Butterfly Identification

Butterfly Identification

Butterflies are one of the most conspicuous insect groups, with wonderful colour and shapes. However, sometimes their identification is not easy and we need precise keys to identify butterflies. On this page, you can find information, free resources like books and field guides, and several options for searching online.

First, it is important to differentiate butterflies (Rhopalocera) from moths (Heterocera), and then determine the Family that the individual belongs to.

butterfly families


In Europe, we have 6 different families:


  1. Hesperiidae - Skippers
  2. Papilionidae - Apollos, Festoons and Swallowtails
  3. Pieridae - Whites and Yellows
  4. Riodinidae - Metalmarks
  5. Lycaenidae - Blues, Copper and Hairstreaks
  6. Nymphalidae - Fritillaries, Admirals, Emperors, Gliders, Browns and Heaths



Identification with Field Guides

eBMS Field Guides

There are many materials and resources to help in butterfly identification like websites, books and field guides. This last one can be a good support in the field providing the essential characteristics to find the correct butterfly species.

In the ABLE project and eBMS, we produced several Field Guides per region, making it easier to identify butterflies by only presenting those which are found in the specific area.”


You can find all these Field Guides, species list per country and region and more information on the eBMS website

EBG Field Guides: species groups

The European Butteflies Group created a series of field guides for helping in butterfly identification, in this case, focusing on difficult groups and showing useful pictures to recognise identification characteristics that distinguish species. You can download all these guides for free: 

Melitaea diamina Melitaea diamina
  • Small Fritillaries: 2. Euphydryas - The six species of Euphydryas are illustrated in this guide, including difficult forms and subspecies. Download (11mb) 
  • Small Fritillaries: 3. Melitaea - This group now includes the old sub-group of Mellicta which traditionally posed the greatest identification problems for European butterfly recorders. Download the high resolution (18mb) or low resolution (5mb)
  • Whites: Pieris - a complete guide to identify all the European Pieris with notes to distinguish them from other similar genera. Download (9mb) 
  • Brimstones: Gonepteryx. Guide for clarifying the confusion of the three Gonepteryx species with their map distribution: Brimstone [Gonepteryx rhamni], Powdered Brimstone [Gonepteryx farinosa] and Cleopatra [Gonepteryx cleopatra]. Download (3mb)

© Copyright Butterfly Conservation: These guides are made available for private use only. Any form of commercial usage is forbidden.

Many thanks to Bill Raymond for designing the ID guides above. Thanks to Bernard Watts for information and photographs, to Matt Rowlings, Roger Gibbons, Nick Greatorex-Davies, David Moore and Vincent Baudraz for photographs and to Richard Lewington for the use of his illustrations. Thanks also to LepiDiv for permitting the use of their distribution maps.


Butterfly Books

 A Photographic Guide - Butterflies of Central Europe & Britain

 This Field Guide contains information to identify 269 butterfly species occurring in Britain, Western and Central Europe. With detailed pictures of identification characteristics and precise pointing marks, this Guide will help you to identify difficult and similar species.

Author Peter Gergely. A hardcopy can be bought at the Dutch Butterfly Conservation.

 Butterflies of the Iberian Peninsula

This interesting resource Butterflies of the Iberian Peninsula by Paul R. G. Browning (pdf English) is a revised version that contains a lot of information covering Portugal and Spain's butterflies. This photographic record and field Guide can be found on the European Butterfly Group (EBG) website together with more information to help in butterfly identification:  different butterfly identification guides per group of species:


Identification on the website

There are many websites on the internet that could help a lot in butterfly identification in different languages. Here we give a list of the best website to help you identifying butterflies and moths: