Butterfly and Moth Guide


Luna Moth

Luna Moth, credit: Amanda Arney CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Actias luna
Family: Saturniidae

Wingspan: 12 cm, with 6 cm tails
pale green, pink-edged wings with long tails, transparent spot on each wing, those on forewing joined by dark line to wing edge
up to 85 mm long; bright green with sparse hairs; each segment with widely-spaced reddish spots
throughout south and central Ontario, north to nearly James Bay
Habitat: forested areas
Larval foodplants: birch preferred, but also walnut and several other species
Flight season: mid May to July
Overwintering stage: cocoon
True fact: Male giant silkmoths like luna, polyphemus and cecropia have much larger antennae than their female counterparts. These are used to detect pheromones emitted by females; the males can track this seductive “perfume” over one kilometre to its source during breeding season.

Polyphemus Moth

Polyphemus Moth, credit: Tom Potterfield CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Antheraea polyphemus
Family: Saturniidae

Wingspan: 110 – 150 mm
wings generally rich brown colour, oval transparent spot on each of four wings ringed by yellow, black and blue, those on hind wings also surrounded by large bluish-black patch; crescent-shaped pink and white marks near base of forewing, pink to brownish line near edges of forewing
up to 80 mm, bright green, with sparse protruding hairs and yellow streaks and reddish spots on sides
throughout the southern and central part of our province, north to James Bay
forested areas
Larval foodplants:
many trees, including oak, birch, ash, grape, hickory, maple
Flight season:
mid May to July
Overwintering stage:
cocoon, resembles a silken egg wrapped in leaves
True fact:
Due to its large eyespots, this moth is named after the Cyclops Polyphemus (a one-eyed monster), a legendary character from The Odyssey. In The Odyssey, Homer writes about an encounter between the Cyclops Polyphemus and the hero, Odysseus. Like other giant silkmoths and the imperial moth, adult Polyphemus moths do not eat as adults, living only a week or two to mate and begin the next generation, literally starving to death in the process.

Cecropia Moth

Cecropia Moth, credit: Ethan Staats CC BY-NC 2.0

Hyalophoa cecropia

Wingspan: 110 – 160 mm
Description: Our largest moth. Red body banded with white on abdomen, also white collar. Rich brown wings with reddish bases, white crescent-shaped eyespots on all wings lined with red and black, white band spans each wing beyond eyespot.
Larvae: Robust, up to 100 mm. Green with two pairs of red spiny tubercles on thorax, two rows of blue spiny tubercles on sides, and two rows of yellow spiny tubercles down back.
southern and central Ontario
successional areas, including suburban and urban environments
Larval foodplants:
many trees and shrubs, including birch, lilac, cherry, apple, willow, ashes and elms among others
Flight season:
late May to July
Overwintering stage:
cocoon spun on branches
True fact:
The silken cocoon of our giant silkmoths (cecropia, luna, polyphemus and others) can be used to make clothing, but are much more difficult to unravel than the cocoons of the Chinese silkworm moth, which produces virtually all commercial silk.

Imperial Moth

Imperial Moth, credit: cotinis CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Eacles imperialis
Family: Saturniidae

Wingspan: 80 – 170 mm
a large moth with a heavy body, yellow wings variably shaded with pinkish to purplish patches and similarly coloured dots on hindwing, body pinkish to purplish overlying yellow
up to 100 mm; green, sparsely haired, black-edged white spots on side, four orange tubercles on top of thorax
throughout southern and central Ontario, north to northern Lake Huron and Ottawa area
deciduous, mixed and coniferous forest
Larval foodplants:
mainly pine, maple, oak, sycamore, sweetgum
Flight season:
June to August
Overwintering stage:
pupa in the soil
True fact:
This species is dimorphic, with the female being larger and usually yellower than the male.  A pine-eating subspecies, called the pine imperial moth, occurs in the northern parts of this widespread moth’s range, and is most commonly encountered in Canadian Shield areas.

Ilia Underwing Moth

Ilia Underwing Moth, credit: Johnx12 CC BY-SA 2.0

Catocala ilia
Family: Noctuidae

Wingspan: 65 – 80 mm
forewing mottled grey; may have white spot on forewing, hindwing alternating orange to pinkish orange and black bands, edged with yellow
up to 75 mm; grayish or brownish with dark patches
throughout southern and central Ontario
in areas where oaks grow
Larval foodplants:
black, burr, red and white oak trees
Flight season:
June to September
Overwintering stage:
eggs laid on tree bark
True fact:
Other names for this beautiful and common underwing moth include “Beloved Underwing” and “the Wife.”

Hummingbird Clearwing

Hummingbird clearwing moth, credit: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren CC BY 2.0

Hemaris thysbe
Family: Sphingidae

Description: Adults – a stout body, olive to golden-green on backside of thorax, yellowish underneath, dark burgundy on the abdomen; forewings and hindwings have large unscaled, clear areas bordered to the edges with dark brown scales and with dark scales along veins; wingspan 4–5.5 cm
Larvae: stout, lime to yellowish green caterpillar with a bluish coloured curved horn on its back at the posterior end; a light yellow stripe runs along the sides to the horn; the spiracles (openings to the respiratory system on either side) are white with orange to pink borders; also known as a hornworm
Larvae – viburnums, hawthorns, honeysuckles, snowberry, cherries, plums
Adults – seek nectar from bergamot, beebalm, lilac, red clover, phlox, Japanese honeysuckle and thistles
woodlands, forest clearings, second growth areas and suburban gardens
across Canada south to Florida and Texas; common from April to August
Overwintering: s
imilar to other sphinx moths, pupates in shallow burrows and over winters as an adult
True fact:
The Hummingbird Clearwing not only looks like a hummingbird, its feeding behaviour mimics its namesake. Being a day flier with rapid wingbeats, the Hummingbird Clearwing hovers at flowers probing for nectar with an extended proboscis.

Five-spotted Hawk Moth (Tomato Hornworm)

Five-spotted hawk moth, credit: David Bygott CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Manduca quinquemaculata
Family: Sphingidae

Description: Adults – a stout body with five, occasionally six pairs of yellow spots along both sides of the abdomen; forewings mottled brown and grey, hindwings smaller, with bands of brown and white and two well-defined zig-zag dark lines; wingspan 9-13.5 cm
Larvae: large, stout body, green sometimes dark brown in colour with a black to blue horn on back at the posterior end, along the sides 8 diagonal white lines form angles above and below the spiracles
Larvae – plants in the nightshade family such ground cherry, potato and tomato
Adults – seek nectar from Japanese honeysuckle, bouncing bet, tobacco and a variety of garden plants such as petunia
woodland edges, agricultural fields and gardens
across southern Canada
pupates and over winters in the soil
True fact:
The tomato hornworm is an agricultural pest with a large appetite for leaves and fruit of tomatoes, potatoes and other nightshades.


4 Pings/Trackbacks

  1. […] to what I can find on the internet, it appears to be an Imperial Moth. I’ve seen a fair few Luna moths before, they used to congregate on one of the shower stalls at a summer camp I worked for a few […]

  2. […] Butterfly & Moth Guide – Ontario Nature Magazine […]

  3. […] Participants really enjoyed identifying and photographing a number of butterfly species, especially the monarch and swallowtails. And they also appreciated learning about nature in general and the impact of invasive species. You can improve your ID skills with ON Nature’s guide to the butterflies and moths of Ontario. […]

  4. […] Participants really enjoyed identifying and photographing a number of butterfly species, especially the monarch and swallowtails. And they also appreciated learning about nature in general and the impact of invasive species. You can improve your ID skills with ON Nature’s guide to the butterflies and moths of Ontario. […]

  5. Elliott Royle Elliott Royle
    August 20, 2015    

    Have recently seen the White Admiral and Giant Swallowtail butterflies in Eastern Ontario.

  6. September 24, 2015    

    Thanks for posting this! I’ve found it very useful in identifying our local butterflies and moths. We’ve had the following pass through our yard in Singhampton, On this week. Some attracted by the last few wildflowers and others by the sap from our birch tree oozing from sapsucker holes.

    Mourning Cloak
    Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
    Great Spangled Fritillary
    Question Mark
    Red Admiral

  7. Anonymous Anonymous
    October 29, 2015    

    This is a great site, thank you! I saw a cecropia but had no idea at the time what it was. Beautiful and extremely large.

  8. Tyler Edgely Tyler Edgely
    March 16, 2016    

    My father said that he saw and captured a butterfly the flow like a hummingbird and had black wings and circle white dots and he is getting old so I want to tell him the species of butterfly he had saw back then. If you look for this kind of butterfly this is maybe it is an extinct species because he said that was the only butterfly that flow and looked like that I have got a picture that I showed to him and he said “That what it looked like.” And I was pretty happy with that just I need to know what it is please help the clock is ticking.

  9. March 18, 2016    

    Hi Tyler,

    Thank you for asking!

    Would the butterfly have been a white admiral butterfly: http://www.cbif.gc.ca/eng/species-bank/butterflies-of-canada/white-admiral-red-spotted-purple/?id=1370403265814

    or a black swallowtail butterfly:

    perhaps a hummingbird moth: http://onnaturemagazine.com/butterfly-and-moth-guide.html#hummingbird

    or even a silver-spotted skipper?: http://onnaturemagazine.com/butterfly-and-moth-guide.html/4#silver-spotted

    It is hard to say without seeing a photo of the species or the butterfly itself, but based on your description I thought the above links would provide the most potentially helpful resources.

    ON Noah

  10. B B
    April 18, 2016    

    I found a brown luna moth north of baltimore . lots of woods.

  11. April 21, 2016    

    Hello B,

    That is wild!

    Was it is a Polyphemus moth: http://onnaturemagazine.com/butterfly-and-moth-guide.html#polyphemus ?

    Or did it have tail-like extensions on its wings like the luna moth?


    ON Noah

    PS. If you do have photos to share, we’d love to see them all the same!

  12. A Armstrong A Armstrong
    May 15, 2016    

    Your site is very difficult to read. The top title literally takes up half my screen sand does not go away so it’s like I’m scrolling constantly within a tiny little scrollable area to see the pictures of the moths. Except for the ONnatur…. everything is white on pale something, or pale something on white. It’s hard to read!

    Not a friendly usable design at all.

  13. May 16, 2016    

    Thank you Annie,

    We will take your experience and comments into due consideration. We are in the process of considering feedback to help further update our site.

    Genuine thanks,

    ON Noah

  14. Leslie Leslie
    May 24, 2016    

    Discovered a beautiful Cecropia Moth enjoying the shade this morning, resting on a window screen……in far eastern Ottawa (?).

  15. Tyrone Mott Tyrone Mott
    June 11, 2016    

    Just found a Polyphemus in Boston, New York which is 25 miles south of Buffalo, Ny

  16. Joanie Joanie
    June 12, 2016    

    My mom spotted what looked like a hummingbird working my catmint blooms today. At first glance we wondered if it was a baby hummingbird. Further search and your website brought us to the answer…… a hummingbird clearwing. First time spotting such a thing. What an awesome creature!

  17. Kristi Mitchell Kristi Mitchell
    June 20, 2016    

    We found a moth yesterday that looked like a Dragon. It was very dark, had wings that were bat shaped, a long curling talon and what looked like yellow talons”. What on earth is that????

  18. dan dan
    June 20, 2016    

    Good info thank you, Was recently in Saskatchewan north near LacLaronge and was out having a smoke at 2am and while sitting in the gazebo my attention was drawn to a HUGE moth or butterfly kinda looked like the luna moth but was a more vivid green colour it seemed to be trying to eat or investigate a cocoon on the wall it was flapping like mad going up and down the wall the few times it settled down it seemed to rest with wings up so i think butterfly but i don’t know for sure what i saw it was BIG BIG BIG Though.

  19. June 29, 2016    

    Hi Kristi,

    Could it have been a species of sphinx moth? Sphinx moths have similar characteristics to those you described.

    ON Noah

  20. Laura Laura
    July 31, 2016    

    Hi I just wanted to report that I have giant swallowtail catnipillars on my hop tree and also lots of painted ladies laying eggs on my pearly everlasting plants. Sadly here in Guelph I have not seen a single monarch this year on my large patch of milkweeds so sad. Also I have hummingbird moths nectaring on my liatris and bergamot they are especially fond of Jacob Cline bergamot so are the hummingbirds

  21. Nadine Nadine
    August 4, 2016    

    Today I found a black moth with spikes along its abdomen. It had little yellow spots along the wing and a little bit of blue on the underside. Can anyone help me identify this?

  22. August 7, 2016    

    I have just discovered a clear wing humming bird moth at my parents on stoney lake Ontario close to nephton mines beautiful creatures. First time ever seeing it.

  23. Kimberly Kimberly
    August 10, 2016    

    Found a luna moth yesterday so pretty ,in AA county pasadena MD near Gibson Island

  24. Shirley Daigneau Shirley Daigneau
    August 13, 2016    

    Dark brown caterpillar with red hourglass shape on back and 2 brown spots on red

  25. Anonymous Anonymous
    January 21, 2017    

    In June 2016 I discovered and nearly ate a large moth in my chicken wrap on an Air Canada flight. It was a dusty gray colour and it had a large shiny red dome on the top of its head. What was it?

  26. January 23, 2017    


    We are sorry to hear about your mid-flight moth mishap.

    There are quite a few species of gray-coloured moths. As moths get more worn, the scales on top of their thoraxes wear off, sometimes appearing as red or burgundy.

    Hopefully the flight attendants gave you a new sandwich or awarded you with a bonus item?

    – ON Noah

  27. Maryellen Maryellen
    March 18, 2017    

    I as well think hence, perfectly written post!

  28. Kate Kate
    July 1, 2017    

    I spotted a hummingbird moth yesterday at my raspberry plants in Latchford Ontario. I was appreciating the butterflies and bees flying about in the yard when I spotted it. At first I thought it was some kind of mutant bee but noticed it’s hummingbird like flight pattern yet it had antennae like an insect. What a remarkable sighting!

    Thank you for this information along with pictures. I’m going see what other butterflies and moths are around our yard.

  29. July 5, 2017    

    Hi Kate, so glad our guide was able to help you identify the species you spotted. Wishing you many more happy backyard adventures and discoveries!

  30. gordon gordon
    August 2, 2017    

    i have found a 3″ caterpiller? lime green with black & yellow diagonal stripes on sides. approx 3/8″ thick.
    Beneficial ????

  31. Jayne Fry Jayne Fry
    August 12, 2017    

    Thanks so much for helping me ID the ailing Imperial moth we found at Nares Inlet last night..incredible markings. Time to learn my moths!

  32. Teri Teri
    June 19, 2018    

    We had an imperial moth last two weeks in Tallahassee, Florida held it and matched up with your identification

  33. Darrell Darrell
    August 5, 2018    

    My wife came across a large cecropia sized moth today with reddish rust color main and golden yellow trimmings. It has what appears to be a face detail on its back, very unusual and have never seen one around in southeastern NC before. Can you identify without a photo? We do have images of it.

  34. August 14, 2018    

    Hi Darrell,

    We do not profess to explicitly be moth experts or entomologists, but we are happy to help identify local species.

    It sounds like your moth was sighted in North Carolina – but if you send a photo to us at info@ontarionature.org, perhaps we can help to identify it.

    I’ve seen some footage of rusty-colored ceracropia moths before, but am interested to see your photo.

    Best regards,

    ON Noah

  35. G Jenks G Jenks
    September 3, 2018    

    Just saw a luna moth on my front porch in Commerce, GA September 2, 2018.

  36. Martha Martha
    October 14, 2018    

    I’m greatly enjoying your site. You might want to make a correction to the entry about the Polyphemus moth, though: Homer did not encounter the Cyclops Polyphemus on his odyssey, as you say. Rather, in The Odyssey, Homer writes about an encounter between the Cyclops Polyphemus and his hero, Odysseus.

  37. October 24, 2018    

    Good catch Martha,

    We are you glad that you appreciate our guides and our site.

    Thank you for this observation!

    ON Noah

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