2013: Slim Pickins

Where did all the Butterflies go?

That's a very good question.

The short answer is that perfect storms cut both ways.  Conditions in 2012 were "just so", and resulted in good numbers for local species in Ontario as well as a tremendous influx of southern migrants. 2013 was also a perfect storm, but in a bad way.

Perhaps this should not have been a complete surprise.  For some species, the 2012 season set the stage for the collapse of 2013.  We must remember that some of the butterflies we were expecting to see in 2013 would have been caterpillars in 2012.  If we think back to the drought we had in the summer of 2012, we may have part of our answer.  If the plants those caterpillars were feeding on wilted in the drought, the caterpillars would not have been able to complete their life cycles.   Not all species were affected equally, as some butterflies were not in the larval stage during the drought, or the plants the larvae were feeding on may not have been as badly affected as others.

In addition, the high numbers of butterflies in 2012 would have been a boon to predators and parasitoids.  Good times for them spells bad times for their prey, and this might have helped to drive down butterfly numbers in 2013.  Boom/Bust cycles like this are not unusual in the butterfly world.

The weather didn't help much either.  The winter of 2012-2013 was a bit harsher than what we've seen in recent years, but it was probably about average in historical terms.  There seemed to have been a lot of stormy weather in the US, which might have had an adverse effect on the migrant species.  The weather around Ottawa in the spring of 2013 was less than ideal for our local species.

Taken together, all these different factors made for the proverbial "death by a thousand cuts".  But it wasn't a complete disaster on all fronts.  Some species turned up in reasonable numbers and several of the sedge skippers seemed to do fairly well.  The Two-spotted Skipper, something of a rarity in many parts of the province ( including Ottawa ), saw a rise in the number of sightings reported. Good numbers of Hairstreaks were reported in some places as well.  Reasonable rainfall levels saw vegetation recover as the summer wore on, and some butterfly populations bounced back in response.  As long as we have reasonable weather over the coming winter and spring ( not too cold, and not too wet ), I think we can look forward to a good butterfly season in 2014.  Naturally, the number of migrants we see will be dependent on conditions further south.


Here is a list of my 2013 “first of year” sightings for each species, listed taxonomically:

Skippers ( Hesperiidae )

  • Silver-spotted Skipper    June 9 - Constance Bay, ON
  • Southern Cloudywing      June 20 - Windsor, ON ( LIFER )
  • Northern Cloudywing      June 8  - Nepean, ON
  • Dreamy Duskywing     June 9 - Constance Bay, ON
  • Juvenal's Duskywing        May 8 - Luskville, QC 
  • Mottled Duskywing          June 19 - Marmora, ON 
  • Columbine Duskywing     June 9 - Constance Bay, ON
  • Wild Indigo Duskywing    July 25 - Cambridge, ON
  • Common Checkered Skipper   September 14 - Kingsville, ON 
  • Common Sootywing       July 25 - Brantford, ON
  • Arctic Skipper               June 9 - Ottawa, ON
  • Least Skipper                June 19 - Toronto, ON 
  • European Skipper          June 20 - Windsor, ON
  • Fiery Skipper                September 14 - Leamington, ON
  • Common Branded Skipper    August 23 - Algonquin PP, ON  ( LIFER )
  • Leonard's Skipper          August 15 - Ottawa, ON
  • Indian Skipper               June 8 - Nepean, ON
  • Peck's Skipper            June 20 - Windsor, ON 
  • Tawny-edged Skipper    June 8 - Nepean, ON
  • Crossline Skipper    June 26 - Shorthills PP, ON
  • Long Dash Skipper    June 18 - Kanata, ON
  • Northern Broken-Dash    June 26 - Shorthills PP, ON
  • Little Glassywing    July 20 - Windsor, ON
  • Delaware Skipper    June 25 - Shorthills PP, ON
  • Mulberry Wing            June 30 - Limoges, ON
  • Hobomok Skipper    June 10 - Portage-du-Fort, QC
  • Broad-winged Skipper    July 5 - Limoges, ON 
  • Dion Skipper            July 6 - Perth, ON 
  • Black Dash                    July 26 - Crief, ON
  • Two-spotted Skipper    July 27 - Havelock, ON
  • Dun Skipper            July 13 - Manion Corners, ON 
  • Dusted Skipper            June 22 - The Pinery PP, ON
  • Common Roadside Skipper   June 22 - The Pinery PP, ON

Swallowtails ( Papilionidae )

  • Black Swallowtail           May 7 - Burnt Lands PP, ON
  • Short-tailed Swallowtail       August 1 - Gaspesie NP, QC ( LIFER )
  • Giant Swallowtail           June 12 - North Gower, ON
  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail      June 20 - Windsor, ON 
  • Canadian Tiger Swallowtail   June 9 - Ottawa, ON  
  • Spicebush Swallowtail           June 20 - Windsor, ON 

Whites and Sulphurs ( Pieridae )

  • Mustard White            May 5 - Nepean, ON
  • West Virginia White    May 3 - Milton, ON
  • Cabbage White            March 30 - Point Abino, ON 
  • Olympia Marble            May 6 - Constance Bay, ON  
  • Clouded Sulphur            May 17 - Ottawa, ON 
  • Orange Sulphur              June 21 - Point Pelee NP, ON
  • Pink-edged Sulphur   June 27 - Havelock, ON 

Gossamer-winged Butterflies ( Lycaenidae )

  • Harvester                    July 9 - Manion Corners, ON 
  • American Copper           June 14 - Saint-Louis-de-Marsham, QC
  • Bronze Copper            June 23 - Cambridge, ON
  • Bog Copper            June 27 - Havelock, ON
  • Salt Marsh Copper          August 3 - Forillon NP, QC ( LIFER )
  • Acadian Hairstreak    June 26 - Wainfleet, ON
  • Coral Hairstreak            July 10 - Manion Corners, ON 
  • Edwards' Hairstreak       July 6 - Arden, ON 
  • Banded Hairstreak    July 6 - Arden, ON
  • Striped Hairstreak    July 5 - Limoges, ON
  • Juniper Hairstreak    June 14 - Eardley, QC
  • Brown Elfin            May 1 - Wainfleet, ON
  • Hoary Elfin                    May 6 - Constance Bay, ON
  • Henry's Elfin            May 5 - Nepean, ON 
  • Eastern Pine Elfin    May 6 - Constance Bay, ON
  • Gray Hairstreak             September 14 - Point Pelee NP, ON
  • Early Hairstreak            May 18 - Wilno, ON
  • Eastern Tailed-Blue    May 20 - Kanata, ON 
  • Northern Spring Azure    May 3 -  Milton, ON
  • Summer Azure            June 19 - Marmora, ON
  • Silvery Blue            May 17 - Ottawa, ON
  • Northern Blue               July 31 - Gaspesie NP, QC ( LIFER )

Brush-footed Butterflies ( Nymphalidae )

  • Variegated Fritillary      September 11 - Almonte,ON 
  • Great Spangled Fritillary  June 20 - Windsor, ON 
  • Aphrodite Fritillary      July 10 - Manion Corners, ON
  • Atlantis Fritillary              July 1 - Wilno, ON
  • Bog Fritillary              June 14 - Saint-Louis-de-Marsham, QC
  • Silver-bordered Fritillary  June 12 - North Gower, ON
  • Meadow Fritillary       July 9 - Manion Corners, ON  
  • Arctic Fritillary                 July 31 - Gaspesie NP  ( LIFER ), QC
  • Silvery Checkerspot       June 10 - Portage-du-Fort, QC
  • Harris's Checkerspot      June 14 - Luskville, QC
  • Pearl Crescent              June 22 - The Pinery PP, ON
  • Northern Crescent      June 9 - Ottawa, ON
  • Tawny Crescent              June 8 - Nepean, ON
  • Baltimore Checkerspot  June 14 - Luskville, QC
  • Question Mark             June 20 - Windsor, ON 
  • Eastern Comma             May 1 - Wainfleet, ON 
  • Green Comma             July 30 - Rimouski, QC  
  • Grey Comma             April 22 - Manion Corners, ON
  • Compton Tortoiseshell  May 4 - Gatineau Park, QC
  • Mourning Cloak             April 8 - Dunrobin, ON 
  • American Lady             June 9 - Nepean, ON 
  • Painted Lady             September 17 - James N. Allan PP, ON 
  • Red Admiral             June 24 - Niagara Falls, ON
  • Common Buckeye     September 14 - Leamington, ON 
  • White Admiral             June 9 - Ottawa, ON 
  • Red-Spotted Purple     June 20 - Windsor, ON 
  • Viceroy                     June 8 - Nepean, ON 
  • Hackberry Emperor     June 30 - Orleans, ON
  • Tawny Emperor             July 25 - Cambridge, ON
  • Northern Pearly-Eye     June 25 - St Catharines, ON  
  • Eyed Brown             June 23 - Cambridge, ON 
  • Appalachian Brown     June 26 - Wainfleet, ON
  • Little Wood-Satyr     June 8 - Nepean, ON
  • Common Ringlet             June 8 - Nepean, ON
  • Maritime Ringlet             August 6 - Saint-Omer, QC ( LIFER )
  • Common Wood-Nymph  June 27 - Luskville Falls, QC
  • Monarch                      June 18 - Kanata, ON