Butterfly and Moth Guide

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:
www.acleris.com/dls/mothindex.html (Moths of Ottawa as photographed by Lynn Scott)

Toronto Entomological Association,  www.ontarioinsects.org


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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