Canada is divided into 15 Ecozones, based on landforms, soil, vegetation, climate and wildlife. (Stanford, Quentin H., ed. ’’Canadian Oxford School Atlas.’’ 7th ed. Toronto: Oxford University Press. 1998). 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.

1. Tundra Zone (Arctic Cordillera, Northern Arctic, and Southern Arctic)

Forty-four species of butterflies have been recorded in the Tundra zone, an area of alpine sedges, grasses, shrubs, lichen and heath.

Characteristic butterflies of this area.

  • Hecla Sulphur (Colias hecla)
  • Labrador Sulphur (C. nastes)
  • Arctic Fritillary (Boloria chariclea)
  • Polaris Fritillary (B. polaris)
  • Polixenes Arctic (Oeneis polixenes)
  • Melissa Arctic (O. Melissa)
  • White-veined arctic (O. bore).


2. Boreal Zone (Taiga Shield, Taiga Plain, Boreal Shield, Boreal Plain, and Hudson Bay Plain)

The land is generally characterized by spruce, poplar, Balsam Fir, Jack Pine, and White Birch forests. Some of the butterfly species in this area have an extended range into the Cordilleran Zone.

Characteristic butterflies of this area.

  • Canadian Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis)
  • Mustard White (Pieris oleracea)
  • Pink-edged Sulphur (Colias interior),
  • Taiga Alpine (Erebia mancinus)
  • Jutta Arctic (Oeneis jutta)
  • Atantis Fritillary (Boloria eunomia)


3. Cordilleran Zone (Tundra Cordilleran, Boreal Cordilleran, Montane Cordillera, and Pacific Maritime)

This area of Canada supports a complex diversity of life. There is a great variation in butterflies, with 183 recorded species. The terrain is mountainous, including the Rocky Mountains, Purcell Mountains, Cascade Mountains, and Coast Mountains. The mountain ranges in the west have moist forests of hemlock, spruce, fir, cedar.

Characteristic butterflies of this area

  • Hydaspe Fritillary (Speyeria hydaspe)
  • Rosner’s Hairstreak (Callophrys rosneri)
  • Clodius Parnassian (Parnassius clodius)

The east has alpine meadows, and dry forests of pine and Douglas-fir.

Characteristic butterflies of this area

  • Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon)
  • Pine White (Neophasia menapia)
  • Barry’s Hairstreak (Callophrys barryi)

The Pacific coast rainforests are generally too wet to support many butterflies. More than a dozen species are largely restricted to the interior valleys of British Columbia. The area of the Okanagan Valley is very dry, as are the Similkameen and Columbia River Valleys, and around Kamloops.

Characteristic butterflies of this area

  • Becker’s White, (Pontia beckerii)
  • Desert Marble (Euchloe lotta)
  • Lilac-bordered Copper (Lycaena nivalis)
  • Western Green Hairstreak (Callophrys affinis)
  • Pale Crescent (Phyciodes pallidus)
  • Juba Skipper (Hesperia juba).

Each different area has significantly different butterflies. Some species are only found on Vancouver Island, such as the Western Sulphur (Colias occidentalis), Johnson’s Hairstreak (Callophrys johnsoni), and Great Arctic (Oeneis nevadensis).

4. Prairie Zone (Remains undivided)

The Prairie Zone has areas of short grass, mainly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and tall grass, which occurs in southeast Manitoba. In the north there are areas of mixed grass and also areas filled with aspen trees.

Characteristic butterflies of the whole area

  • Grey Copper (Lycaena dione)
  • Gorgone Checkerspot (Chlosyne gorgone)
  • Alberta Arctic (Oeneis alberta)
  • Plains Skipper (Hesperia assiniboia)

Other species are only found in specific areas, such as in the short grass and mixed grass.

Characteristic butterflies of this are

  • Edward’s Fritillary (Speyeria edwardsii)
  • Sagebrush Checkerspot (Chlosyne acastus)
  • Ridings’ Satyr (Neominois ridingsii)


5. Mixed Deciduous Woodland Zone (Mixed Wood Plain, and Atlantic Maritime)

This zone, primarily in southern Ontario and Quebec, as well as in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, has a vegetation of beech, maple, oak, and Red and White Pine. There is a diverse amount of butterflies found in this area, with 144 species recorded, and 54 of them are largely only in Canada. The Mixed Deciduous Woodland Zone can be subdivided into three areas: the Atlantic Maritime Subzone, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Subzone, and the Carolinian Subzone.

Characteristic butterflies of this area

  • Harvester (Feniseca tarquinius)
  • Henry’s Elfin (Callophrys henrici)
  • Harris’s Checkerspot (Chlosyne harrisii)
  • Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton)
  • Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma)
  • Northern Pearly-Eye (Enodia anthedon)
  • Little Wood-Satyr (Megisto cymela)
  • Pepper and Salt Skipper (Amblyscirtes hegon).

Butterflies characteristic of Carolinian Subzone, which is in southern Ontario.

  • Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)
  • Spicebush Swallowtail (P. troilus)
  • Southern Cloudywing (Thorybes bathyllus)
  • Sleepy Duskywing (Erynnis brizo)
  • Black Dash (Euphyes conspicua).

Characteristic butterflies of both the Carolinian Subzone and Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Subzone, which is in Quebec and eastern and central Ontario.

  • West Virginia White (Pieris virginiensis)
  • Hickory Hairstreak (Satyrium caryaevorum)
  • Edward’s Hairstreak (S. edwardsii)
  • Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys grynea)
  • Appalachian Brown (Satyrodes appalachia)
  • Indian Skipper (Hesperia sassacus).

This zone is also characterized by a large number of vagrant and migratory butterflies, about 25 species have been recorded to be migratory in this area.


Layberry, Ross A, Peter W. Hall, and J. Donald Lafontaine. Eds. The Butterflies of Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 1998. 9-11.