Butterfly Pronunciation Guide

A whole page dedicated to butterfly pronunciation; why?!  Have you ever looked at some of the scientific names of butterflies or moths?  Or even their diseases?  Some of them are really hard to figure out if you don’t have a scientific or Latin background.  Here is a great guide that was given to us by Rick Mikula on how to pronounce certain names and a guide to learn how to pronounce others.  Thanks, Rick!


Papilionidae –   pah-pill-li-ON-ni-dee

Swallowtails

  • Most species have a tail like projection from the hind wing.
  • Wings usually remain fluttering while feeding
  • Sailing or fluttering flight

 

Pieridae – pee-AIR-ri-dee

Whites, sulfurs, orangetips

  • Usually bright yellow, orange, or white, often with black markings.
  • Rapid fluttering flight
  • Whites sit with wings open – Sulpurs sit with wings closed

 

Lycaenidae – lye-SEEN-ni-de –

Gossamer-winged butterflies, harvesters, coppers, hairstreaks, blues

  • Usually small and delicate.
  • Erratic flight
  • Often bluish in color.
  • The hairstreaks have delicate “tails” on the hind wings and sit with wings folded
  • Coppers sit with wings open and visit flowers
  • Blues sit with wing folded or partly open & visit flowers and puddles

 

Nymphalidae – nym-PHAL-li-dee

Brushfooted butterflies

  • Front legs reduced, but otherwise lacking characters of Danaidae or Satyridae
  • Fly with alternating flaps and glides
  • Some visit flowers some some prefer puddles
  • Crescents and checkerspots fly fast and low


Danaidae
dah-NAY-i-dee the Monarch

  • Large orange-colored butterflies with black veins and white-spotted black outer margins.

Satyridae –  sah-TIER-ri-dee

The wood nymphs, satyrs

  • Floppy lazy fight
  • Only a few visit flower with wings folded
  • Usually grayish or brownish, often with eyespots on wings.
  • Sit with wings folded

 

Hesperiidae – hess-pah-RYE-i-dee

The skippers

  • Antennae widely separated at the base and hooked at tips.
  • Rest with front and hind wings held at different angles.
  • Several species have “tails” on the hind wings.
  • Most sit with wings spread

 

Milkweed Danàidae dah-này-ah-dee
Swallowtails & Parnassians Papiliónidae pap-ill-ee-ón-ah-dee
Brush-Footed Nymphálidae nim-fál-ah-dee
Longwings Heliconìidae Hel-ah-cone-eyè-ah-dee
Whites & Sulphurs Piéridae pee-áir-ah-dee
Satyrs Satýridae sa-téar-ah-dee
Snout Libythèdae libby-thèe-ah-dee
Gossamer Wings Lycaènidae lie-sèen-ah-dee
Skippers Hesperìidae hes-per-eyè-ah-dee

Moths

Sphinx or Hawk Sphíngidae sfén-jah-dee
Silk & Royal Saturnìidae sat-uhr-nyè-ah-dee
Tigers Arctìidae ark-tìe-ah-dee
Tent caterpillars Lasiocámpidae lass-ee-oh-cámp-ah-dee

 

Ophryocystis elektroscirrha –   O-free-us-sis-tus Electra-sceer-rah

A parasite – NOT a disease – that affects butterflies of the Danaidae family. Many people will just stick with “oh-ee”.


There are a few basic tips that will help you along. In scientific names all the vowels are pronounced. They can be long or short but none are silent. The accent above the vowel will tell you if it is long or short. The grave accent (`) indicates a long vowel i.e. làte, mèet and kìte. The acute accent (´) signifies the short vowels pronounced as cút, bát, or tót.

 

When two vowels are written together, but pronounced as one, they form what is called a diphthong. All Lepidoptera family and subfamily names end in the most common of all diphthongs, ae. It is pronounced as è or ee.

 

With consonants the letters C and G are the problems. When C is followed by ae, e, oe, i, or y it has a soft ‘S’ sound. When the letter C is followed by a, h, o, oi, or u it then takes on the hard sound of ‘K’ When the letter G is followed by ae, e, oe, i, or y it is a soft ‘J’ sound, but when followed by a, o, oi, or u it it pronounced hard as in go.