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20 Most Common Types of Butterflies in Canada (With Pictures)

close up monarch butterfly on a flower

Canadian nature is truly marvelous. As the second-largest country on the planet, the Great White North has diverse flora and fauna. Thousands of different trees, plants, animals, and insects live there. Canada is heavily influenced by the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans and has vast maritime terrain. Now, while this country is largely famous for its moose, lynx, and bison population, it’s also home to many butterfly species.

They range in shape, size, wingspan, lifespan, and habitat. If you’re a big fan of these fascinating creatures and want to see them up close and personal, the Land of Maple Syrup will be a perfect destination. The following list includes the 20 most common species in Canada. Let’s see what they’re all about!

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The 20 Most Common Types of Butterflies in Canada

1. Red Admiral

red admiral butterfly
Image By: Erik Karits, Pixabay
Botanical Name: Vanessa atalanta
Subfamily: Nymphalinae
Wingspan: 1.7–3 inches
Average lifespan: Up to 10 months
Average lifespan: Black and orange, red
Host plant: Nettle, false nettleMini

With a decent wingspan and an impressive lifespan (up to 10 months), the Red Admiral is a common sight in Canada. In fact, it’s one of the most widespread butterfly species in the country. You can instantly recognize it thanks to the beautiful combination of black, red, and orange. The host plant for the Red Admiral is the nettle.

So, if you want to attract the caterpillars, just plant some nettles in the garden. Adult butterflies aren’t at all shy and often find their way into our gardens and homes. You should expect them around May to September or even through most of the winter (depending on the climate).

2. White Admiral

white admiral butterfly
Image Credit: Wayne, Pixabay
Botanical Name: Limenitis arthemis
Subfamily: Limenitidinae
Wingspan: 3–4 inches
Average lifespan: 2 weeks
Average lifespan: Black and white, blue
Host plant: Birch, poplar, willow, aspen

The White Admiral has a lot in common with the Red one. However, they belong to different subfamilies. It has a significantly shorter lifespan (10–14 days). Next, the White Admiral mostly lives off of willow, aspen, and birch. In contrast to the vast majority of butterflies, it feeds on fruit, not on nectar. As for the name, the White Admiral is all-black with a beautiful white–blue “band” across the wings.

3. Monarch

a Monarch Butterfly on a purple flower
Image Credit: Joshua J. Cotten, Unsplash
Botanical Name: Danaus plexippus
Subfamily: Danainae
Wingspan: 3.2–4 inches
Average lifespan: 5–6 weeks (or up to 8 months)
Average lifespan: Orange and black, white
Host plant: Milkweed

Monarchs are one of the most recognizable butterflies on planet Earth. They aren’t huge (the wingspan reaches four inches max) or particularly aggressive. It’s the distinctive combination of orange and black on the wings and those mesmerizing white dots that make them so popular. Monarchs live longer than most butterflies. For the males, that’s 1–1.5 months.

The females, in turn, can survive for up to eight months and travel up to 3,000 miles. You’ll find Monarch caterpillars on milkweeds in most of Canada.

4. Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail
Image Credit: mcginnisc_photos, Shutterstock
Botanical Name: Papilio canadensis
Subfamily: Papilionidae
Wingspan: 2.5–3.8 inches
Average lifespan: 2 weeks
Average lifespan: Yellow/orange with black
Host plant: Aspen, birch, black cherry

Just like the name suggests, this Tiger Swallowtail species is widely spread across Canadian lands (except for Labrador). They have an average lifespan of 1–2 weeks and a modest wingspan of 3.8 inches tops. The Canadian Tiger Swallowtails are mostly yellow/pale orange with multiple tiger stripes (yes, hence the name). Birch, aspen, and black cherry leaves make the primary diet for the caterpillars.

This species mostly sticks to woodlands, but they do visit gardens and backyards once in a while to mate and pollinate.

5. Black Swallowtail

eastern black swallowtail
Image Credit: Bernell MacDonald, Pixabay
Botanical Name: Papilio polyxenes
Subfamily: Papilionidae
Wingspan: 3–4 inches
Average lifespan: 1–2 weeks
Average lifespan: Black with yellow, blue, orange
Host plant: Dill, parsley, fennel, carrots

In many ways, the Black Swallowtail is identical to its Canadian cousin. They both belong to the Pailionidae subfamily, live for two weeks, and reach 3–4 inches in size. The main thing that sets them apart is, of course, the color combination. This time around, black is the prevalent color, while the stripes are yellow. On the females, you’ll also see a blue hue on the hind wing and a bright orange eyespot.

Black Swallowtails are often spotted in parks and backyards as early as mid-April.

6. Viceroy

Viceroy Butterfly
Image Credit: Domianick, Pixabay
Botanical Name: Limenitis archippus
Subfamily: Limenitidinae
Wingspan: 2.5–3.8 inches
Average lifespan: 3–4 weeks
Average lifespan: Orange and black, white
Host plant: Willow, poplars, aspen, plum

The first thing that pops into someone’s head when they see a Viceroy is “hey, it’s a Monarch”. However, despite the striking resemblance, these are two different species. Viceroys have a shorter lifespan and wingspan and use aspen, willow, and other trees as hosts. More importantly, they don’t migrate. And one more thing: these butterflies have a black line on the bottom wing.

7. Painted Lady

American Painted Lady butterfly
Image Credit: Leena Robinson, Shutterstock
Botanical Name: Vanessa cardui
Subfamily: Nymphalinae
Wingspan: 1.6–3 inches
Average lifespan: 3–4 weeks
Average lifespan: Orange/pink with black, white
Host plant: Thistles, mallows, legumes

Orange and black are a very common combination among butterflies, and the Painted Lady is a great example of that. This species doesn’t stick around in cold climates for long and prefers to migrate to the US and Mexico. The migration patterns are rather chaotic. Now, despite the above-average lifespan, these butterflies are rather small, with a wingspan of 1.6–2 inches (3 inches tops).

And, they prefer quiet. Caterpillars like to feed on thistles and mallows. Beans and peas are a part of their diet as well.

8. American Lady

American Painted Lady butterfly
Image Credit: Leena Robinson, Shutterstock
Botanical Name: Vanessa virginiensis
Subfamily: Nymphalinae
Wingspan: 1.7–2.7 inches
Average lifespan: 2–4 weeks
Average lifespan: Orange with black, purple
Host plant: Ironweed, asters, sunflowers

Here, we have another Lady, only this time around, it’s hailing from America. So, what sets it apart from the Painted Lady? First, these butterflies are more common in Canada and the Northern parts of the States. Second, the cobweb pattern is larger and more “in your face”. As for the colors, they differ depending on the time of the year.

In any case, if you plant some sunflowers or ironweed in your garden, the American Lady will pay a visit in May through most of the summer, despite its shy nature.

9. American Copper

American Copper
Image Credit: Erik Karits, Unsplash
Botanical Name: Lycaena phlaeas
Subfamily: Lycaenidae
Wingspan: 1.0–1.2 inches
Average lifespan: 14–16 days
Average lifespan: Orange, gray, black
Host plant: Field/sheep Sorrel

If you’re a fan of tiny butterflies, pay extra attention to the American Copper (known as the Common/Little Copper). Its maximum wingspan is only 1.2 inches. With that said, these butterflies are quite tough and very common in most North American lands, stretching from Nova Scotia to Georgia. They’re fast, too, and can travel long distances in a short time without taking many breaks.

In Canada, they’re seen from June to September. The caterpillars feed on sorrel; adults like hawkweed.

10. Azure

a Celastrina ladon or Spring Azure butterfly
Image Credit: johannviloria, Shutterstock
Botanical Name: Celastrina ladon
Subfamily: Polyommatinae
Wingspan: 1.0–1.5 inches
Average lifespan: A couple of days
Average lifespan: Blue, gray, brown
Host plant: Flowering Dogwood

Moving on to a slightly bigger species, we have the Azure. Unlike most butterflies, they aren’t orange, red, or black. Instead, you’ll see a mesmerizing mix of blue and gray. The wingspan isn’t much larger, though: 1–1.5 inches. The lifespan of an adult is even shorter: 2–3 days, or even less. On the bright side, Azures aren’t at all hard to find in Canada, especially on hiking trails and in woodlands.

They come around before most spring flowers/herbs bloom.

11. Eastern Tailed-Blue

a Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly on a plant
Image Credit: Danita Delimont, Shutterstock
Botanical Name: Cupido comyntas
Subfamily: Polyommatinae
Wingspan: 0.75–1.0 inches
Average lifespan: 4–10 days
Average lifespan: Blue/gray and brown, white
Host plant: Wild peas, beans, clover

If you like blue but are in the market for an even smaller butterfly, check out the Eastern Tailed-Blue. With a wingspan of 0.75–1.0 inches, this is one of North America’s tiniest butterflies. So, how do you tell it apart from Azure? It’s pretty easy, as the clue lies within its name: this species has a blue tail!

Sadly, while the lifespan is slightly longer, it’s still lower than the average. Most Eastern Tailed-Blues die in four days.

12. Hackberry Emperor

Hackberry Emperor Butterfly
Image Credit: RBCKPICTURES, Pixabay
Botanical Name: Asterocampa celtis
Subfamily: Apaturinae
Wingspan: 1.2–2.2 inches
Average lifespan: 1–2 weeks
Average lifespan: Brown and black, orange, white
Host plant: Hackberry trees

Parks, suburban backyards, and dense forests are the natural habitats for the Hackberry Emperor. The one thing to keep in mind is that these butterflies rarely eat nectar. So, no matter how many flowers you plant in the garden, they won’t attract the Emperor. It mostly feeds on dung, sap, and rotten fruit. With that, it’s quite a curious and courageous creature and likes to land on animals and humans.

13. Question Mark

a question mark butterfly
Image Credit: GeorgeB2, Pixabay
Botanical Name: Polygonia interrogationis
Subfamily: Nymphalidae
Wingspan: 1.8–3.0 inches
Average lifespan: 2–3 weeks
Average lifespan: Deep orange/brown and black
Host plant: Hackberry, nettle, elm, hops

Folks that are fond of the Question Mark butterflies will have to get into the moist woodlands. You’ll recognize them by the deep, bright orange on the upper side of the wings and the brownish color on the lower side. This texture allows them to camouflage and be literally invisible to most predators. So, where does the name come from?

If you take a look at the underside of this butterfly’s wings, you’ll notice a pale-white symbol that looks like a question mark.

14. Eastern Comma

eastern comma butterfly
Image Credit: Special Beauty, Shutterstock
Botanical Name: Polygonia comma
Subfamily: Nymphalinae
Wingspan: 1.7–2.5 inches
Average lifespan: 2–3 weeks
Average lifespan: Orange and black
Host plant: Stinging nettles, elm

Just like the Question Mark, the Eastern Comma is called Polygonia (“many angles” in Greek). The resemblances are quite obvious, too. They live for 2–3 weeks, have a modest wingspan, and come in orange and black. To track them down, head to the closest deciduous forest or park. The caterpillars use elm and nettles as host plants, but the adults chew on rotten fruit and some carrion.

15. Orange Sulphur

Orange Sulphur Butterfly
Image Credit: Paul Sparks, Shutterstock
Botanical Name: Colias eurytheme
Subfamily: Pieridae
Wingspan: 1.5–2.7 inches
Average lifespan: 2–4 weeks
Average lifespan: Bright orange, yellow, black
Host plant: Alfalfa, clover, vetch

Most butterfly species have a coloring that helps them hide from spiders, birds, and other predators. But the Orange Sulphur butterflies are very easy to spot. Their wings are bright yellow and orange. In addition, they mostly stick to the ground. Orange Sulphurs are very common in Canada, including in busy cities. The same is true for the Clouded Sulphurs. But they have a shaky flying style and a greenish hue.

16. Mourning Cloak

a Mourning Cloak butterfly on the bark of a tree
Image By: Erik Karits, Unsplash
Botanical Name: Nymphalis antiopa
Subfamily: Nymphalidae
Wingspan: 3.2–4 inches
Average lifespan: 10–11 months
Average lifespan: Black, yellow, purple
Host plant: Willow, poplar, hackberry, elm

Deciduous forests are the natural habitat for the Mourning Cloak, but it’s also often seen in parks, yards, and other suburban spots. Unlike most butterflies, it prefers colder climates over hot ones. Depending on how harsh the winter in Canada is this year, it might not even go dormant! That’s why Mourning Cloaks are one of the first butterflies to appear in early spring.

17. Variegated Fritillary

Variegated fritillary
Image By: George, Pixabay
Botanical Name: Euptoieta claudia
Subfamily: Heliconiinae
Wingspan: 1.7–3.0 inches
Average lifespan: 2–10 weeks
Average lifespan: Burnt orange, black
Host plant: Violets, flax, pansies

Canada is home to quite a few fritillaries. We’ve got the great spangled, Aphrodite, meadow, and silver-bordered species. And the most common one is the Variegated Fritillary. It has a decent wingspan and lives for up to 2.5 months. You can set it apart from the others by the burnt orange and black coloring. Go to open fields and meadows and look for pansies and violets because that’s where the caterpillars will be.

Adults are drawn to sunflowers and mint.

18. Common Wood-Nymph

a common wood nymph butterfly, also known as the blue-eyed grayling
Image By: Chandan Chaurasia, Unsplash
Botanical Name: Cercyonis pegala
Subfamily: Satyrinae
Wingspan: 1.8–3 inches
Average lifespan: 3–4 weeks
Average lifespan: Grayish brown and black
Host plant: Beard grasses

Late summer through most of September is when adult Common Wood-Nymph is most active. The caterpillars latch in late November and hibernate through the cold winter days. Their host plant is beard grass, which is quite rare for butterflies. When fully grown, they eat rotting fruit and plants. That’s right: they have quite a peculiar diet!

19. Gray Hairstreak

gray hairstreak butterfly
Image By: Annette Shaff, Shutterstock
Botanical Name: Strymon melinus
Subfamily: Theclinae
Wingspan: 1.0–1.25 inches
Average lifespan: 3–4 weeks
Average lifespan: Gray and orange, black, white
Host plant: Mallows, legumes, clovers

A short wingspan, above-average lifespan, and a beautiful combination of gray and orange, with black and white stripes—that’s the best way to describe the Gary Hairstreak. This butterfly sticks to meadows, roadsides, and other open areas. The caterpillars use multiple flowers/plants as a host, and that’s why they’re so widespread. Gray Hairstreaks have very thin and long tails that look like strands of hair.

Coral and banded hairstreaks are also very common in Canada.

20. Cabbage White

cabbage-white butterfly
Image By; Mabel Amber, Pixabay
Botanical Name: Pieris rapae
Subfamily: Pieridae
Wingspan: 1.3–1.9 inches
Average lifespan: 1–3 weeks
Average lifespan: Green, white, black
Host plant: Cabbage plants

These butterflies have an even wider habitat and can survive in meadows, suburbs, backyards, and bogs. Ecologists call Cabbage Whites generalist butterflies. The only places that they don’t like are dense forests that make it hard to maneuver. Often, Cabbage Whites visit big cities in Canada. This usually happens during summer. Be careful, though, because their caterpillars are known to ravish kale and cabbage crops.

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How Are Butterflies Born?

Every single butterfly species known to mankind lays eggs. And they’re mostly laid on plant leaves. After 1–2 weeks, butterflies enter the second stage of their life: caterpillar/larva. This is when they start to eat large amounts of leaves and grass to grow. It’s not rare for caterpillars to get 1,000 times bigger before they transform. For some species, this phase takes 2–3 weeks, while others need up to three years.

In any case, once caterpillars reach maturity, they stop feeding, and that’s when the transition into a pupa starts. Butterflies in a cocoon stay very still and take up to a month to change into a new form of life. At the final stage, they develop wings and break free from the chrysalis. On average, adult butterflies live for a month to mate and lay new eggs.

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Very few insects are as captivating as butterflies. Most of them have short lives, yet they never fail to mesmerize us with their beauty and grace. Butterflies are found all across the world and have a strong presence in Canada (2,500 registered species). There, you’ll find the famous Monarch, the Red Admiral, and the Viceroy, to name a few.

They play a vital role in the cycle of life by fertilizing a wide range of flowers, herbs, and plants. Just like wasps and birds, butterflies are natural pollinators for Mother Nature. Today, we learned about the most common species in Canada, their colors, wingspan, and more. So, use this guide on your next trip to a local forest!

Featured Image Credit: Erin Minuskin, Unsplash


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