by Richard Staniforth
Northern Pearly-eye (878 reported)
Eyed Brown (359 reported)
Common Ringlet (363 reported)
Little Wood Satyr (381 reported)
Common Wood Nymph (654 reported)
Taiga Alpine (4 reported)
Red-disked Alpine (27 reported)
Alberta Arctic (55 reported)
Macoun’s Arctic (49 reported)
Jutta Arctic (1 reported)
The “Browns” or satyrs are a distinct subset of the Brushfoot family and, as their common name suggests, they are mostly brown. Elsewhere in the world, there are species which are mostly white; e.g. the Marbled Whites of Europe, or even iridescent blue like the huge Morpho butterflies of forests in central and south America.
Most species have eyespots on their wings, in some satyrs the eyespots are huge as they are in the spectacular Owl Butterflies, also of central and south America. Most browns have floppy, bouncing flights, as they fly amongst trees and bushes, or between tall grasses in a meadow. Only a few species visit flowers on a regular basis.
When at rest their wings are usually held in a closed posture revealing camouflage coloration on the lower ventral wing surfaces, e.g. especially those “browns” known as the Arctics and Alpines. The “eyes” beneath the lower forewings may lure predators away from the vulnerable head region of the insect, or perhaps frighten them completely. These eyespots are quite convincing – more than one naïve, young butterfly observer has blamed the eyespots on difficulty in approaching these insects!
The eggs of Manitoba “browns” are laid on the leaves of grasses and sedges. The resulting caterpillars are green or brown, tapered at each end and possess a bifid tail. The caterpillars become the hibernating stage. There is a single generation per year but a few species, notably among the Arctics, take two years to complete their life cycles.
Above: (Photo 1) Northern Pearly-Eye (by Richard Staniforth)
The Northern Pearly-Eye is our largest Satyr (see photo 1). It is encountered along moist, forest trails where it avoids bright sunshine unless enticed by carrion, feces or puddles of rain water lying in the open. Otherwise these attractive butterflies may be hard to photograph due to their fondness of perching on and even hiding behind tree trunks.
The somewhat similar but paler Eyed Brown is fond of moist grassy meadows where it may occur alongside Common Wood Nymphs. Despite its name, the Common Wood Nymph is a butterfly of fields, meadows and grassy road edges where it is sometimes abundant during its flight period between late June and late August. It is certainly deserving of a name change to something like “Meadow Nymph” because it is only occasionally found in woodlands!
The prominent eyespots on the upper forewings are emphasized by borders of yellowish-brown. This yellowish-brown colour and also the foundation wing colour of dull brown are quite variable. Some butterflies have insignificant eyespots or eyespot borders, others have a general coloration anywhere between pale brown to a very dark chocolate-brown.
Above: (Photo 2) Common Ringlet (by Richard Staniforth)
The Common Ringlet (see photo 2) and the Little Wood Satyr are both on the wing during June and July but are found in different habitats. The ringlet (known as the Large Heath in England) occurs in pastures and other grassy places where it flutters for short distances before dropping back into the grass. On the other hand, the wood satyr is usually seen jauntily flying through the branches and tangles of shrubbery in woodland edges which defy anyone from following.
We recorded two species of alpine butterflies and three species of arctic butterflies during the five years of our butterfly survey. Normally butterflies of these two genera are inhabitants of arctic tundra and mountains; but a few species, like ours, range south into local Black Spruce-Tamarack swamps or onto dry prairies hills. It is always a special day when such butterflies are spotted as they are very locally distributed and appear very early in the year and only for a short time (late May to early June).
The Red-disked Alpines were found in the vicinity of spruce-tamarack-Sphagnum bogs in several boreal locations in southeast Manitoba, including the Gull Lake Wetland. These are dark brown butterflies with a patch of dark red in the centres of their upper forewings, but they tend to look black from a distance.
Four individuals of the Taiga Alpine were observed by Peter Taylor near Milner Ridge on June 19, 2019. These butterflies are difficult to photograph because of their very dark coloration and avoidance tactics. I once tried to photograph one that repeatedly returned and perched on a whitish limestone boulder which was terrible as a photographic backdrop for a blackish insect.
Three species of Arctics, namely; Macoun’s Arctic, Alberta Arctic and Jutta Arctic, were observed during our 5-year butterfly study. We were able to verify that Macoun’s Arctic only flew in even-numbered years due to its synchronised, two-year life-history.
At first sight, this scarce, large, predominantly orange butterfly may resemble a Monarch or a Viceroy. Its habit of flying amongst Jack Pines and perching on tree trunks is usually sufficient to distinguish it from these unrelated species. Its flight period was restricted to May and June.
The Alberta Arctic was more frequent during odd-numbered years in southeast Manitoba. This pale brown butterfly flies up from its grassy habitat when disturbed and quickly drops down again. Once on the ground it disappears! The marbled pattern on its lower wing surfaces camouflages the butterfly very efficiently (see photo 3).
Above: (Photo 3) Alberta Arctic (by Richard Staniforth)
It also has the habit of leaning toward the direction of sunshine so that only a tiny shadow is caste. Sightings of Alberta Arctics were only made in Bird’s Hill Provincial Park and this may be one of the most eastern populations of this species in Canada. Our single record of a Jutta Arctic is based on a photograph by Julie Yatsko taken on July 18, 2015 near Zhoda, and suggests the presence of a small colony of these insects in that neighborhood.