apodemia mormo langei) left in the world. That's because they live only in the sandy area restricted to sand dunes along the southern bank of the Sacramento River; there, they eat only buckwheat leaves. Both their habitat and their food have been badly disrupted by human settlement. Fortunately, the Lange's Metalmark habitat is now part of the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge.

2
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Luzon Peacock Swallowtail

This "gloss" or "peacock" swallowtail (Papilio chikae) was discovered in 1965 on Luzon, an island in the northern Philippines. Preferring heights of over 1500 meters, the peacock swallowtail is large with black, green, red, blue, and even purple scales. Because it has such a limited and threatened range, the Luzon peacock swallowtail is highly endangered.

3
of 13

Blue Morpho

Blue Morpho Butterfly

Thomas Bresson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

This beauty of the rainforest is native to tropical areas of Latin America, from Mexico to Colombia. Blue morphos (Menelaus blue morpho) live only about 115 days, and they spend most of that time finding and eating the fruit they need to survive. In addition to natural predators such as the jacamar bird, the blue morpho is suffering from habitat loss and from the interest of human collectors.

4
of 13

Queen Alexandra's Birdwing

Colorful Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly
MassimilianoDoria / Getty Images

With a wingspan of about 11 inches, the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae) is the largest butterfly in the world. Living only in the forests of the Oro Province in eastern Papua New Guinea, it has few predators but is highly endangered because of habitat destruction. The species was named in 1906 for Queen Alexandra of Denmark.

5
of 13

Kaiser-i-Hind

Emperor of India or Teinopalpus imperialis Papilio butterfly on Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Rukmini flower
Dmitrii Melgunov (Ritam) / Getty Images

You'll have to visit the Eastern Himalayas to find the Kaiser-i-Hind butterfly (Teinopalpus imperialis), nicknamed ‘The Emperor of India.’ There are several related butterflies in the area, and the Golden Kaiser-i-Hind is among the rarest. These butterflies move at high speeds along the treetops in high mountain elevations, but even its remote location isn't enough to protect them from collectors.

6
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Leona's Little Blue

The tiny Leona's little blue butterfly (Philotiella leona) was only discovered in 1991. It lives only within six square miles of Klamath County, Oregon, dependent upon lodgepole clearings. What's more, Leona's blues eat only buckwheat nectar and lay their eggs only on buckwheat leaves. It's not surprising that these unique insects are on the endangered list.

7
of 13

Island Marble Butterfly

Island Marble Butterfly

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Thought to be extinct since 1908, the island marble butterfly (Euchloe ausonides insulana) was rediscovered during a survey in 1998. The island marble butterfly lives only in the San Juan Islands in Washington State, and it is listed as an endangered species.

8
of 13

Schaus' Swallowtail

Shaus Swallowtail

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Head to Florida to see the Schaus' swallowtail (Papilio aristodemus ponceanus), named for a Miami-based butterfly collector in 1911. These middle-sized beauties can fly over 5 km miles in a day, which means they can travel between the Florida keys. Shaus' swallowtail once ranged throughout the hardwood hammock habitats in southern Florida, but is now considered extremely endangered as a result of habitat loss and pesticide use.

9
of 13

Zebra Longwing

Zebra Wing

Nosferattus / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The amazing Zebra longwing (Heliconius charithonia) has an unusually large range; they can be found across South and Central America, Texas, Florida, and beyond. They also migrate to other parts of the U.S. during the summer. Zebra wing butterflies' stripes help deter predators, as does their habit of roosting in very large groups of 60 or more.

10
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Bhutan Glory

Bhutan Glory

Balakrishnan Valappil / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

There's no question that the Bhutan Glory (Bhutanitis lidderdalii), indigenous to Bhutan and India, is spectacular. But is it endangered or just rare? While Asian lepidopterists say that the Bhutan glory has suffered dramatic population loss as a result of habitat destruction, Western experts continue to find these species.

11
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Miami Blue

Native to southern Florida, the Miami blue (Cyclargus thomasi bethunebakeri) nearly disappeared after a hurricane in 1992. Then, in 1999 a photographer discovered just 35 specimens — all living in Bahia Honda State Park. Today, it seems likely that there are just a small number of surviving Miami blues, scattered among the Marquesas Keys in the Key West National Wildlife Refuge.

12
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Chimaera Birdwing

Birdwing butterfly
Marc Dozier / Getty Images

Like other birdwings, the chimaera birdwing (Ornithoptera chimaera) is very large and beautiful. It lives high in the mountains of New Guinea, and is labeled as "least concern" by the IUCN Red List. Chimaera birdwings feed mainly on the nectar of the hibiscus, a common and beautiful flower.

13
of 13

Palos Verdes Blue

Palos Verdes Blue butterfly
LFLPOL / Getty Images

Palos Verdes Blue butterflies (Glaucopsyche lygdamus palosverdesensis) are among the rarest in the United States. Native only to the Palos Verdes Peninsula in California, they were nearly extinct. Then, in 2020, the City of Rancho Palos Verdes and the Palos Verdes Land Conservancy released over a thousand Palos Verdes blue butterflies and caterpillars in an attempt to repopulate the species. We hope many more projects like this one are on the horizon.