Whats in a Butterflies or Moths Name?

This is the second part of my blogs on butterfly and their scientific names. For those of you who like my blogs to be stories, think of this as the story of one of my obsessions. There are more stories to come.

As I mentioned in my blog, What is in a Name, Carl Linnaeus is credited with naming over 11,000 organisms. People from all over the world would send him specimens and he gave them a name using his binomial system—genus and species. How did he come up with all those names? Linnaeus must have been quite familiar with the Greek and Roman myths. Undoubtedly, he read many of the “classics” in their original language. Shortly, we will explore the importance of this tidbit of information about Linnaus. It must be said that this blog will be long, all text, and not something you will most likely read from start to finish, but copy the information so you can refer to it when you do find butterflies and are curious about their names. I became obsessed with following the thread of Linnaeus’s thinking and after all the research, I decided to dump it on you.

First, it must be understood that throughout Linnaeus’s work, there seems to be quite a number of spelling errors, which may actually have been a printer’s error. It is easy to see how a printer might mistake an “m” for an “n” or an “j’ for a “i” or an “m” for an “ru”. Furthermore, one must recognize that the various books, versions, and authors of ancient myths is another area where spellings can vary. This may have prevented me from finding some information, but I have tried to be as accurate and complete as possible.

All of the references to Linnaeus’s butterfly names comes from his work Systema Naturae, 1758. This book is where he first gave the animals binomial names after publishing his book Species Planarium in 1753 which was his edition for plants. Both of these book (all 4 volumes) can be downloaded for free. Isn’t the internet wonderful!

Naming of Butterflies and Moths

For some unknown reason, Linnaeus decide to name the butterflies and a few moths he thought were butterflies after people and places in mythology. There are so many characters in mythology, where does one start? I used a wide array of internet sources on mythology to sort through all the following information. Therefore, I will not reference each, the work had been done for you, just enjoy.

When naming the butterflies, Linnaeus broke them down into additional groups. He provided a description of why he lumped each group together based upon morphological (physical) similarities, most often their wings, but my translating skills prevent me from understanding some of his descriptions. Below is a list of Linnaeus’s groupings and some information about each.

It does not take long to realize that he has given names that correspond to characters in Greek mythology including the Trojan War. Here is the breakdown:

  • Equites Trojani – Knights Trojan – In this group, he listed 17 species. From my research, all 17 are named after people mentioned as Trojans in the myths of the Trojan War. For example: Priamus, Hector, and Paris. Later in this blog, I will list all 192 species and what I learned about the name of each, but this should give you an idea. (I told you this would be a long blog, something to keep and refer to occasionally. In a future blog, I will concentrate on the local butterflies.)
  • Equites Achivi – Knights Acaean (Greek) – In this group of 22 species, all but two are people who were Greek fighters during the Trojan War. The exception is Helena, Helen of Troy who was a Greek taken by Paris to Troy. The other was a name for which I could find no reference- Stelenes. There is a Greek goddess named Selenes, but this just does not fit the pattern.
  • Heliconii – In Greek mythology there is a Mount Helicon which is a sanctuary for Eros and the Muses. There are 15 species within this grouping. Of this, most (13) are associated with the Muses or Graces on some level. The other two are plant genus names also, but have no connection to mythology that I can find.
  • Danai candidi – Danaus, a mythical king of Egypt, had fifty daughters who married the fifty sons of his twin brother, Aegyptus. Candidi is the plural for pure or white. [Ref 1 and 2] These butterflies have white wings. There are 18 species within Danai candidi of which one is listed as being from the habitat of that species name and another eight are named for plant genus, presumably plants the caterpillars eat. The other nine are all daughters of Danaus as listed in Hyginus’s writings. Mythologies say that all of the daughters except one killed their husbands on their wedding day. The one exception spared her husband because he was willing to honor her wish to remain a virgin. [Ref: 3] (Killing your new husband is one way to stay candidi.)
  • Danai Festivi – Festivi is Latin for festive. These butterflies have more colorful—festive—wings. This grouping of twelve species has nine which are names of the sons of Aegyptus as listed by Hyginus, all of of whom die at the hands of their wife on their wedding day. The other three species are named after plant genus, most likely what Linnaeus presumed was the caterpillar food.
  • Nymphales Gemmati – Nymphs are minor female dieties. Gemmati – Gemmati is the plural masculine of Gemmatus which means  “jeweled or bedecked with jewels.” [Ref: 4] Linnaeus described these butterflies as having “ocellatis” or eyespots—jewels–on their wings. Once again, most of these species, 15 of 22, are named for nymphs in mythology or for women who were seduced by one of the gods. Most of the others have no connection I could find. There is a lone species appears to be named after a plant and one of a goddess.
  • Nymphales Phalerati – Phalerati refers to a metal ornament. Linnaeus described these as wings without eyespots, I am not sure about this connection. I need to find images of each of these butterflies to see if there is a characteristic that would fit with having a metal ornament. This grouping includes 33 species, many (23) of which are named either for a nymph, a goddess, or a lover/victim of one of the gods. The other ten include two cities, five descriptive words and three plant species.
  • Plebeji Rurales – Rural common people. This group of 16 people includes one, Cupido, that might be the god Cupid. Some of the other names include some singers, a sculpture, an immortal horse, two builders of the ship, and an author, There were two I could find no references. Others (5) were named after a plant genus, presumably the host plant for that species.
  • Plebeji Urbicolae – Urban common people – With only seven names, two were sculpterers, one a sea god, and one either a boy who could tell the future or the title of a series of books. Two had no connection to anything related to mythology. One’s name was the same as how Linnaeus described the species habitat.
  • Barbari – Barba means beard. Most, nineteen of the twenty four names,AS come from the crew of the Argo and they are therefore, Argonauts. Three were names with no connection to mythology or plant species to the best of my knowledge. One was a name of someone who wanted to be in the crew, but was held a prisoner at the time of the journey. The final name was an alternate name for Zeus.

All of the above information about the Argonauts comes from reference #5.

Congratulations on getting this far! Here is the long part, but I found it fascinating and hope you will also.

What I learned from this research was that Linnaeus was methodical in his naming process and took care to lump similar species together. He settled on connecting the butterflies and moths with mythology and stayed relatively true to his course. Why is another question.

To Linnaeus, all 192 butterflies and moths he named had the genus, Papilio. On page 458, Linnaeus starts to describe the various species he named as being within the genus Papilio. The following section offers Linnaeus’s specific name, some detail as to what the name means, and our current common and scientific names in his order. Of course as the science of taxonomy evolved, many of the names changed. I found it fascinating, and hope you do to, how many scientists kept Linnaeus’s name at some level.

I got all the butterfly names from Ref. 6 and then did research on each, made easy by many of the links in Ref 6. With each of Linnaeus’s species, I give a smidgeon of the mythology if available and then the current scientific name and common name if available for each. I thought it was fun to make the connections with people and places in mythology and in how Linnaeus must have worked hard to come up with names that fit into each of his groups.

Equites Trojani – Knights Trojan

  1. Priamus – Priam was the King of Troy during the Trojan Wars and was married to Queen Hecubus they had nine sons and four daughters. Current: Ornithoptera priamus, common green birdwing or Priam’s birdwing
  2. Hector – Trojan prince and greatest warrior on the Trojan side. Current: Pachliopta hector, crimson rose
  3. Paris – Trojan prince who started the Trojan wars by stealing Helen for his wife. Current: Papilio paris, Paris peacock
  4. Helenus – Trojan prince and warrior. Current: Papilio helenus, red Helen
  5. Troilus – Trojan prince, who according to prophecy if alive as an adult Troy would not fall, so Achilles killed him. Some accounts say he was not Priam’s son, but Apollo’s, but was raised as a son by Priam. Current: Papilio troilus, spicebush swallowtail
  6. Deiphobus – Trojan prince second to Hector in fighting skills. Papilio deiphobus, no common name
  7. Polytes – Trojan prince who was a relatively minor character in mythology. Current: Papilio polytes, common Mormon
  8. Pammon – Trojan prince and twin of Cassandra who taught him how to be a prophet. Current: Papilio polytes, apparently what Linnaeus thought was a separate species is one of many female forms of the common Mormon
  9. Glaucus – A Lycian army captain who fought in the Trojan War as an ally of Troy. Current: Papilio glaucus, eastern tiger swallowtail
  10. Anchises – In one myth, he survives the destruction of Troy. Current: Parides anchises, Anchises cattleheart
  11. Polydamas – Lieutenant and friend of Hector. Current: Battus polydamas, gold rim swallowtail or Polydamas swallowtail
  12. Memnon – He was a skilled warrior who brought an army to defend Troy. Current: Papilio memnon, great Mormon
  13. Agenor – A brave Trojan warrior. Current: subspecies of great Mormon
  14. Sarpedon – Glaucus’s cousin who fought for the Trojans, becoming one of their greatest allies. Current: Graphium sarpedon, common bluebottle
  15. Aeneas – Second cousin to Hector and Paris, he was a Trojan hero, Current: Parides aeneas, no common name
  16. Panthous – An elder in Troy. Current: Ornithoptera priamus, has been lumped with Priam’s swallowtail
  17. Pandarus – A Trojan aristocrat. Current: Hypolimnas pandarus, no common name

Equites Achivi – Warrior Acaean (Greek)

  1. Helena – Helen of Troy, over whom the war was fought. Current: Troides helena, common birdwing
  2. Menelaus – Leader of the Spartan army during the Trojan War and former husband of Helen. Current: Morpho menelaus, Menelaus blue morpho
  3. Ulysses – Greek hero of Trojan War. Current: Papilio ulysses, Ulysses butterfly
  4. Agamemnon – Commander of the united Greek army during the Trojan War. Current: Graphiom Agamemnon, tailed jay
  5. Diomedes – Great Greek warrior during Trojan War. Current: Papilio ulysses, Linnaeus thought this was a separate species while in fact it was just another phase or morph of the Ulysses butterfly.
  6. Patroclus – Friend and warrior with Achilles. Current: Lyssa patroclus, no common name for this moth.
  7. Pyrrhus – Son of Achilles who fought in Trojan War, eventually killing Priam. Current: Polyura pyrrhus, no common name.
  8. Leilus – Unknown – Current: Urania leilus, Green-banded Urania (a day flying moth that looks like a swallowtail.
  9. Ajax – Great Greek hero. Current: No species accepted with this name as Linnaeus’ records could have been any of three separate species.
  10. Machaon – Greek surgeon, reputed to be one of the warriors in the famed Trojan Horse. Current: Papilio machaon, Old World swallowtail
  11. Antilochus – Youngest and handsome Greek warrior, son of Nestor and a favorite of Achilles. Current: Papilio glaucus, I am not sure why this is an eastern tiger swallowtail, Linnaeus’s type specimen does not look like a tiger swallowtail to me. [Ref:7] (There is a web source which shows the type specimens used by Linnaeus. A type specimen is the specimen used to describe the species.)
  12. Protesilaus – A one-time suitor of Helen, he was the first to step ashore and the first to die in the Trojan War. Current: Protesilaus protesilaus, no common name.
  13. Nestor – An old, wise warrior on the side of the Greeks. Current: Morpho menelaus, Late identified as a Menelaus blue morph.
  14. Telemachus – Odysseus’ son, an infant during the war, but famous for his search for his father in Homer’s Odyssey. Current: Morpho telemachus, no common name.
  15. Achilles – Greatest Greek warrior and central figure of Homer’s Iliad. Current: Morpho achilles, Achilles morpho.

In many resources, it shows a Papilio podalirius L. 1758 in this location. In my copy of his 10th edition, I find no reference. Current: Iphiclides podalirius, scarce swallowtail. Podalirius was son of Asclepius and brother of Machaon. Together they lead an army on the Greek side.

  1. Teucer – A great archer who fought for the Greeks despite being a cousin of Hector and Paris on the Trojan side. Current: Caligo teucer, Teucer owl butterfly.
  2. Idomeneus – A high ranked Greek general who led the Cretan Army. Current: Caligo idomeneus, Idomeneus giant owl
  3. Demoleus – A Greek slain by Aeneas. Current: Papilio idomeneus, common lime butterfly
  4. Demophon – King of Athens. Current: Archaeoprepona demophon, one-spotted prepone or banded king shoemaker or demophon shoemaker.
  5. Eurypylus – Led the Thessalians, allies of the Greeks and one of Helen’s many suitors. Current: Graphium eurypylus, great jay or pale green trinale.
  6. Nireus – King of the Greek island Syme, known for being almost as handsome as Achilles. Current: Papilio nireus, green-banded swallowtail.
  7. Stelenes – Name origin is unknown. Current: Siproeta stelenes, Malachite
  8. Philoctetes – Greek hero and archer. Current: Antirrhea philctotes, common brown morpho.


  1. Apollo – The god of music, son of Zeus and Leto. Current: Parnassius apollo, Apollo.
  2. Mnemosyne – Mother of the nine muses. Current: Parnassius mnemosyne, clouded Apollo
  3. Pira – Alternate spelling for the daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora. Current: Haetera piera, amber phantom.
  4. Aglaja – Greek goddess of beauty and the youngest of the Three Charities or graces Current: no longer recognized as an acceptable name.
  5. Terpsicore – One of the nine muses, the goddess of music, song and dance – spelled Terpsichore. Current: listed as “nomen dubium” or name doubtful.
  6. Calliope – The eldest of the muses, goddess of epic poetry. Current: Stalachtis calliope, no common name.
  7. Polymnia – One of the nine muses, goddess of religious hymns also spelled Polyhymnia. Current: Mechanitis polymnia, orange-spotted tiger clearwing
  8. Urania – Muse of Astronomy. Current: Taenaris urania, no common name.
  9. Euterpe – Muse of Lyric poetry. Current: Stalachtis euterpe, no common name.
  10. Ricini – Name origin is unknown. Current: Heliconius ricini, Ricini longwing. I can find no connection between this butterfly and the Caster Oil Plant, Ricinus communis
  11. Psidii – Name origin is unknown. Psidium is the genus for guave. Current: Thyridia psidii, melantho clearwing
  12. Clio – Muse of history. Current: Eresia clio, common crescent or Clio crescent.
  13. Thalia – One of three Graces, the Muse of comedy. Current: Actinote thalia, no common name.
  14. Erato – Muse of erotic poetry. Current: Heliconius erato, red postman
  15. Melpomene – Muse of tragedy. Current: Heliconius melpomene, postman butterfly.

Danai candidi

  1. Anacardii – Linnaeus lists the habitat as “Anacardio Americes.” After searching for a location in the Americas, I realized that Anacadium is the genus for cashews. Current: Protogoniomorpha anacardii, clouded mother-of-pearl
  2. Crataegi – The genus name for Hawthorn plants, one of many caterpillar food plants – Current: Aporia crataegi, black-veined white
  3. Brassicae – Cabbage plants genus, which are this butterfly caterpillar food plant. Current: Pieris brassicae, large white
  4. Rapea – Buttercup plants. Current: Pieris rapae, small white or cabbage white.
  5. Napi – Napi is Latin for a turnip. Current: Pieris napi, green-veined white which feeds on plants in the mustard family of which a turnip is one.
  6. Sinapis – This is a plant genus. Current: Leptidae sinapis, wood white.
  7. Daplidice – Daughter of Danaus. Current: Pontia daplidice, Bath white
  8. Cardamines – This is a plant genus. Current: Anthocharis cardamines, orange tip.
  9. Evippe – Daughter of Danaus from Hyginus’ list and Apollodorus’ list. Current: Colotis euippe, round-winged orange tip
  10. Glaucippe – Daughter of Danaus from Hyginus’ and Appolodorus’ list. Current: Hebomia glaucippe, great orange tip
  11. Pyranthe – Daughter of Danaus from Hyginus’ list if spelled without an “H”. Current: Catopsilia pyranthe, mottled emigrant.
  12. Arsalte – Daughter of Danaus from Hyginus’ list. Current: Heliopetes arsalte, veined white-skipper.
  13. Hyparete – Name origin is unknown. Possibly Hyp = under and rete = net; could be the bold wing pattern of this Indian species. Current: Delias hyparete, painted Jezebel.
  14. Damone – Daughter of Danaus from Hyginus’ list. Current: “nomen dubium,” which means doubtful name. Even scientist cannot figure out what species Linnaeus was referring to.
  15. Trite – Daughter of Danaus from Hyginus’ list. Current: Rhabdodryas trite, straight-line sulphur.
  16. Hyale – Daughter of Danaus from Hyginus’ list. Current: Colias hyale, pale clouded yellow.
  17. Sennae – Current: Phoebis sinapis, cloudless sulphur, feeds on legumes. Sennae is a genus of legumes.
  18. Rhamni – Larval food is restricted to Rhamnus cathartica or Rhamnus frangula – now called Gonepteryx rhamni, common brimstone
  19. Hecabe – Daughter of Danaus from Hyginus’ list. Current: Eurema hecabe, large grass yellow.

Danai festivi (sons of Aegyptus) – These butterflies have more colorful – festive- wings.

  1. Midamus – Married to Amymone in Hyginus’ list if spelled Midanus
  2. Niavius – Name origin is unknown. Currently: Amauris naivius, The Friar
  3. Enceladus – Married to Trite in Hyginus’ list and to Amymone in Appolodorus’ list. Current: nomen dubium.
  4. Obrinus – Married to Hippothoe in Hyginus’ list if spelled Obrimus. Current: Nessaea obrinus, no common name.
  5. Perius – Married to Hyale in Hyginus’ list. Current: Parathyma perius, common sergeant.
  6. Plexippus – Married to Pyrantis in Hyginus’ list. Current: Danaus plexipus, monarch
  7. Chrysippus – Son of Tyria who married Chrysippe, Daughter of Memphis in Appolodorus’ list and to Demoditas in Hyginus’ list. Current: Danaus chrysippus, African monarch or plain tiger.
  8. Cassiae – Probably a food plant as the species was listed as habitat in Cassiis Americes, but Cassia is another name for cinnamon. Current: Opsiphanes cassia, Cassia’s owl-butterfly
  9. Sophorae – No connection to mythology, though it means beautiful in Greek and is the name of Mose’s wife. Linnaeus lists: Habitat Sophora AmericesSophora is the genus of a number of plants in the pea family, so most likely this is also named after the caterpillars food source.  Current: Brassolis sophorae, no common name.
  10. Mineus – Married to Myrmindone in Hyginus’ list. Current: Mycalesis mineus, dark-banded bushbrown.
  11. Hyperantus – Married to Electra in Hyginus’ list. Current: Aphantopus hyperantus, the ringlet.
  12. Pamphilus – Married to Demophile in Hyginus’ list. Current: Coenonympha pamphilus, small heath.
  13. Xanthus – Married to Arcadia in Hyginus’ list. Current: Catoblepia xanthus, no common name.

Nymphales Nymphs are minor female deities and often associated with sexual exploits of one kind or another.

  1. Io – A nymph associated with the Inachides or Inachus River who in mythology was one of Zeus’ mortal lovers who was turned into a heifer. Current: Inachis io, European peacock
  2. Almana – I found no connection to nymphs. Current: Junonia almanac, peacock pansy
  3. Asterie – Asteria escaped Zeus’ amorous intent by turning into a quail and jumping into the sea. Current: Junonia almanac, peacock pansy. This butterfly has two forms based upon season found. Undoubtedly, Linnaeus thought they were separate species.
  4. Aonis – I found no connection to nymphs. Current: Junonia lemonias, lemon pansy
  5. Oenone – Nymph of Mt. Ida and lover of Paris. Current: Junonia oenone, blue pansy.
  6. Lemonias – Ormos Lemonias is a location in Greece. Current: Jononia lemonias, lemon pansy.
  7. Orithya – Wind nymph who was a mortal taken by Boreas, the north wind. Current: Junonia orithya, blue pansy
  8. Feronia – Goddess of wildlife, fertility, health, and abindance. There is a town in Italy, Feronia. Current: Hamadryas feronia, variable cracker
  9. Maera – Nymph of the dog-star. Current: Lasiommata maera, large wall brown
  10. Ligea – an unspecified nymph. Current: Erebia ligea, Arran brown.
  11. Aegeria – One of the Camenae, Roman nymphs who had the ability to prophecy. Pregnant women prayed to her since she was associated with life. Current: Pararge aegeria, speckled wood
  12. Galathea – One of the fifty Nereides, goddess of calm seas. Current: Melanargia galathea, marbled white.
  13. Cyrene – Cyrenaean Nymphs are associated with City of Cyrene in Libya. Cyrene was carried off by Apollo from Pelion to Libya. Current: Salamis anacardii, clouded mother-of-peral.
  14. Semele – A beloved of Zeus and mother of Dionysus. Current: Hipparchia Semele, grayling.
  15. Leda – Queen of Sparta who was seduced by Zues looking like a swan. (My the Greeks had imagination.) Current: Melanitis leda, common evening brown.
  16. Helie – Daughter of Sol (Helos, the sun god) and Clymene (an Okeanid nymph loved by Sol) and sister of Phaethon. As one of the Heliades, she was turned into a poplar tree along with her six sisters. Current: nomen dubium.
  17. Jurtina – I found no connection to nymphs. Current: Maniola jurtina, meadow brown.
  18. Aeropa – Europa had an affair with Zues. This would fit better than Aeropa who was a daughter of Cretreus and sister to Althaemenes, Clymene, and Apemosyne. Current: Lexias aeropa, orange-banded plane
  19. Janira – A variation of Ianeira, who was one of the Nereid sea nymphs. Current: Maniola janira, no common name.
  20. Cardul – I found no connection to nymphs. Current: Vanessa cardui, painted lady.
  21. Pipleis – I found no connection to nymphs. Current: Hypolimnas pandarus, no common name.
  22. Lampetia – Another one of the Heliades, sister of Helie. Current: Cupha lampetia, no common name.
  23. Iris – Greek goddess of the rainbow. Current: Apatura iris, purple emperor.

Nymphales phalerati (minor dieties with ornamental coverings?)

  1. Populi – “Habitat in Populo tremula.Populus tremula, quaking aspen. Current: Limenitis populi, poplar admiral
  2. Antiopa – There is no reference to this name, but Antiope was seduced by Zues. Current: Nymphalis antiopa, mourning cloak.
  3. polychloros – No mythological references, but poly means many and chloros means green. Current: Nymphalis polychloros, large tortoiseshell, a butterfly without a stitich of green on it. With most of these butterflies, Linnaeus used a capital letter to start the name. He did not with this one making me believe it is not named after someone or a plant genus.
  4. Urtieae – “Habitat in Utrica.” Utrica is the genus for nettles. Current: Aglais urticae, small tortoiseshell.
  5. C. album – This species is commonly called comma because of the small “c” on its wings. In this species the “c” is white. Current: Polygonia c-album, comma.
  6. C. aureum – Aureum is the Latin for gold. The comma on this species is also white, but the butterfly itself is a little more golden in color. Current: Polygonia c-aureum, Asian comma.
  7. Dirce – In mythology, Dirke (Dirce) was a Naiad. She is associated with the spring in Dirke. Her waters were sacred to Dionesos. Originqlly, she was the wife of King Lykos and neice of Antiope, who she treated as a slave. Dirke was punished by Antiope’s sons by being tied to bull and tron apart. Dionysos took pity on her and transformed her into the spring. Current: Colobura dirce, Dirce beauty, mosaic or zebra mosaic.
  8. Amathea – Amathia was a Nereid, though I could find little information on her. Amalthea was the foster mother (a she-goat) of Zeus. One source spelled her name as Amathea. [Ref. 8] Current: Anartia amathea, brown peacock or scarlet peacock.
  9. Atalanta – She was a heroine, sailed on the Argos, and a favorite of the virgin goddess, Artemis. Current: Vanessa atalanta¸ red admiral.
  10. Venilia – Virgil and Ovid have her as a nymph. She is a roman divinity of the wind and sea. In Greek mythology, she was the wife of Daunus. Current: Pantoporia venilia, Cape York aeroplane or black-eyed plane.
  11. Alimena – Only reference I could find was for a town in Sicly founded in 1628 by the marquise Antonio Alimeda. Current: Hypolimnas alimena, blue-banded eggfly, a native of the Solmon Islands, Indonesia, no where near Sicily.
  12. Leucothoe – Also spelled Leukothoe, she was a lover of Helios, God of the Sun. She was sentenced to death by her father once he found out. THis name is also a plant genus. Current: Althyma perius, common seargent. Apparently, Linnaeus gave two different butterflies this name.
  13. Phaetusa – She was a daughter of Helios and Neaera. Her name means radiance. Current: Dryadula phaetus, banded orange heliconian.
  14. Bolina – Fleeing Apollo, she jumped into the sea and was converted into a sea-nymph and is associated with the spring or well in the city of Bolina in southern Greece. Current: Hypolimnas bolina, great eggfly or blue moon butterfly.
  15. Clytia – Also spelled Klytie, an Okeanid-nymph loved by Helios who pined away and turned into a sun-gazing heliotrope flower. Current: Papilio clytia, common mime.
  16. Neaerea – Neaira was another lover of Helios and bore him two sons. She is a nymph associated with the mythical island of Thrinakia, which might be Sicily. Her name means “new rising.” Current: Pyrrhogyra neaerea, no common name.
  17. Acesta – A city in Sicily according to Virgil’s Aeneid. Current” Tigridia acesta, tiger beauty.
  18. similis – No connection to mythology, but the word means “like. This is one of those species names that starts with a lower case letter. Current: Ideopsis similis, Ceylon blue blassy tiger.
  19. assimilis – Usually adding the letter “a” in front of a word means not, but this is an “as” and it does not translate in Latin. There is no obvious mythological connection and this is another lower case species. Current: Hestina assimilis, red ring skirt.
  20. dissimilis – Translates to “unlike.” Another lower case species with no connection to mythology I can find. Current: A form of Papilio clytia, common mime.
  21. Panope – A Nereid nymph or goddess of the sea’s broad panorama. Name means “all-seeing.” Current: A race of Papilio clytia, common mime.
  22. Rumina – A Roman goddess who protects breastfeeding mothers. Current: Zerynthia rumina, Spanish festoon.
  23. Levana – A Roman goddess associated with the first lifting of a child during childbirth. Levana means “to lift.” Current: Araschnia levana, map (spring generation)
  24. Prorsa – Also spelled Postverta or Antevorta is either the Roman goddess of the past or future. Current: Araschnia levana, map (summer generation).
  25. Lucina – Roman goddess that brings light, therefore, goddess of childbirth. Current: Hamearis lucina, Duje of Burgundy.
  26. Maturna – This Latin word means “maternal.” Current: Zerynthia rumina, Spanish festoon.
  27. Cinxia – An alternate name used by Juno, the Roman goddess of the heavens and the protector of women. Current: Melitaea cinxia, Granville fritillary.
  28. Paphia – An alternate name for Aphrodite. Current: Argynnis paphia, silver-washed fritillary.
  29. Cytheria – A name used by Homer for Aphrodite. Current: Adelpha cytherea, smooth-banded sister.
  30. Aglaja – Spelled Adgaia, it would be the Greek goddess of beauty and grace according to Homer, one of the Charities. Was daughter of Zeus. Current: Argynnis aglaja, dark green fritillary.
  31. Lathonia – As Latona she is the mother of Diana and Apollo. Current: Issoria lathonia, Queen of Spain fritillary.
  32. Euphrosyne – One of the Charities, she is the Greek goddess good cheer and mirth. Current: Boloria euphrosyne, pearl-bordered fritillary.
  33. Niobe – A Thebeian queen who bragged about her skills as a mother, claiming she was better than the goddess Leto. Leto’s children killed all of Niobe’s. There is a moral lessons here. Don’t brag even if you are right and you are a better parent. Current: Argynnis niobe, Niobe fritillary.
  34. Vanillae – No mythological links that I can find. “Habitat in Epidendro Vanilla Americes, the vanilla orchid. Current: Agraulis vanilla, Gulf fritillary or passion butterfly.

Plebeji Rurales – rural people

  1. Cupido – Cupido means desire and is the source for Cupid, the god of desire in Roman mythology. Current: Helicopis cupido, no common name.
  2. Betulae – Latin for birch. “Habitat in Betula.” Current: Thecla betulae, brown hairstreak
  3. Pruni – “Habitat in Pruno domestica.” Prunus domestica is the plum. Current: Satyrium pruni, black hairstreak.
  4. Quercus – Quercus is the genus for oaks. Current: Quercusia quercus, purple hairstreak.
  5. Marsyas – A Greek or Phygian Satyr, Maryas invented flute music. Current: Pseudolycaena marsyas, Cambridge blue, giant hairstreak or Marsyas hairstreak.
  6. Thamyras – In the Iliad, he was a bard who thought he could sing better than the Muses. He lost that claim and sacrificed his sight and ability to sing. Current: Arhopala thamyras, no common name.
  7. Arion – An immortal horse born by the goddess Demeter who to avoid the advances of Poseidon took on the form of a horse. Poseidon also took on the horse form and raped her begating Areion (Arion). Current: Maculinea arion, silver-studded blue.
  8. Argus – There are several people with this name ranging from a hundred headed giant, who guarded Io after she was converted to a cow.  Hermes  killed Argus. or, it could be the builder of the Argonaut. Current: Plebejus argus, silver-studded blue. Note how its genus name captures Linnaeus’s Plebeji.
  9. Argiolus – No connection found. Current: Celastrina argiolus, holly blue.
  10. Rubi – “Habitat in Rubi aculeato.” I found no plant by that name, but Rubio is the genus of madder plants. Current: Callophrys rubi, green hairstreak.
  11. Philocles – Greek author of tragedies. Current: Mesosemia philocles, no common name.
  12. Timantes – Name origin is unknown. Current: nomen dubium.
  13. Athemon – Name origin is unknown. Current: Dynamine athemon, no common name.
  14. Caricae – “Habitat in Carica Americes.” Caricae is the genus which includes papaya. Current: Nymphidium caricae, no common name.
  15. Phereclus – Proported to have built the ship which Paris used to carry off Helen. Current: Panara phereclus, no common name.
  16. Lysippus – A Greek scultpture in Argos. Current: Riodina Lysippus, no common name.
  17. Virgaureae – “Habitat in Solidagine Virgaurea.” Solidago virgaurea is a common European goldenrod plant. Current: Lycaena virgaureae, scarce copper.

Plebeji urbicolae – urban people

  1. Comma – No known mythology. Greek for a short clause or stamp. Current: Heperia comma, no common name.
  2. Proteus – In a number of myths, he is a sea god under Poseidon. He herds the seals among other things. Current: Urbanus proteus, long-tailed skipper.
  3. Phidias – He was a famous ancient sculpture and artist whose statues of gods still exist. Current: Pyrrhopyge phidias philias, original firetip.
  4. Bixae – I found no connection. Current: Pyrrhopyge phidias bixae, original firetip
  5. Polycletus – A Greek sculpture known for his statue of Hera. Current: Hypochrysops polycletus, no common name
  6. Malvae – “Habitat in Malva, Althaea.” Malva is the genus for the mallows. Current: Pyrgus malvae, grizzled skipper.
  7. Tages – There was a character who was a boy with a man’s knowledge who taught Etruscans to foretell the future. There are also a series of books of Tages. Current: Erynnis tages, dingy skipper.

Barbari – Barba means beard. Most of these names come from the crew of the Argo and they are therefore, Argonauts. [Ref 5]

  1. Bates – Catae’bates was the surname of a number of gods according to Aristohone. Butes was an Argonaut. Current: Colobura dirce, Dirce beauty, mosaic or zebra mosaic.
  2. Tiphus – Typhoeus (Typhon) was a monster storm giant. Tiphys was one of the agronauts. Current: Pyrrhogyra nearea, no common name.
  3. Jason – Jason and the golden fleece. Current: nomen dubium.
  4. Iphiclus – One of the Agronauts. Current: Adelpha iphiclus, Iphiclus sister
  5. Hylas – One of those on the voyage of the Argonauts. Current: Neptis hylas, common sailer.
  6. Idmon – Soothsayer who accompanied the Argonauts. Current: nomen dubium.
  7. Aneaeus – One of the Argonauts. Current: Nessaea obrinus, Obrina olivewing.
  8. Eleus – A son of Poseidon. Current: Adelpha cytherea, smooth-banded sister.
  9. Amphion – One of the Argonauts. Current: Phaedyma amphion, no common name.
  10. Telemon – One of the Argonauts. Current: Cyrestis telamon, no common name.
  11. Erobotes – Eribotes was on of the Argonauts. Current: “nomen dubium”
  12. Eurytus – One of the Argonauts. Current: Pseudacraea eurytus, false wanderer.
  13. Ceneus – I found no connections. This is another name for Zeus. Current: Delias ceneus, no common name.
  14. Mopsus – One of the Argonauts. Current: Mechanitis polymnia, orange-spotted tiger clearwing or disturbed tigerwing.
  15. Cepheus – One of the Argonauts and king of Tegea. Current: Acraea cepheus, Cepheus Acraea.
  16. Zetes – One of the Argonauts. Current: Acraea zetes, large spotted Acraea.
  17. Priassus – Prias was one of the Argonauts. Current: Entheus priassus, no common name.
  18. Acestus – Acastus was one of the Argonauts. Current: “nomen dubium”.
  19. Neleus – One of the Argonauts and son of Poseidon. Current: Hyalothyrus neleus, no common name.
  20. Encodon – I found no connection. Current: Acraea encedon, common Acraea, white-barred Acraea or Encedon Acraea.
  21. Pinthous – Married Persephone, a daughter of Zeus. Appolonius claimed that Theseus and Pirithous were traped in the underworld and could not join the Argonauts.
  22. Nauplius – One of the Argonauts. Current: Eresia nauplius, Peruvian crescent or Nauplius crescent.
  23. Ixilion – I found no connection. Current: “nomen dubium.”
  24. Ida – Idas was one of the Argonauts. Current: “Suppressed,” which means that the master arbitrators of the final use of scientific names have decided that this name is never to be used for anything. Probably means scientists do not know which species Linnaeus was referring to. [Ref 9]

If you made it this far, you know these butterflies and moths come from many different countries and not just to Europe and Sweden where Linnaeus lived. He undoubtedly never saw many of them alive, naming them from dead specimens sent to him by other naturalists. A select number of these species can be found in the United States and even possibly in your backyard. Maybe when I get some time, I will sort those out for you.


  1. Borror , Donald J. Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms, Mayfield Publishing Company, Palo Alto, CA, 1960.
  2. http://www.latin-dictionary.net/search/latin/candid
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daughters_of_Danaus#cite_note-2
  4. https://glosbe.com/la/en/gemmatus
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argonauts#The_crew_of_the_Argo
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lepidoptera_in_the_10th_edition_of_Systema_Naturae
  7. http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/research/projects/linntypes/browse/detail.dsml?LinnTypeID=5
  8. Stewart, Michael. “People, Places & Things: Amathea”, Greek Mythology: From the Iliad to the Fall of the Last Tyrant. http://messagenetcommresearch.com/myths/ppt/Amathea_1.html from Iliad, book 18, line 38.
  9. http://www.biodiversityexplorer.org/animal_nomenclature.htm 

A resource for more information about butterflies.

http://www.learnaboutbutterflies.com/Taxonomy.htm The Lepidoptera comprises of about 174,250 known species (this only represents a fraction of the species in existence, as many more await to be discovered and described, especially among the tropical “micro” moth families).

2 thoughts on “Whats in a Butterflies or Moths Name?

  1. Wonderful blog Bob. I took Greek Lyric Poetry in college and really enjoyed the mythology. I spent part the of the last weekend with my friend Carole’s granddaughter Catherine–who plans to teach Latin to high school students when she graduates from U Mass Amherst in December 2017. If you have any Latin questions, I’d be happy to forward them to her. Have you read “Brother Gardners?” Andrea Wulf is the author and there’s lots about Linneaus in there, as well as the dilemma faced by the international community getting some consistency in the naming of plants during the 18th century. You’d love it.

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