Black Swallowtail [Papilio polyxenes asterius Stoll]

Black Swallowtail [Papilio polyxenes asterius Stoll]

Photos : Insectarium de Montréal

© Insectarium de Montréal.


Description: Large black butterfly spotted with yellow and blue. The colour is quite variable, however, and the yellow spots are often replaced with orange ones. The spots are sometimes very small. The females have more blue spots and fewer yellow spots than the males. Wingspan: 5-9.5 cm.

Life Cycle: The round eggs range in colour from white to cream-coloured. This species overwinters in the chrysalis stage on or near the ground. Two generations per year in the province.

Active Period: The flight season for the adults is mid-May to August. The caterpillars are active from late June to mid-September.

Abundance: Common in some years.

Habitat and Distribution: Fields (particularly near cultivated carrot fields) and flower gardens. Occurs east of the Rockies from Canada to northern South America, including Central America.

Similar Species: The Short-tailed Swallowtail (P. brevicauda), as its Read More
Description: Large black butterfly spotted with yellow and blue. The colour is quite variable, however, and the yellow spots are often replaced with orange ones. The spots are sometimes very small. The females have more blue spots and fewer yellow spots than the males. Wingspan: 5-9.5 cm.

Life Cycle: The round eggs range in colour from white to cream-coloured. This species overwinters in the chrysalis stage on or near the ground. Two generations per year in the province.

Active Period: The flight season for the adults is mid-May to August. The caterpillars are active from late June to mid-September.

Abundance: Common in some years.

Habitat and Distribution: Fields (particularly near cultivated carrot fields) and flower gardens. Occurs east of the Rockies from Canada to northern South America, including Central America.

Similar Species: The Short-tailed Swallowtail (P. brevicauda), as its name implies, can be distinguished from this species by its smaller tail.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Clouded Sulphur [Colias philodice philodice Godart]

Clouded Sulphur [Colias philodice philodice, Godart]

Photo : Insectarium de Montréal

© Insectarium de Montréal.


Description: This butterfly has lemon-yellow wings with a black border, solid black in the male and spotted with yellow in the female. Both forewings have a black spot and both hindwings, an orange spot. Wingspan: 3-5.5 cm.

Life Cycle: The eggs are laid singly on the leaves of legumes (Fabaceae family), particularly clovers (Trifolium spp.). The butterfly overwinters as a larva or pupa. There are three generations a year in Québec.

Active Period: The flight season of the adults is from the end of May to October. The caterpillars are active from June to September.

Abundance: Very common, particularly in late summer.

Habitat and Distribution: Fields, clearings with flowers, moist places and roadsides. The Clouded Sulphur is limited to the eastern part of the continent, and is not found south of the Mexican border.

Similar Species: The Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme Read More
Description: This butterfly has lemon-yellow wings with a black border, solid black in the male and spotted with yellow in the female. Both forewings have a black spot and both hindwings, an orange spot. Wingspan: 3-5.5 cm.

Life Cycle: The eggs are laid singly on the leaves of legumes (Fabaceae family), particularly clovers (Trifolium spp.). The butterfly overwinters as a larva or pupa. There are three generations a year in Québec.

Active Period: The flight season of the adults is from the end of May to October. The caterpillars are active from June to September.

Abundance: Very common, particularly in late summer.

Habitat and Distribution: Fields, clearings with flowers, moist places and roadsides. The Clouded Sulphur is limited to the eastern part of the continent, and is not found south of the Mexican border.

Similar Species: The Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme), as its name implies, is darker than the Clouded Sulphur, while the Pink-edged Sulphur (Colias interior) has a pink border on all four wings.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Monarch [danaus plexippus plexippus] (Linnaeus)

Monarch [danaus plexippus plexippus] (Linnaeus)

Photo : Insectarium de Montréal

© Insectarium de Montréal.


Description: The Monarch is our largest butterfly (wingspan: 7.5-10 cm). The brightly contrasting wings, orange with black veins, indicate to potential predators that the Monarch may be poisonous. The males have a black spot, or sex patch, on each hindwing (consisting of androconial or scented scales). The females are distinguished by their lack of a sex patch and their broader veins.

Life Cycle: The Monarch arrives in Québec in June. The female lays her eggs on milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), which are the caterpillars’ sole food plants. The larvae feed for around two weeks before pupating. After a dozen days or so, in late summer, the adults emerge from their cocoons. In fall, they migrate to Mexico, where they overwinter (for more information, see the Questions and and Answers section on Monarchs).

Active Period: In Québec, the adults can be seen from June to September. The caterpillars are active from August to early September.

Abundance: Common.

Read More
Description: The Monarch is our largest butterfly (wingspan: 7.5-10 cm). The brightly contrasting wings, orange with black veins, indicate to potential predators that the Monarch may be poisonous. The males have a black spot, or sex patch, on each hindwing (consisting of androconial or scented scales). The females are distinguished by their lack of a sex patch and their broader veins.

Life Cycle: The Monarch arrives in Québec in June. The female lays her eggs on milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), which are the caterpillars’ sole food plants. The larvae feed for around two weeks before pupating. After a dozen days or so, in late summer, the adults emerge from their cocoons. In fall, they migrate to Mexico, where they overwinter (for more information, see the Questions and and Answers section on Monarchs).

Active Period: In Québec, the adults can be seen from June to September. The caterpillars are active from August to early September.

Abundance: Common.

Habitat and Distribution: Found in a wide range of habitats except for heavily forested areas, the Monarch is renowned for its migratory feats. From its initial range in the New World, the Monarch has colonized Indonesia, Australia and the Canary Islands. It has also recently become established locally in the Mediterranean region (observed in France).

Similar Species: Resembles the Viceroy (Limenitis archippus), except that the Monarch does not have a black line through its hindwings and the Monarch has two rows of white spots on the thick black wing margin. The Monarch is also larger (wingspan of 7.5-10 cm versus 6.5-7.5 cm for the Viceroy).

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Mourning Cloak [Nymphalis antiopa antiopa] (Linné)

Mourning Cloak [Nymphalis antiopa antiopa] (Linnaeus)

Photo : Insectarium de Montréal

© Insectarium de Montréal.


Description: Large purple-brown butterfly (wingspan: 6-8 cm). The wing margins are marked with a row of blue spots bordered by a broad yellow band. The sexes are identical.

Life Cycle: The eggs are laid in masses, in trees such as willows (Salix spp.), poplars and aspens (Populus spp.), elms (Ulmus spp.), birches (Betula spp.) and alders (Alnus spp.). The caterpillars feed communally. The species overwinters in the adult phase. When the adults emerge early in spring, their wing margins are white. Two generations a year.

Active Period: The adults are active from early April to early October and the caterpillars, from July to August.

Abundance: Very common.

Habitat and Distribution: Urban parks, deciduous forest edges and near rivers, streams, lakes and logging roads in mixed forests. Occurs throughout North America.
Description: Large purple-brown butterfly (wingspan: 6-8 cm). The wing margins are marked with a row of blue spots bordered by a broad yellow band. The sexes are identical.

Life Cycle: The eggs are laid in masses, in trees such as willows (Salix spp.), poplars and aspens (Populus spp.), elms (Ulmus spp.), birches (Betula spp.) and alders (Alnus spp.). The caterpillars feed communally. The species overwinters in the adult phase. When the adults emerge early in spring, their wing margins are white. Two generations a year.

Active Period: The adults are active from early April to early October and the caterpillars, from July to August.

Abundance: Very common.

Habitat and Distribution: Urban parks, deciduous forest edges and near rivers, streams, lakes and logging roads in mixed forests. Occurs throughout North America.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Big Poplar Sphinx [Pachysphinx modesta] (Harris)

Big Poplar Sphinx [Pachysphinx modesta/] (Harris)

Photo : Insectarium de Montréal

© Insectarium de Montréal.


During the day, the Big Poplar Sphinx often remains near the sources of light that it frequents at night, inactive or asleep. This is a good opportunity to observe this moth.

Description: The forewings of this species have alternating bands of grey and brown and the hindwings are tinged with red; the wing base is blue-grey. It is the largest (wingspan: 9-14 cm) and most common of our Sphinx moths.

Life Cycle: The mature female caterpillar may be as long as 9 cm, while the male is usually smaller (7.5 cm). In late summer, the caterpillar pupates. The chrysalis spends nearly a year buried just under the surface of the soil at the foot of a poplar, the food plant of the caterpillar. One generation a year.

Active Period: The Big Poplar Sphinx is active at dusk, in June and July, while the caterpillar is active from August to early September.

Abundance: Common.

Habitat and Distribution: Deciduous and mixed forests. Ranges across southern Ca Read More
During the day, the Big Poplar Sphinx often remains near the sources of light that it frequents at night, inactive or asleep. This is a good opportunity to observe this moth.

Description: The forewings of this species have alternating bands of grey and brown and the hindwings are tinged with red; the wing base is blue-grey. It is the largest (wingspan: 9-14 cm) and most common of our Sphinx moths.

Life Cycle: The mature female caterpillar may be as long as 9 cm, while the male is usually smaller (7.5 cm). In late summer, the caterpillar pupates. The chrysalis spends nearly a year buried just under the surface of the soil at the foot of a poplar, the food plant of the caterpillar. One generation a year.

Active Period: The Big Poplar Sphinx is active at dusk, in June and July, while the caterpillar is active from August to early September.

Abundance: Common.

Habitat and Distribution: Deciduous and mixed forests. Ranges across southern Canada through the southern United States, as far south as the Gulf of Mexico in the east and southern Colorado (the Rockies) in the west.

Similar Species: None.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Cecropia Moth [Hyalophora cecropia] (Linnaeus)

Cecropia Moth [Hyalophora cecropia] (Linnaeus)

Photo : Insectarium de Montréal

© Insectarium de Montréal.


Description: An easily identified species, with its red thorax and its abdomen striped with red and white crossbands. The dark brown wings have white and pinkish-red stripes. Both sexes are similar although the male has a thinner abdomen and very feathery antennae. The Cecropia Moth is the largest North American moth, with a wingspan of 11-16 cm. The caterpillar is also large, 11 cm long at the last larval instar, and green, with bright yellow club-shaped tubercles on the back, four red tubercles near the head and blue tubercles elsewhere on the body.

Life Cycle: The female lays her 200 or more eggs on the foliage of cherries (Prunus spp.), plums (Prunus spp.), apples (Malus spp.), birches (Betula spp.), willows (Salix spp.), maples (Acer spp.) and lilacs (Syringa spp.). In late summer, the caterpillar weaves a cocoon around a stem of the host plant, from which the adult emerges the following spring. There is only one generation in North America.

Active Period: The flight season for Read More
Description: An easily identified species, with its red thorax and its abdomen striped with red and white crossbands. The dark brown wings have white and pinkish-red stripes. Both sexes are similar although the male has a thinner abdomen and very feathery antennae. The Cecropia Moth is the largest North American moth, with a wingspan of 11-16 cm. The caterpillar is also large, 11 cm long at the last larval instar, and green, with bright yellow club-shaped tubercles on the back, four red tubercles near the head and blue tubercles elsewhere on the body.

Life Cycle: The female lays her 200 or more eggs on the foliage of cherries (Prunus spp.), plums (Prunus spp.), apples (Malus spp.), birches (Betula spp.), willows (Salix spp.), maples (Acer spp.) and lilacs (Syringa spp.). In late summer, the caterpillar weaves a cocoon around a stem of the host plant, from which the adult emerges the following spring. There is only one generation in North America.

Active Period: The flight season for adults is from June to early July. The caterpillar is active from July to August.

Abundance: Common.

Habitat and Distribution: Widespread in forests, fields, gardens and open areas. Is also often seen in and around cities. Occurs east of the Rockies from the United States and southern Canada to Mexico.
Similar Species: The Cecropia Moth can be distinguished from other moths in the same group by the red lines across the wings.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Virgin Tiger Moth [Apantesis virgo] (Linnaeus)

Virgin Tiger Moth [Apantesis virgo] (Linnaeus)

Photo : Insectarium de Montréal

© Insectarium de Montréal.


Description: This moth is easy to identify, with its black and white checkered pattern in which the black spots on the hindwing stand out against the pink background. Wing colour can be quite varied in this species.

Life Cycle: The caterpillar feeds exclusively on herbaceous plants. There is only one generation a year.

Active Period: The overwintering caterpillars emerge in spring and are active from May to early June, when they pupate into adults: the flight season of the resulting moths is from around June to mid-August. The new generation of caterpillars is active in September, and go into diapause in fall to overwinter as caterpillars.

Abundance: Common.

Habitat and Distribution: Forests and open areas. Its range extends from James Bay (Québec and Ontario) south to Mexico.
Description: This moth is easy to identify, with its black and white checkered pattern in which the black spots on the hindwing stand out against the pink background. Wing colour can be quite varied in this species.

Life Cycle: The caterpillar feeds exclusively on herbaceous plants. There is only one generation a year.

Active Period: The overwintering caterpillars emerge in spring and are active from May to early June, when they pupate into adults: the flight season of the resulting moths is from around June to mid-August. The new generation of caterpillars is active in September, and go into diapause in fall to overwinter as caterpillars.

Abundance: Common.

Habitat and Distribution: Forests and open areas. Its range extends from James Bay (Québec and Ontario) south to Mexico.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Recognize a variety of species of moths and butterflies that are native to Quebec (and common throughout Canada)
  • Link taxonomic groupings to differences between species
  • Become familiar with the terms “flight period” and “host plant”
  • Cultivate an interest in the natural sciences