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Beginner’s Guide To Canadian Butterflies

Insects: Butterflies

Lepidoptera – Order of insects, which include Canadian butterflies and moths. They may be distinguished from the other insects by both pairs of scale-covered wings, which are often brightly colour, especially in several butterflies. Lepidopterans experience entire metamorphosis: eggs are laid, larvae hatched, following a pupal stage, during which the ultimate adult shape forms. Butterflies are slender-bodied daytime mites.

Quick facts

  • Butterflies represent one little member of the lepidopterans, signifying roughly 10 percent of known species. Globally, there are approximately 18 000 fur species. Canada currently has 302 species of butterflies, although only five are endemic.
  • When excluding species rated as Extinct, Extirpated, Undetermined, Not Assessed, Exotic or Accidental, the majority (82 percent ) of butterflies in Canada have the Canada General Status Rank (Canada ranks) of “Secure”, while 9% have Canada ranks of “Sensitive”, 7 percent have Canada ranks of “May Be at Risk”, and 2% have the rank of “At-Risk”.
  • One butterfly class, the Frosted Elfin (Callophrys irus), is destroy from Canada.
  • Monarchs relocate thousands of kilometres to escape from the Canadian winter.
  • European Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) and the Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) are both exotic butterflies in Canada.


With their conspicuous daytime activity, bright colours, and bold flight patterns, butterflies tend to invoke sympathy and the attention of the public. Because of this, butterflies are known as “flagship” invertebrates. The Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory in Ontario brought 850 000 visitors through its first complete year of operation is one sign of just how common these insects have become.

Although butterflies number only about 10 percent of the order Lepidoptera – with moths including the other 90%– butterflies seem to be more attractive than moths, which are usually drab in colour and are active throughout the night. Although, all butterflies start life in a comparatively understated form, as a little cryptic egg.

A key to the remnant of each generation lies in a female butterfly’s careful timing and preference of place for yielding her eggs.  Not only must she place the eggs on the proper “host plant,” but she should also secure them into the perfect portion of the plant, because not all plant components will be equally edible into the caterpillar when it hatches from the egg.

Upon hatching, the plant-chomping butterfly caterpillar develops by way of regular moulting or shedding its skin. The last larval moulting effects from the creation of pupal chrysalis or a case, instead of a more giant caterpillar. This marks the beginning of a remarkable change, for, after some time, the pupal case splits open, and a fully grown adult winged butterfly emerges.

By experiencing a total transformation, butterfly caterpillars and grown-ups can live thoroughly diverse lifestyles in entirely different surroundings– the former as a slow-moving homebody with an unquenchable hunger for vegetation, the latter as a silly, wide-ranging nectar sipper. Methodically munching into life, The larva is present in a tiny leafy world that contrasts significantly with the adult, which may be numerous hectares to numerous hundred square kilometres in extent.

Indeed, Monarchs are known to tackle seasonal flights of thousands of kilometres (adults labelled in Canada in the fall have consequently recollected in the winter woodlands of Central Mexico). Most butterflies are comparatively short-lived; the whole cycle from egg to adult maybe just one or two months and adults may have a life of just a week. Many species breed only one generation in a year and fly only a few months per year.

In most of Canada, where temperatures drop below freezing during part of the winter, at least one stage in a butterfly species life cycle has to enter a dormant condition termed “diapause” to be able to tolerate freezing. Most species that remain in Canada during the winter months do so as caterpillars.

Others spend the winter as eggs (e.g., hairstreaks) or pupae (elfins and other Callophrys), even though a couple of species, mainly angelwings (Polygonia), and tortoiseshells (Nymphalis) spend the winter as adults, hibernating in holes in trees, crevices in stone, or other shelters, such as buildings.

About 18 000 butterfly species are now recognized by science, and this enormous variety is supposed to relate to the wide variety of plant species because larvae commonly use only a comparatively restricted range of food plants. The North American butterflies of the genus Euphilotes, for example, feed only on members of the knotweed family (Polygonaceae); the creatures eat the flowers and fruits, and the adults sip the nectar.

Status of knowledge

Butterflies are relatively well-studied insect collection in Canada thanks in large part to many amateurs and professional experts who have taken an interest in these exceptional insects. The considerable number of butterfly books and articles documenting Canadian species are complemented by various groups such as the Royal Saskatchewan Museum of Natural History in Regina, the Lyman Entomological Museum, and the section on lepidopterans of the Canadian National Collection of Insects in Ottawa.

A recent book by Peter W. Hall (2009) on account of “NatureServe Canada, Sentinels on the Wing: The Status and Conservation of Butterflies in Canada”, offers a comprehensive overview of the status of butterflies in Canada. This publication took into consideration the data and analyses, including the overall status results for butterflies discovered within this report and developed by the National General Status Working Group.

Diversity And Richness In Canada

In Canada, 302 butterfly species are represented from coast to coast, with the most important species abundance found in the regions from British Columbia through to Quebec. While many Canadian species are prevalent, with the capability to be found in just about any state or territory (by way of instance, Mourning Cloak – Nymphalis antiopa, Painted Lady – Vanessa cardui, Canadian Tiger Swallowtail – Papilio Canadensis), a few species appear to be highly limited in their distribution.

By way of instance, although additional survey work may eventually explain a broader distribution for the species, Johansen’s Sulphur (Colias Johansen) has just been seen on a single hillside around Bernard Harbour in Nunavut and in a coastal region near Coppermine. There are two species of butterflies in Canada. One of these, the European Skipper came to Ontario in about 1910. Spreading south and west, this species has now become a significant pest of Common Timothy. However more “successful” is the common Cabbage White (Pieris rapae), found in Quebec City around 1860 and now locate everywhere in North America.

Species Spotlight – Maritime Ringlet

The Maritime Ringlet lives completely in salt marsh environments in the Chaleur Bay area of the east coast of Canada. It’s found at six sites. Population densities and size of the Maritime Ringlet are in their highest in habitats where there are large amounts of the master plant of the caterpillar (salt meadow grass) and the source of nectar for the butterfly (sea lavender).

The average wingspan for males is 3.4 cm and 3.6 cm for females. An eyespot is more prevalent on about 33% of the males and is more common and better developed in females. Both females and males demonstrate cream, gray, and ochre colour patterns. Males tend to darken as they age.

Flooding due to high tides and all life threatens Phases of the Maritime Ringlet. Ice forced onto their marshland homes while winter storms can break the overwintering larvae. The evolution and draining of marshland habitat are other major threats. Researchers suspect other threats have yet to identified because there are various examples of typical marshland habitats without inhabitants of the butterfly.

The Maritime Ringlet held a Canada General Status Rank (Canada Rank) of At-Risk. It was designated Endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in April 2009.


Species Spotlight – Monarch

The Monarch (Danaus plexippus) is apparently the most recognized Of North American butterflies. Its orange wings, which reach upwards around 93 to 105 mm, represent a solid black border with two lines of white spots. Added markings comprise two strongly visible black spots on the hind wings, which are located only on males.

The Monarch is broadly spread across North America, from southern Canada southward into Central America, and from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts. Within Canada, the Monarch has listed in the Northwest Territories and in all ten provinces. Generally speaking, two breeding populations of the Monarch are appreciated: eastern and western, with the Rocky Mountains being the dividing point. Each of the two populations has a different transient pattern. Those easts of the Rockies are overwintering in Central Mexico, while that west of the Rockies is overwintering in California.

Monarchs are strong and wide-ranging fliers. In the fall, they migrate thousands of kilometres, travelling from Canada to Mexico and California. In Canada, the migrations seen in southern Ontario, especially in Presqu’île Provincial Park and Point Pelee National Park. Monarchs preserve energy through migration by taking currents of rising warm air and will reach altitudes of over one kilometre to benefit from the steady winds.

Monarchs can flourish wherever milkweeds grow, as the larvae (caterpillars) feed exclusively on milkweed leaves. Till the time, there are healthful milkweed plants, Monarchs will put up with high levels of human disturbance and have recognized to breed along busy highways and city gardens.

Threats to Monarch populations involve environmental conditions like loss of breeding habitat, violent storms, and contaminants such as herbicides (which destroys the milkweed required by the caterpillars and the nectar-producing wildflowers needed for the adults). A huge threat is the loss of overwintering habitats in California and Mexico. The Monarch has a Canada General Status Rank (Canada Rank) of Sensitive and designated Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in November 2001.

Threats To Canadian Butterflies

Many experts agree that the modification and removal of suitable habitat pose the greatest threat to native butterflies across the country. Butterflies connected with highly endangered natural communities. Such as the tallgrass and pine-oak barrens fields of the Garry oak woodlands and Ontario. The Okanagan and Similkameen valleys of British Columbia, are particularly susceptible.

How Can You See The Canadian Butterflies?

Consider the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) summertime butterfly guide, and find out how to recognize and draw Canadian butterflies to your backyard! NCC works across Canada to conserve and restore critical habitat for Canadian butterflies like the monarch, which is a species whose numbers are rapidly declining.

Red Admiral

This migratory butterfly is prevalent across Canada and can found coast to coast from May to September. This frequent flower visitor is aggressive — it often claims a territory and defends it against intruders.

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

Among the recognizable and best-known butterflies in Canada, it could be seen in most states and territories — even the Arctic Circle — except Labrador. Based on latitude, you could spot Canadian tiger swallowtails anytime, anytime between mid-May and late July. They often prefer open woodlands but have also found in city backyard gardens.

Painted lady

However, the painted lady is rare in Canada. It periodically appears in high numbers coast to coast between May and October, migrating as far north as Baker Lake, Nunavut. This species is tolerant of many different kinds of habitats. Which is probably why it may be observed on all continents except South America and Antarctica.

Great Spangled Fritillary

Found primarily in southern Canada south of the Boreal Zone from early June to September. Males and females have two different colour patterns: females are yellow-brown and males are bright orange. Great spangled fritillaries are fast and active fliers, but can often be seen resting while feeding on a variety of flowers.

Mourning Cloak

This big butterfly occurs throughout the majority of Canada overwintering here in hibernation. It emerges in April (mid-March in southern Ontario) and is on the wing until early November. It feeds on a wide variety of plants and can, therefore, found in different habitats, including gardens and city parks.

The cloak is frequently seen in damp areas along woodland roads.


Located north to south between the Prairies and Atlantic Canada from late May into September. The viceroy is particularly abounding in southern Canada and usually discover in wet areas with willows surrounding. This butterfly is prevalent for its mimicry of the monarch. By imitating a butterfly that repels predators, the viceroy is less likely to be attacked.

Little Wood-Satyr

Located throughout southern Canada from Nova Scotia to Saskatchewan. Near shrubby areas or forests, this little guy is the most common in June. Little wood-satyr possess a low flight, but they’re specialists at ducking around shrubs or into the forests to avoid predation. You can find them perched on leaves, though you may see them feeding on flowers or sap.


One of the largest Canadian butterflies, monarchs, occurs across much of southern Canada, from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island. The majority of these butterflies come from the south in June and depart in September. Monarchs feed on many species of milkweed, which include a toxin, that monarchs store in their bodies.

Milbert’s Tortoiseshell

You can get this species across Canada south of the tundra from April to October. It’s common from Newfoundland to British Columbia. This fast and vibrant butterfly favours wet habitats and usually alights on a rock. On the ground, or on a tree with its wings spread flat.

Baltimore Checkerspot

This exceptional butterfly can found in southeastern Canada, from Nova Scotia, across the St. Lawrence River, to Algonquin Park from mid-June to beginning August. It’s localized to vicinities where its preferred food plant, turtlehead, is found in wet meadows and marshes. Its flight is weak, and this butterfly is a spot near the ground or resting on vegetation.

Canadian butterflies are flagship species and possess great importance in ecosystems. There is a requirement to understand better the threats that these species are currently facing. From the starting of 2002 updates for the Wild Species 2000 ranks for butterflies. Two varieties have been designated a Canada Rank of At-Risk (the effect of COSEWIC assessments). The 2010 report presented the outcomes of the second evaluation of Canada. Ranks for butterflies by the National General Status Working Group. This method will surely help to find more information on the ecology of these species.

One Comment

  1. James Wood
    James Wood January 14, 2020

    Nice images in this document. Text could use some editing as there are a number of grammatical errors. Correction would improve readability

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