Seasonal Cycles: Butterflies

A warming climate in Massachusetts is leading to a shift in the distribution of butterflies. More northern butterfly species for which Massachusetts lies at the southern edge of their range are declining, while more southern species that historically live in warm temperate or subtropical habitats, such as the giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) and zabulon skipper (Poanes zabulon), are expanding northward and increasingly seen in Massachusetts. Elfins and hairstreaks, two common groups of butterflies in Massachusetts, emerge as adults earlier in years with warmer springs and are responding to climate warming at a rate similar to that of plants and bees.

Caterpillars and other herbivorous insects rely on young, newly emerged leaves as an important food source, and in turn serve as food for birds, including migratory birds returning from southern wintering grounds.

Sam Jaffe explores local species of caterpillars

Naturalist and photographer Sam Jaffe explores local species of caterpillars and studies their defensive adaptations.


Massachusetts has very important butterfly habitats, but some of these habitats are changing in part as a response to climate change.

To Learn More

Explore the caterpillar photography of Sam Jaffe.

Read the text of “Climate Effects on the Flight Period of Lycaenid Butterflies in Massachusetts”

Learn about the Massachusetts Butterfly Atlas.

Photo credits: Courtesy of Sam Jaffe; David Bohl; Larry Warfield