European Skipper

European Skipper Butterfly, credit: Joshua Mayer CC BY-SA 2.0

Thymelicus lineola
Family: Hesperiidae

Wingspan: 19 – 26 mm (a small butterfly)
Description: vibrant orange wings with black borders, veins lined with black inward from the edge
Larvae: up to 25 mm; green with dark dorsal stripe, brownish head with two yellowish stripes
Range: widespread over most of Ontario
Habitat: meadows, open spaces, roadsides
Larval foodplants: Timothy grass
Flight season: mid-June to August
Overwintering stage: eggs
True fact: The European skipper is a recent immigrant to North America, being first introduced near London, Ontario from Europe circa 1910. This species now exists throughout northeastern North America, and is still spreading. Skippers, with their stout bodies, short, dull-coloured wings, and antennal club with a pointed, curved extension (called an apiculus) differ from other butterflies. Some lepidopterists consider them an intermediary between butterflies and moths.

Silver-spotted Skipper

Silver-spotted skipper, credit: Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren CC BY 2.0

Epargyreus clarus
Family: Hesperiidae

Wingspan: 37 – 45 mm
Description: largest Canadian skipper, has pointed forewings, dark brown main colour on wings, forewing has yellow band, hindwing has silver spot on underside
Larvae: up to 26 mm; yellowish green with dark stripes, orange prologs, dark head with two orange eyespots
Range: Ontario north to Lake Superior and northern Lake Huron
Habitat: wherever its foodplants are present
Larval foodplants: all are in pea family; black locust, hog peanut, groundnut, showy tick trefoil, false indigo
Flight season: early June to late July
Overwintering stage: pupa in leaf nest on foodplant or nearby plant
True fact: Larvae construct and live in leaf nests by initially making two parallel cuts at the edge of the leaf and folding the cut section over them; when they grow larger the larvae use a whole leaf or may fasten a few leaves together.

Great Spangled Fritillary

Great Spangled Fritillary, credit: Peter Gorman CC BY-SA-NC 2.0

Speyeria cybele
Family: Nymphalidae

Wingspan: 62 – 88 mm
Description: upperside tawny-orange, underside of hindwing with many silver spots and a wide, pale yellow band near the outer margin
Larvae: up to 55 mm; black body with orangish spines
Range: southern Ontario to north of Lake Superior
Habitat: meadows, brushy pastures, valleys, roadsides
Larval foodplants: violet species
Flight season: mid-June to mid-August
Overwintering stage: hibernates as a newly-hatched larva
True fact: Most fritillary species are highly similar in appearance. For a fritillary to find a mate of its own species, pheromones and smell play a crucial role in mate recognition. A great spangled fritillary male hovers above a female to waft his pheromones over a potential mate. After mating, females sometimes broadcast their eggs while flying over a meadow, not directly depositing them on violets. Upon hatching, the larva eats its eggshell and immediately begins hibernation.

Question Mark

Question Mark Butterfly, credit: John Flannery CC BY-SA 2.0

Polygonia interrogationis
Family: Nymphalidae

Wingspan: 45 – 68 mm, a mid-size butterfly
Description: outer margins of wings are variously angled and lobed, upper side  of wings orange with black spots and brown borders and edged with violet; underside of wings various brown shades to resemble a dead leaf, with a silver crescent and dot looking somewhat like a question mark
Larvae: up to 45 mm; black body covered with light spots, many branched black, yellow and orange spikes
Range: southern Ontario to just north of Lake Superior
Habitat: woodland openings, meadows, gardens
Larval foodplant: stinging nettle, elm, hops
Flight season: late May to mid-September
Overwintering stage: adult
True fact: Question mark caterpillars are rarely seen. They are night feeders, using the cover of darkness to escape the attention of diurnal predators. Adults rarely feed on nectar, instead preferring dung, rotting fruits, fungal infections and tree sap.

Red Admiral

Red Admiral Butterfly, credit: Mark Buchanan

Vanessa atalanta
Family: Nymphalidae

Wingspan: 45 – 57 mm, a mid-size butterfly
Description: black and dark brown wings, forewings crossed by a red median band, hindwings edged in reddish-orange, underside of forewing with blue, pink and white, underside of hindwings mottled brown.
Larvae: up to 40mm; black with many-branched black or yellow spikes, yellow-white dots along sides
Range: throughout Ontario
Habitat: woods, fields, even city gardens
Larval foodplant: nettle, sometimes on cultivated hops
Flight Season: mid-April to October
Overwintering stage: adult
True fact: Red admirals often claim and vigorously defend a territory against other males of their own kind, choosing exposed hilltops and tree trunks as lookout points. In the northern part of its range, in some years this species has been plentiful, while in other years, almost absent. This has led lepidopterists to speculate that this species may be migratory.

Painted Lady

American Painted Lady Butterfly, credit: Noah Cole

Vanessa cardui
Family: Nymphalidae

Wingspan: 42 – 66 mm, a mid-size butterfly
Description: pointed wings, four eyespots on underside hind wing, large pink patch on underside forewing, upperside forewing often flushed with pink, black-tipped with white dots
Larvae: up to 45 mm; purple to black body with yellow-green stripes on sides, long spines on each segment
Range: varies from year to year, depending on migration numbers; usually in southern Ontario, in some years in northern Ontario
Habitat: meadows, open spaces, roadsides
Larval foodplant: composite flowers, including thistles, knapweed, burdock and others
Flight season: May to October
Overwintering stage: adults migrate and not known to overwinter in Canada
True fact: The painted lady is the most widespread butterfly in the world, being found on every continent except South America and Antarctica. For this, it gets its other common name, the Cosmopolitan. This species is migratory. In some years, huge numbers fly north from overwintering grounds in Mexico and extreme southwestern United States.


Ross Layberry, Peter W. Hall, J. Donald Lafontaine.  The Butterflies of Canada. University of Toronto Press. 1998
Stephen A. Marshall. Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity.  Firefly Books Ltd.  2006
Charles V. Covell, Jr.  A Field Guide to the Moths of Eastern North America.  Houghton Mifflin Co.  1984.
David L. Wagner.  Caterpillars of Eastern North America.  Princeton University Press.  2005.
Amy Bartlett Wright.  Peterson First Guide to Caterpillars.  Houghton Mifflin Co. 1993.

Web Sites: (Moths of Ottawa as photographed by Lynn Scott)

Toronto Entomological Association,