Butterfly and Moth Guide


Mourning Cloak

Mourning Cloak Butterfly, credit: Ryan Hodnett CC BY-SA 2.0

Nymphalis antiopa
Family: Nymphalidae

Wingspan: 45 to 75 mm, one of Ontario’s larger butterflies
wing margins are irregular. Upperside wings are a rich purple-brown with a bright yellow marginal band along the edges and bordered by a submarginal row of iridescent blue spots. Underside wings are dark brown with wavy thin black lines and a pale yellow border.
up to 55 mm; black with sharp spikes, large orangish-red spots on back
found throughout most of the province from southern Ontario to the shores of James Bay and Hudson Bay
woods, stream course, fields, swamps and even city gardens
Larval foodplants:
willow, elm and birch
Flight season:
early spring to mid-autumn
Overwintering stage:
True fact:
Mourning cloaks are our longevity champions, living up to ten months. Adults that emerge in July feed on tree sap, building up reserves of fat. They overwinter as adults in small crevices under bark or in hollow logs. When re-emerging in early spring, mourning cloaks shiver to generate heat, increasing body temperature by as much as 8 – 11oC.

Red-Spotted Purple

Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly, Credit: Stylurus CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Limenitis arthemis
Family: Nymphalidae

Wingspan: 47 – 78 mm, one of Ontario’s larger butterflies
upper side wings black, with iridescent purplish-blue on outer portion of hind wing; underside wings have reddish-orange spots near the body and in a row near the margins
up to 40 mm; cream-coloured with humped appearance; dark-coloured saddle and two bristles behind its head
red-spotted purple in southern and central Ontario, north to Lake Nipissing and east to Kingston area; white admiral (a subspecies) throughout Ontario
open spaces, deciduous or mixed forest
Larval foodplants
: red-spotted purple caterpillars feed on cherries and oaks, whilte white admiral caterpillars feed on willow, poplar and birch
Flight season:
June to August
Overwintering stage:
half-grown larva
True fact:
The red-spotted purple gains protection as a mimic of the distasteful pipevine swallowtail, which ranges to the north shore of Lake Ontario. The white admiral, ranging mostly north of the pipevine swallowtail, has an additional disruptive white band through the central portion of its wings. This confuses predators by disrupting its butterfly shape.


Monarch Butterfly, credit: Mark Olivier

Danaus plexippus
Family: Nymphalidae

Wingspan: 93 – 105 mm, one of the largest Canadian butterflies
orange wings with black veins, double row of white spots on black wing borders, on hindwings of males specialized scales form a black spot along a vein
up to 45 mm; entire length banded with white, black and gold, large black antennae on head and smaller black, false “antennae” at rear of abdomen
Ontario north to James Bay and west to Lake of the Woods
meadows, pastures, marshes, roadsides and parks
Larval Foodplants:
milkweed species
Flight season:
late May or June through September, sometimes into October
Overwintering stage:
adults migrate and overwinter in Mexico
True fact:
Monarchs are remarkable for their amazing migratory journey.  In late summer and early fall, adult monarchs follow shorelines of Lakes Ontario and Erie, sometimes stopping and congregating in large numbers, particularly at Point Pelee. They continue their journey to about 30 small sites in the highlands of central Mexico, where millions gather on trees to overwinter. On the return journey in spring, monarchs lay eggs, then die. The new generation continues the northward journey, then their offspring (the “grandchildren” of the migrants that left us the previous autumn) finally reach Ontario and the rest of eastern Canada in late May or June.


Viceroy Butterfly, credit: Benny Mazur CC BY 2.0

Limenitis archippus
Family: Nymphalidae

Wingspan: 53 – 81 mm, a mid-size butterfly
similar to the monarch butterfly, except for smaller size, an extra black stripe on hindwings, and single row of white spots on black wing borders
up to 30mm; bumpy and reddish brown with white saddle; resembles bird dropping, spiny black antennae
throughout Ontario
meadows, in vicinity of wet areas
Larval foodplants:
willow and poplar
Flight season:
late May to September
Overwintering stage:
half-grown larva
True fact:
The viceroy is a mimic of the noxious monarch. Rather than being a tasty snack that gains protection from their mutual resemblance, recent studies in Florida revealed that viceroys may be as distasteful as monarchs. If this is true for all viceroys, birds that feed on either species will learn to avoid any butterfly of that colour pattern. Also, studies have shown that monarchs have a range of palatability depending on the toxicity of the milkweed species they feed on as larvae. It’s possible that in some areas “tasty” monarchs may benefit by resembling toxic viceroys.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, credit: aecole2010 CC BY 2.0

Papilio glaucus
Family: Papilionidae

Wingspan: 75 – 100 mm, a large butterfly
bright yellow wings with black “tiger” stripes, hind wings with “swallow tails,” females have more extensive blue on hind wings than males
up to about 50 mm; early instars resemble bird dropping; when disturbed older caterpillars will rear head and extend red horns (osmeterium) that resemble a snake’s tongue; older caterpillars brownish with gold and black eyespots on thorax
southern Ontario north to the Bruce Peninsula and east to the Rideau Lakes
deciduous broadleaf forest, edges and river valleys
Larval foodplants:
a variety of trees such as cherry, ash, tulip tree and hop tree
Flight season:
May to August
Overwintering stage:
True fact:
A similar species, Canadian tiger swallowtail (Papilio canadensis), differs from the eastern tiger by having a wider black band along the inside edge of the hindwing. This butterfly ranges much farther north and west in Ontario, and was identified as a separate species in 1991 based on genetic characteristics and larval food preferences. Their larvae feed on aspen, willow and yellow birch that are toxic to eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillars. These species are often seen engaged in a behaviour called “puddling,” during which males suck up sodium and/or amino acids from muddy areas and animal dung. The sodium is then passed to females during mating.

Cabbage White Butterfly

Cabbage White Butterfly, credit: Peter Ferguson

Pieris rapae
Family: Pieridae

Wingspan: 32-47mm, mid-size butterfly
Description: forewing upperside white with black wingtips; males have one black spot on forewing and females have two; undersides greyish-green or yellowish green
Larvae: up to about 35mm; greenish body sparsely covered with fine white hairs, yellow line down back, yellow spots along side
Range: common throughout Ontario (and the rest of Canada)
Habitat: many habitats, bogs, backyard gardens, meadows, road edges, parks, etc
Larval foodplants: plants in the mustard family, including cultivated species such as cabbage
Flight season: mid-April to mid-October
Overwintering stage: pupa
True fact: Cabbage whites were introduced to North America from Europe during the 1860s in Quebec, and have spread across the continent. It is considered a pest of agricultural crops, including cabbage, broccoli and brussel sprouts. Birds avoid eating this species; they may be distasteful.


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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