“What kinds of butterflies can you find in Alberta?”
I love watching butterflies in my neighborhood! It’s amazing to see the incredible variety of different colors, patterns, and sizes.
There are hundreds of kinds of butterflies in Alberta! Since it would be impossible to list them all in one article, I chose the most common and exciting species to share with you today. 🙂
Today, you’ll learn about 17 kinds of butterflies found in Alberta.
#1. Red Admiral
- Vanessa atalanta
- Red Admirals have a wingspan of 4.5 to 6.5 centimeters.
- The coloring is dark brown with a reddish circular band and white spots. The underside of the back wings looks similar to bark.
- The caterpillars are pinkish-gray to charcoal with white spots. They have spines along the back that resemble hairs.
The Red Admiral is the most widespread butterfly in Alberta!
Look for this beautiful butterfly near the edge of forests in moist habitats. Red Admiral Butterflies have a unique favorite food – they love fermented fruit! If you’d like to attract them, try placing overripe cut fruit in a sunny spot in your yard.
Red Admirals are migratory butterflies. They fly south toward warmer climates in winter, and then move north again in late spring, where food is more plentiful.
If you’re looking for a butterfly in Alberta that’s easy to observe, you’re in luck! Red Admirals are very calm and easy to approach and frequently land on humans!
RELATED: How to Attract Butterflies: 17 Tips!
#2. Painted Lady
- Vanessa cardui
- Painted Lady butterflies have a wingspan of 4.5 to 6.5 centimeters.
- The coloring is pinkish-orange, with dark brown to black markings near the wingtips and white spots inside the black markings.
- The caterpillars’ coloring is variable, ranging from greenish-yellow to charcoal. Most have light-colored spots.
Look for Painted Lady butterflies in Alberta in open areas that are quiet and undisturbed, like roadsides, pastures, and gardens. This species migrates south to Mexico over winter and returns in the spring.
The population of Painted Lady butterflies can be drastically different from year to year. It’s common for them not to be seen for years in a row in some places, then suddenly show up in more significant numbers.
The Painted Lady is the only butterfly that mates year-round! Because of its constant migration pattern, it spends its entire life in suitable areas for its eggs to hatch.
- Danaus plexippus
- Monarch butterflies have a wingspan of 8 to 10 centimeters.
- Their recognizable coloring is a “stained glass” pattern of orange with black veins. White dots line the outside edge of the wings.
- Caterpillars are plump, with black, white, and yellow bands and tentacles on each end of its body.
Monarchs are easily the most recognized butterfly in Alberta!
They are famous for their color pattern and migration. Look for Monarchs anywhere there is milkweed, which is the only food source their caterpillars eat.
Most people are familiar with the declining population of Monarchs. However, you might not know that this indicates an overall population decline of many other pollinating species like bees. Planting local milkweed species to attract Monarchs will also help these other species.
During migration, usually in mid-September, you may even see groups of hundreds flying south!
- Limenitis archippus
- Viceroy butterflies have a wingspan of 6.5 to 9 centimeters.
- Their coloring is deep orange with black edges and veins and white spots on the black border.
- The caterpillar is a mix of green, brown, and cream colors. It has two “horns” on its head that look like knobby antennae.
The first thing you might notice about the Viceroy butterfly is that it’s almost identical to the Monarch! The easiest way to tell them apart is to look for the black line on the bottom wing. This line is present in Viceroys, but not Monarchs.
Even though these two butterflies are similar in appearance, their caterpillars look remarkably different. Viceroy caterpillars are greenish-brown, spiny, and certainly not as beautiful as Monarch caterpillars.
I think of them as the “ugly duckling” of caterpillars, but they’re one of the prettiest butterflies in Alberta!
One other key difference between these two species is that Viceroys don’t migrate. Instead, the caterpillars roll up and hibernate in leaves and emerge during the next breeding season.
#5. Mourning Cloak
- Nymphalis Antiopa
- Mourning Cloaks have a wingspan of 7.5 to 10 centimeters.
- The coloring is black with an iridescent sheen. A yellow border and a row of purple spots mark the outer edge of the wings.
- Caterpillars are black with white specks and a row of red spots on the back.
Mourning Cloak butterflies are most often found near deciduous forests. However, their habitat includes many developed areas like suburban yards, parks, and golf courses.
You might have a hard time finding this butterfly in Alberta.
Even though it’s fairly widespread, its preference for cold weather and solitary habits make it hard to spot even for an avid butterfly enthusiast! In addition, it’s so well-camouflaged when its wings are folded that you might miss one right in front of you.
Mourning Cloaks are often the first butterflies to become active in the spring! In fact, some adults are even active through winter on warm days, when snow is still on the ground.
They’re also one of the longest-lived butterflies around, with some individuals living up to ten months!
#6. Pearl Crescent
- Phyciodes tharos
- Pearl Crescent butterflies have a wingspan of about 4 centimeters.
- Their coloring is bright orange with black borders, spots, and lines. The pattern created by the black markings is similar to lace.
- Caterpillars are dark brown with cream stripes and spines all over their bodies.
Look for Pearl Crescent butterflies in southern Alberta near moist ground.
They prefer open, sunny habitats but many locations suit their needs, including forest edges, fields, meadows, and gardens.
The Pearl Crescent caterpillar’s preferred host is the Aster plant. Any flowering plants in your yard will attract this beautiful butterfly, but for best results, try to find one that’s native to your area.
When the caterpillars grow into butterflies, they will feed on the nectar of the Asters as well!
#7. Variegated Fritillary
- Variegated Fritillary butterflies have a wingspan of 4 to 5 centimeters.
- The coloring of this species is tawny brown to burnt orange with black dots and lines. The outer edge of the wings is also lined in black.
- Caterpillars are reddish-orange, with white stripes that run the length of the body and black spines.
Look for these butterflies in southeastern Alberta in meadows, open lots, and fields.
Plant flowers like butterfly weed, mint, and sunflowers to attract them to your garden. Ornamental plants like violets, pansies, and passionflower serve as hosts for their caterpillars.
The Variegated Fritillary’s chrysalis is one of the most beautiful of all the butterflies in Alberta. This protective shell is where the caterpillar transforms into the adult butterfly. Its pearly white color and shiny gold spikes make it look like an expensive jeweled pendant!
#8. Great Spangled Fritillary
- Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies have a wingspan of 6 to 9 centimeters.
- Their coloring is orange with black lines and dots that form a web-like pattern on their wings. In addition, the undersides of their wings have silvery white dots outlined in black.
The Great Spangled Fritillary is one of many butterflies in Alberta that prefers open, sunny areas like pastures and meadows.
It’s not uncommon to see hundreds of them in large milkweed or violet fields!
This species doesn’t migrate; instead, its caterpillars hibernate over winter and emerge in the spring. That happens around the same time as the new growth on their host violet plants appears.
Interestingly, male Great Spangled Fritillaries die weeks before females, right after mating. The females then feed for another two to three weeks and lay eggs before also dying off.
#9. Meadow Fritillary
- Meadow Fritillary butterflies have a wingspan of 4 to 5 centimeters.
- Their coloring is yellow-orange with dusky black splotches. The underside of their wings is muted in color and looks like a dead leaf, which is used for camouflage.
Meadow Fritillary butterflies in Alberta have the scientific name Boloria bellona, which is in the brush-foot family. That’s sometimes confusing since a European butterfly has the same name, but the two species are only distantly related!
Our Meadow Fritillaries are active throughout the summer and very common in their range, so this is an excellent butterfly to attract to your garden.
Aster flowers like Black-eyed Susans, daisies, and sunflowers are popular picks to attract them.
#10. Silver-Bordered Fritillary
- Silver-Bordered Fritillaries have a wingspan of 4 to 5 centimeters.
- Their coloring is bright orange with irregular black markings. The wings have a thin white edge and a thick black border with orange dots inside. The underside of the wing has metallic, silvery dots along the edge, which is how this species got its name.
Silver-Bordered Fritillaries are small, rare butterflies in southern Alberta.
Their preferred habitat is wet grassland, which is often turned into agricultural fields. This habitat disruption has caused a decline in the population of the Silver-Bordered Fritillary.
Despite these challenges, you can still attract Silver-Bordered Fritillaries to your garden by planting violets for their caterpillars or thistle as a nectar flower.
They typically fly low to the ground in jerky, fast movements, so keep your eyes on the grass and look out for streaks of orange!
#11. Common Wood-Nymph
- Cercyonis pegala
- Common Wood-Nymphs have a wingspan of 5 to 8 centimeters.
- Coloring can vary greatly, but generally, this species is shades of brown with dark eyespots.
- Caterpillars are yellow-green with dark green stripes and white hairs.
Common Wood-Nymphs are found in many different habitats, including open forests, meadows, agricultural fields, and salt marshes. Their caterpillars hatch late in fall and hibernate through the winter.
Look for this species in late summer and early fall since it’s most active this time of year.
Adult Common Wood-Nymphs occasionally eat flower nectar but prefer to feed on rotting fruit or decaying plants.
This is one of few species whose host plant (which the caterpillar eats) is grass. Kentucky Bluegrass, one of its favorites, is also a popular lawn grass. So, you may not even need to plant anything new to attract this species!
#12. Cabbage White
- Pieris rapae
- Cabbage White Butterflies have a wingspan of 4 to 6 centimeters.
- The wings are light greenish to white, with black wing tips and black dots in the center of each wing. Males have one black dot on each side, and females have two.
- Caterpillars, sometimes called Cabbage Worms, are dark green with a light green stripe along the back.
Cabbage White butterflies are well-suited to almost any habitat in southern Alberta.
The only areas they avoid are dense forests with little room to fly. You can even see this species if you live in the city since they often live in very large metropolitan areas!
Look for Cabbage Whites in the summer, when they are most active and breeding. Their caterpillars, sometimes called Cabbage Worms, are a pest because they often overtake and eat cabbage, kale, nasturtium, and other brassica plants.
If you have a vegetable garden and see Cabbage Whites, you should pay extra attention to your plants to ensure these hungry insects don’t ruin them! In fact, Cabbage White butterflies are invasive in Alberta. This non-native species was transported here through the food and agricultural trade.
Since it’s so well-suited to our climate, its population has exploded and it’s now considered one of the most damaging invasive species to crops.
#13. Orange Sulphur
- Colias eurytheme
- Orange Sulphur Butterflies have a wingspan of 4 to 7 centimeters.
- Their coloring is bright yellow-orange with black borders on the wings and irregular black spots.
Look for Orange Sulfur butterflies in southern Alberta along sunny roadsides, meadows, and gardens.
Its preferred food and host plant is Alfalfa, which is how it got the nickname “Alfalfa butterfly”.
The easiest way to recognize an Orange Sulphur is by its flight pattern. They have an erratic, jerky flying style and usually stay low to the ground.
You’re likely to see this abundant and widespread species in urban and suburban environments during the spring and summer.
#14. Clouded Sulphur
- Colias philodice
- Clouded Sulphur butterflies have a wingspan of 4 to 6 centimeters.
- This species has two color forms, one white with a light green cast, and one yellow. Both morphs have a red-ringed eyespot and pinkish borders on the wings.
Clouded Sulphurs are some of the most common butterflies in Alberta!
This is because they’re prolific breeders and are at home in almost any habitat.
Look for them along roadsides, parks, and home gardens. They are often found in the same area as their closely related cousins, the Orange Sulphur. However, the erratic, jerky flight style of Orange Sulphurs set them apart from most other butterfly species. To properly identify a Clouded Sulphur, look for a “wobbly” flying butterfly.
There are two distinct morphs of the Clouded Sulphur. The white morph is primarily white with a greenish tint, and the yellow morph is almost entirely yellow. Interestingly, ONLY females display the white color morph, and males are always yellow.
#15. Common Checkered-Skipper
- Burnsius Communis
- Adult wingspans are 0.75-1.25 inches.
- Their coloring is faded white with tan-colored bands and a black or brown edge on the hindwing. From above, they have a distinctive black and white checkered pattern.
- Females are darker in color.
- Males are extensively covered with long, bluish-white hairs on the body.
It’s easy to see how this butterfly in Alberta got its name.
The Common Checkered-Skipper has a distinctive block pattern on its wings that looks like a checkerboard.
Common Checkered-Skipper Range Map
Its favorite host plant is Mallow, and it prefers pastures, open fields, and disturbed sites. This species is often seen next to roads.
Males search out a suitable female to mate with, and then she lays her pale green eggs on the soft parts of the hostplant. Once the caterpillar emerges, it feeds on the host plant and curls the leaves around it for winter protection.
#16. Anise Swallowtail
- Papilio Zelicaon
- Adult wingspans are 2-3 inches.
- Their coloring is yellow with black bands on the edges of their forewings. The body is mainly black, with lateral yellow stripes along the abdomen.
- Their hindwings are largely yellow, with a yellowish orange eyespot.
Anise Swallowtails prefer open areas both inland and on the coast. These butterflies in Alberta aren’t picky about where they live!
They use a mating strategy called “hill-topping.” This is where a male perches on a mountain cliff, hilltop, or high foliage and waits for a female to find him. That’s one way to conserve your energy while finding a partner!
Anise Swallowtail males are aggressive, especially when breeding, and they defend their territory by attacking other males to secure a potential mate.
#17. Two-Tailed Swallowtail
- Papilio Multicaudata
- Adult wingspans are 3-6.5 inches.
- From above, their coloring is yellow with black stripes. The hindwings have blue marks and a tiny orange eyespot, as well as thin black stripes and two tails per wing.
- Females have additional blue markings and a brighter yellow color.
Two-Tailed Swallowtail butterflies in Alberta prefer areas with open space and plenty of sunlight. Look for them in foothills, canyons, valleys, woodlands, roadsides, parks, cities, and suburb gardens.
Males of this species spend their entire life finding a female to mate with due to their short lifespan. If it takes a long time to find a mate, males search for nutrients in rotten material, dirt, and sometimes feces, an odd behavior called mud puddling.
Although it’s one of the most recognizable features, the Two-tailed Swallowtail doesn’t need its tails to fly. Instead, they’re often used to escape predators. When a predator attacks the Swallowtail and grabs onto its tails, they break off, and the butterfly can escape.
Do you need more help identifying butterflies in Alberta?
Try this field guide!
Which of these butterflies have you seen in Alberta?
Leave a comment below!
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