Dogface Butterfly Identification, Facts & Symbolism

The Dogface butterfly (Zerene eurydice) is a member of the Pieridae family. This rare butterfly is the California State insect because it’s only found within the borders of California. They are incredibly fast and fly 10-20 feet above the ground.

If you want to catch a glimpse of this rare butterfly, keep your eyes peeled for purple flowers in the Santa Ana Mountains of California.

Why is the butterfly called Dogface?

If you look very closely, you may be able to tell exactly why it’s called a Dogface butterfly, or a Dog-head butterfly. On male Dogface butterflies, there is a subtle silhouette of a dog lined in black on its dorsal forewings. However, only the males have dogface accents on their wings.

Female Dogface butterflies lack the black and orange poodle silhouette and only have two back dots accenting their solid yellow and orange coloring.

Dogface butterfly pattern
Male Dogface butterfly’s poodle silhouette; image source: itcc.edu

Dogface Butterfly’s limited range

This Pieridae butterfly has a very short range. This butterfly is only found in North-Central Califonia down to Baja California. You are more likely to spot this butterfly in regions like the San Bernadino Mountains and the Santa Ana Mountains.

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And to make things even more tricky, it’s considered a rare specimen of butterfly. Spotting a California dogface butterfly is a very rare treat!

It’s also important to note that there are other species of Dogface butterflies, like the Southern Dogface, that live in Missouri.

How to identify a dogface butterfly?

What colors does the dogface butterfly have? 

Adult butterflies are a beautiful mix of orange and black. Male California Dogface’s forewings have a peach hue accented by solid yellow hindwings.

Female California dogface also has two black dots or black spots on their upper wings.

How big is the dogface butterfly?

The Dogface butterfly has a wingspan of 1Âľ – 2½ inches. To put that into perspective, a Monarch butterfly is about 4 inches. It’s very small. If you blink, you’ll miss it!

What is the dogface butterfly’s habitat?

Here are some key aspects of the dogface butterfly’s habitat:

Open Habitats: Dogface butterflies are commonly associated with open habitats such as grasslands, meadows, and scrubby areas. They are often found in areas with abundant sunlight and suitable host plants for their caterpillars.

Host Plants: The presence of host plants is crucial for the survival of the dogface butterfly. They primarily use plants in the pea family (Fabaceae) as host plants for their caterpillars. Common host plants include false indigo (Amorpha spp.), California jointfir (Ephedra californica), and, in some cases, narrow-leaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis).

Wildflowers: Adult dogface butterflies are nectar feeders and are attracted to wildflowers. They are commonly seen visiting flowers to feed on nectar. The presence of a variety of nectar-rich wildflowers in their habitat is beneficial for their adult stage.

Any Particular Behavior?

These butterflies are fast! It’s difficult to capture a photo of these elusive butterflies unless you find one at a host plant.

They also fly about 10-20 feet above the ground when not feeding, making them even harder to spot.

How long do dogface butterflies live?

The Dogface butterfly’s lifespan ranges from a few days to several weeks. Changes in habitat and natural predators (like wasps) may often shorten their life cycle.

If a Dogface butterfly manages to live to see old age, their lifespan looks something like this:

Egg stage: Adult butterflies lay eggs on a host plant. The egg stage takes about 5-7 days before hatching.

Larval Stage: The larva stage is also known as the caterpillar stage. Assuming they’re not picked up by a hungry bird, they will remain in this stage between 2-4 weeks.

Pupa Stage: In the pupa stage, the caterpillar forms a chrysalis, where they remain for 10-14 days.

Adult stage: After two weeks, the caterpillar emerges as an adult Dogface butterfly. On average, they will only live for two weeks. But if the conditions are right, they can live a little longer.

Why is the dogface butterfly important to California?

The Dogface butterfly is so important to California that it’s the state butterfly. So, why is it so important?

First, the Dogface butterfly can only be found within the borders of California. To catch a glimpse of this rare specimen, you have to head to the Golden State.

What also makes this state butterfly so important is that it was the very first official state insect!

What is the difference between a dogface butterfly and a monarch butterfly?

Dogface butterflies and monarch butterflies are two distinct species with several notable differences. The most significant difference in these two species lies in appearance, range, behavior, and feeding.

CharacteristicsDogface butterflyMonarch butterfly
Appearancesmaller; muted peach-like orange and yellowtwice the size of a Dogface; orange with black veins
RangeCaliforniaNorth and Central America
Behaviorlimited range and do not migrateknown for their impressive migration
Feedingnative California plants with a love of purple flowersonly feed on milkweed
Dogface butterfly Vs. Monarch butterfly

Dogface butterfly symbolism

The California Dogface butterfly holds the distinction of being the official state butterfly of California. This designation underscores its significance in the state’s natural history and serves as a symbol of California’s diverse and unique ecosystems.

This state butterfly appears on California driver’s licenses and postage stamps across the state.

California Dogface butterfly stamps
California Dogface butterfly stamps; image source: linns.com

Like all butterflies, the Dogface butterfly undergoes a remarkable transformation from egg to caterpillar, pupa, and adult butterfly. This metamorphosis is often seen symbolically as a representation of transformation, change, and rebirth.

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