Butterfly and Moth Guide

Woolly Bear or Isabella Tiger Moth

Isabella Tiger Moth, credit: Kestrel360 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Pyrrharctia isabella
Family: Arctiidae

Description: Adults – mid-sized, abdomen light orange with a row of black spots on the dorsal side, forewings are pointed, orange-yellow to orange-brown with slight light brown lines and with darker spots near the apex, hindwings paler with variable dark spots towards outer edges; wingspan 4.5 – 6.5 cm
Larvae: fuzzy in appearance, this caterpillar is up to 5 cm in length, covered with thick bristles, orange across the middle and black at either end; often curls into a ball when disturbed
Larvae – many low growing herbaceous and woody plants such as asters, dandelion, plantain, grass, nettle, clover, meadowsweet
Adults – a variety of flowers
fields, bottomlands, forests
across Canada
as a nearly full-grown caterpillar under leaf litter and pupates in spring
True fact:
The relative amount of black and orange colours on a woolly bear caterpillar is the result of ageing. With each successive moulting, less and less of the caterpillar is black and more of it is orange. Unfortunately, the woolly bear’s reputation as a prognosticator of winter’s severity, based on the presence of a greater amount of black to orange or vice-versa, is mythical. A woolly bear with more black is just a young caterpillar and not a prediction for a harsh winter.

Virgin Tiger Moth

Virgin Tiger Moth, credit: Beatrice Laporte

Grammia virgo
Family: Arctiidae
Description: Adults – one of the larger tiger moths, abdomen red, forewings black with intersecting yellow-orange lines, hindwings red-orange with large black spots in median areas and edges; wingspan 4.5 – 7 cm
Larvae: up to 5.5 cm, covered with black, bristly hairs and with orange spiracles
Larvae – prefers chenopodium species such as lamb’s quarters, bedstraws, clover, plantains, lettuce and cabbage
Adults – a variety of flowers
open areas such as meadows, pastures and edges of wetlands
Manitoba eastward to Newfoundland, south to Florida west across to Kansas
as mature caterpillars
True fact:
Adult virgin tiger moths resort to chemical warfare for protection from predators.  When disturbed this moth exudes from the corners of its thorax frothy bubbles containing alkaloids which originate from the plants consumed when it was a caterpillar.

Spotted Tussock Moth (Yellow Spotted Tiger Moth)

Spotted Tussock Moth, credit: Beatrice Laporte

Lophocampa maculata
Family: Arctiidae

Description: Adults – a mid-sized moth, wingspan 3 – 4.3 cm, forewings rich yellow colour with 4 brown bands usually merging across the wings and with a partial 5th brown band near the wing base, hindwings  pale yellow and lacking any marks
Larvae: covered with stiff bristles, this caterpillar is black at the ends and orange in the middle section, black tufts arise from the orange mid section while longer white lashes protrude from the ends
woody shrubs and trees including maples, birches, oaks, poplars, willows and alders
forests, edges of streams, rivers and northern wetlands
from Labrador west across Canada, south to North Carolina
As a pupa (cocoon)
True fact:
The stiff bristles make this caterpillar difficult for predatory birds to swallow.

Big Poplar Sphinx (Modest Sphinx)

Big Poplar Sphinx, credit: Beatrice Laporte

Pachysphinx modesta
Family: Sphingidae

Description: Adults – a large-bodied moth, wingspan 10 – 12 cm,  forewings on upper sides with wide swaths of brown and gray and with the basal areas being lighter in colour, outer edges scalloped, hindwings gray with a large red patch and with an inward pointing triangular blue-black patch nearest the lower outer margin
Larvae: a pale blue-green thick-looking caterpillar, sometimes brown, 7 oblique white lines, the last one being prominent, along the sides of abdomen, small white granules ring each segment, horn short on the posterior end
poplars and willows
woodlands and forest edges especially along streams, ponds and lakes
across Canada south to Florida and Texas
pupates on ground and overwinters in shallow burrows
True fact:
The caterpillar of the big poplar sphinx chews through the petioles of damaged leaves, dropping them to the ground. This behaviour protects the caterpillar’s whereabouts from birds that tend to use damaged leaves to find tasty caterpillars.

Pistachio Emerald

Pistachio Emerald Moth, credit: Beatrice Laporte

Hethemia pistasciaria
Family: Geometridae

Description: Adults – small slender body with broad wings, wingspan 1.6 – 3.1 cm, colour varies from sage green to orange-yellow, with 2 finely dotted white lines transversing the wings, outer margin of hindwings not pointed but more square shaped
Larvae: a slender green caterpillar with a brownish pink stripe extending over the length of its back, possesses fewer abdominal prolegs (graspers) than other moth families, commonly called an inchworm
woody plants such as blueberries, oaks, birches, basswood, ironwood, ninebark and willow
forests and woodland edges
southern Canada south to Florida
possibly as a pupa in light cocoons among leaf litter
True fact:
Like many other species in the family Geometridae, this inchworm mimics a twig when disturbed by grasping a branch with its hind prolegs and holding its body outwards. Movement for an inchworm is a looping gait. The front of its body extends as far forward as possible followed by the rear portion raising the mid section into a loop.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar Moth

Eastern Tent Cterpillar Moth, credit: Judy Gallagher CC BY 2.0

Malacosoma americanum
Family: Lasiocampidae

Description: Adults – a mid-sized moth with a stubby looking body, wingspan 2.2 – 4.4 cm, body and wings are a rich light brown to red brown colour, forewings with 2 white lines
Larvae: a colourful caterpillar with black stripes lining a bold white stripe down the middle of the back, its sides are blue with orange stripes, each segment of the body has a black and white eyespot; orange-yellow hairs project from the sides
cherries, hawthorns, apples, pears and other fruit trees
forests, woodland edges, orchards and gardens
eastern half of southern Canada south to Florida
in eggs which are laid in masses on larval food plants
True fact:
Eastern tent caterpillars are well known for their tents. In spring the caterpillars spin communal nests in crotches of 2 or more branches of a host tree or shrub. The caterpillars feed on young leaves outside of the nest and return to the protection of their refuge for digestion. On cold spring days, the tents act like a greenhouse, raising the internal temperature of the nest above that outside. Nests sighted in late summer and early autumn are not those of eastern tent caterpillars but instead of another species, the fall webworm, Hyphantria cunea.

Gypsy Moth

Gypsy Moth, credit: Jenn Forman Orth, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Lymantria dispar
Family: Lymantriidae

Wingspan: 30-40 mm (male), 55 – 65mm (female)
male is much smaller and darker in colour. Wings off-white in female with scalloped grey lines and some dark spots; male forewing brownish with dark notched marks, hindwing reddish to yellowish brown.
up to 75 mm; dark with many tufts of “hair,” large blue spots on top and side near head, further back these spots are red.
throughout southern Ontario, north to Lake Superior
Larval foodplants:
prefers oaks, but will feed on a wide range of trees and shrubs.
Flight season:
adults emerge mid-summer; female’s abdomen swollen with eggs so she cannot fly and instead remains near emergence site and attracts males with emitted pheromones
Overwintering stage:
eggs laid in furry clusters on tree bark
True fact:
Gypsy moths were deliberately introduced to North America from Europe around 1869 to be bred in captivity for their silk. This effort failed, but escaped gypsy moths spread widely to become pests by defoliating trees.


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

  1. Unique Nature | Positively Riveting on July 6, 2013 at 12:24 am
  2. Animals to Know: Polyphemus Moth | the vegan sprout on July 21, 2013 at 4:04 pm
  3. Festival celebrates butterflies despite unprecedented decline in numbers | Ontario Nature's wildlife blog on August 30, 2013 at 6:44 pm
  4. Festival celebrates butterflies despite unprecedented decline in numbers | on March 6, 2015 at 7:50 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Stay in touch with nature

Made possible with the support of:

Cision newsfeed