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Nymphalidae Rafinesque 1815

Niklas Wahlberg and Andrew V. Z. Brower
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Monarch butterfly California sister butterfly
taxon links [down<--]Papilionoidea [up-->]Limenitidinae [up-->]Heliconiinae [up-->]Nymphalinae [up-->]Apaturinae [up-->]Biblidinae [up-->]Pseudergolini [up-->]Cyrestinae [up-->]Charaxinae [up-->]Satyrinae [up-->]Calinaginae [up-->]Danainae [up-->]Libytheinae Interpreting the tree
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The pages under Nymphalidae on the Tree of Life Web site are being worked on at this moment. Relationships are shown for the most part down to the level of genera, but there is still very little other information on the pages. The pages will be continuously updated, so please check back often.

Containing group: Papilionoidea


The family Nymphalidae is the most speciose family of butterflies with about 6000 described species so far. The family contains many well-known species, such as the monarch, the Painted Lady, the buckeye, the fritillaries, checkerspots and the electric blue morphos. Indeed, nymphalids are in many places the most visible members of the local butterfly fauna. Due to their visibility and ease of study in the field and lab, many species of nymphalids have been used as model systems to understand the complexity of life on this planet.


All species of Nymphalidae are united by a single morphological character, the tricarinate ridges found on the adult butterfly's antennae.

Discussion of Phylogenetic Relationships

The diversity in form and life style has meant that the phylogenetic relationships of nymphalids have been contentious. This in turn has meant that there has been no consensus on the classification of the group, with some authors splitting the family into up to 9 different families! The lack of a good phylogenetic hypothesis has also meant that the evolutionary history of the group has been shrouded in mystery. Recent molecular and morphological work is bringing light to the question of how different species and groups of species are related to each other. The tree shown above is the best hypothesis of subfamilial relationships based on as yet unpublished combined analyses of morphological and molecular data.

Many groups within Nymphalidae are currently under investigation, and we have endeavored to provide current hypotheses of relationships for each group. Where these are lacking, lists of taxa down to the species level are provided, in the hope that this will stimulate further research.


Ackery, P. R., R. de Jong, and R. I. Vane-Wright. 1999. The butterflies: Hedyloidea, Hesperioidea, and Papilionoidea. Pages 264-300 in: Lepidoptera: Moths and Butterflies. 1. Evolution, Systematics, and Biogeography. Handbook of Zoology Vol. IV, Part 35. N. P. Kristensen, ed. De Gruyter, Berlin and New York.

Brower, A. V. Z. 2000. Phylogenetic relationships among the Nymphalidae (Lepidoptera), inferred from partial sequences of the wingless gene. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B Biological Sciences 267:1201-1211.

Freitas, A. V. L. and K. S. Brown. 2004. Phylogeny of the Nymphalidae (Lepidoptera). Systematic Biology 53 (3):363-383.

Wahlberg, N., E. Weingartner, and S. Nylin. 2003. Towards a better understanding of the higher systematics of Nymphalidae (Lepidoptera: Papilionoidea). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 28:473-484.

Information on the Internet

Niklas Wahlberg's Nymphalidae Research
Title Illustrations
Click on an image to view larger version & data in a new window
Click on an image to view larger version & data in a new window
Monarch butterfly
Scientific Name Danaus plexippus (Danainae)
Comments Monarch butterfly
Acknowledgements courtesy InsectImages.org (#1226333)
Specimen Condition Live Specimen
Copyright © Jerry A. Payne, USDA ARS
Scientific Name Dryas julia (Heliconiinae)
Location National Zoo (Washington, D.C.)
Comments Orange Julia butterfly
Acknowledgements courtesy CalPhotos
Specimen Condition Live Specimen
Copyright © 2002
California sister butterfly
Scientific Name Adelpha bredowii (Nymphalinae)
Location Castlerock Park, Skyline (Santa Cruz County, California, USA)
Comments California sister butterfly
Creator Photograph by T. W. Davies
Acknowledgements courtesy CalPhotos
Specimen Condition Live Specimen
Copyright © 1999 California Academy of Sciences
About This Page

Niklas Wahlberg
Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, USA

Correspondence regarding this page should be directed to Niklas Wahlberg at and Andrew V. Z. Brower at

Citing this page:

Wahlberg, Niklas and Brower, Andrew V. Z. 2007. Nymphalidae Rafinesque 1815. Version 19 February 2007 (under construction). http://tolweb.org/Nymphalidae/12172/2007.02.19 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/

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