A Monarch butterfly visits a thistle flower.
A Monarch butterfly visits a thistle flower.

Butterflies and moths are the second largest order of insects (Lepidoptera), but relatively few of them live in Canada. These insects are obviously among the easiest to notice and identify, due to their large and often colourful wings. However, they are not major pollinators. Butterflies and moths tend to sit at the edges of flowers, and extend their long tongues (probosces) to reach nectar. They rarely come in contact with the pollen at the centers of the flowers. Nevertheless, some moths are effective pollinators of deep-throated flowers that require the insects to crawl inside to reach the nectar.

Butterflies in Canada

Canada is divided into 15 Ecozones, based on landforms, soil, vegetation, climate and wildlife. Traditionally, there were five natural regions, which due to further research were subdivided into the 15 areas. However, butterfly patterns in Canada are better reflected in the context of the original five areas. 

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Butterfly Conservation

There is a growing concern around the world for the protection, the monitoring, and the conservation of butterfly species. Butterflies are more than just beautiful creatures and are irreplaceable in the ecosystem, should butterflies one day become a thing of the past.

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Butterfly Gardening

Imagine having a mini butterfly conservatory in your own back yard, or to be able to regularly experience beautiful butterflies dancing in your garden, in amongst the flowers and sun? It may seem a bit far-fetched, but in reality, butterfly gardening is an attainable goal.

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Butterfly Pollination

Butterflies are pollinating insects. Although they pollinate flowers, they are not as effective as some insects, and are therefore not considered to be major pollinators. The main reason for this is that butterflies have limited contact with pollen and therefore do not transfer large amounts of pollen from flower to flower.

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The Life Cycle of Butterflies

Butterflies undergo complete metamorphosis in four stages of life: egg, larva (or caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis in butterflies), and adult.

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Butterflies vs. Moths

There is no simple rule of thumb to tell the difference between butterflies and moths. Butterflies often feed during the day, and most moths feed at night, though there are exceptions. Butterflies must land on flowers to feed, while many moths are able to flutter before a flower while feeding. This affects the types of flowers that these insects prefer: butterflies need a large landing platform, so they prefer large, flat flowers, while moths can be attracted to cup-shaped flowers.

Butterflies are easy to follow in the garden or meadow, since they fly at a constant height, usually within four feet of the ground. They lay their eggs on specific host plants (e.g. Monarchs use milkweed), and have a very short lifespan, sometimes going through several generations each season. Where there are butterflies present, watch for eggs and cocoons on host plants, but please don't disturb or remove them.

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Butterfly and Moth Profiles