Attracting Butterflies: Meet the Common Buckeye

Despite the name, the common buckeye is anything but ordinary. The eyespots make this brown butterfly a real attention-getter!

What Does a Common Buckeye Butterfly Look Like?

Common buckeyeCourtesy Sujata Roy
A common buckeye butterfly is anything but common.

A surprising number of species include the word “common” in their name, although the species itself is anything but ordinary. One good example is the common buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia). The “common” in its name helps distinguish it from the similar-looking tropical buckeye (Junonia everete) and mangrove buckeye (Junonia genoveva).

At first glance, this medium-sized butterfly may seem brown and commonplace. A second look will bring the yellow-rimmed black eyespots with blue centers to your attention, as well as the orange bars on its forewings.

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Common Buckeye Wings

Bnbbyc17 Willie Powell 1Courtesy Willie Powell

A typical common buckeye wingspan is 2 to 2 1/2 inches.

“The wings of a common buckeye (above) remind me of a painter’s palette. Buckeyes feed on wildflowers along old country roads near my home. I love to photograph the beauty around me, especially the things most people miss,” says Birds & Blooms reader Willie Powell.

Did you know—it’s normal and OK to see butterflies with tattered wings. Common buckeyes get around just fine even with as much as two-thirds of their wings missing.

Psst—you HAVE to see these beautiful butterfly pictures.

Common Buckeye Facts

251919187 1 Joe Bob Hall Bnb Bypc2020Courtesy Joe Bob Hall
Look for the large eyespots to identify a common buckeye.
  • Wingspan 2 to 2 1/2 inches
  • Distinctive Markings Brown with orange bars on forewings; large yellow-rimmed black eyespots with blue centers
  • Habitat Open sunny spaces, including fields, gardens, roadsides; often sits on bare ground
  • Caterpillar Dark green to gray, with orange and yellow markings and black spines
  • Host Plants Snapdragon, plantain, figwort, vervain, ruellia and others
  • Range Most common in the South, but familiar across much of the U.S.

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Common Buckeye Butterfly Habitat

common buckeyeCourtesy Christine Mccluskey
Plant nectar flowers like purple coneflowers to attract these butterflies.

Common buckeyes are found across nearly all of the U.S. and southern Canada at certain times of year. In southern regions, they may be more common during cooler seasons when their host plants are more readily available.

Here in Tampa, Florida, I usually see common buckeyes up through late June or early July, after which the population moves north to find a better crop of host plants for their caterpillars. (Folks in Florida may also see mangrove buckeyes, while those in the Southwest may see tropical buckeyes.)

While these butterflies don’t migrate en masse like monarchs, they do shift their population center. Most of these butterflies will begin to move south for the winter, but they won’t fly in large groups like monarchs. Their population will slowly start to focus itself further south a bit at a time. You can help them thrive in the late summer and fall months by keeping plenty of nectar flowers in your garden.

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Caterpillar and Host Plants

Common Buckeye CaterpillarGetty Images/iStockphoto
Common buckeye caterpillar

This butterfly lays its eggs on plants in the plantago, acanthus, and antirrhinim families. They especially enjoy toadflax, broadleaf plantain, figwort, vervain, ruella and snapdragons.

Eggs are small and green, laid singly but often with many close together. The caterpillars are dark green to gray, with orange and yellow markings. Their black spines are harmless to humans, but deter predators like lizards and birds.

Next, learn how to identify a red spotted purple butterfly.

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Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find he reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.