Butterflies and moths are in the order Lepidoptera. These are the familiar beautiful insects that we readily welcome to our gardens. Besides being beautiful to look at, they are important pollinators.
See Moth Gallery
With its varied habitats and ease of access, High Park is an excellent place to observe butterflies within the heart of the city. A total of 81 species are known to have occurred in High Park: at least 69 species have been found here in recent years, and another 12 were recorded historically but are no longer present. Of the total, about 44 species currently breed here annually, at least 8 have bred occasionally, and possibly another 3 species have bred at least once since the mid-1990s. See list (as of Oct/2015).
High Park lies at the easternmost edge of the Carolinian Zone. The recently restored black oak savannah, lush with wild lupines, woodland sunflowers and prairie grasses, provides nectar for adult butterflies and host plants for their caterpillars. Several species of small grass-skippers occur here, including Delaware and Crossline Skippers. It is also home to larger showy species such as Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and the rarer Spicebush Swallowtail. The latter is at the northern limit of its range in High Park and uses the abundant sassafras, a more southern tree species, as its host.
Oaks, the signature trees of High Park, are the food plants for the tiny and occasionally numerous Banded Hairstreak and, until recently, Edwards’ Hairstreak. This species, local within its range, may one day return as young oaks continue to regenerate.
Northern Cloudywing and Eastern Tailed-Blue, both common throughout the park, lay their eggs on native tick trefoils. Silvery Checkerspot has been seen on rare occasions. Its caterpillars feed on composites such as woodland sunflower. Two relatively recent additions to the park’s butterfly fauna, Silvery Blue and Wild Indigo Duskywing, arrived after range extensions following the spread of their adopted host plants, cow vetch and crown vetch.
There have been rare sightings of Bronze Copper, Broad-winged Skipper and Black Dash, all wetland species, along the re-vegetated shores of Grenadier Pond.
During late summer and fall the ornamental gardens of High Park are a magnet for butterflies, especially after nectar sources in the wild have disappeared. Migrating Monarchs, Red Admirals, American Ladies and Question Marks are more easily observed at this time, especially when on butterfly bush gorging themselves with nectar!
In warmer years Fiery Skippers, and sometimes other southern rarities, arrive in High Park after crossing Lake Ontario – look for them in flower beds.
Adapted from Butterflies of Toronto, City of Toronto, 2011
See also: Butter Flying Time on the High Park Nature Centre blog.
Ask at your local Toronto Public Library for this free guidebook on the butterflies of Toronto. View book here
Butterfly Count - Results of Toronto Centre Butterfly Count, High Park Route
Improvements for Wildlife: Butterflies - Progress of the natural restoration of High Park
Where Fires Dance - Illustrated children's book tells the story of an Edwards' Hairstreak butterfly in a black oak savannah - see website
Karner Blue - see Nature Conservancy article, also wild lupine article and ON Magazine article
Assessing Wild Lupine Habitat in Ontario, Canada, for the Feasibility of Reintroduction of the Karner Blue Butterfly Masters Thesis by Jesse Jarvis, Dec. 2014
Lepsnap - App for identifying butterflies and moths