Commonly Seen Butterflies

Here is an illustrated checklist for those not yet interested in using formal butterfly guides or participating in a butterfly count. BEWARE: butterflies can be very distracting on nature walks.

Descriptions provided with the photos are when the butterfly is still, usually feeding on a blossom.


The orange and black one we all notice immediately


Smaller and less common than a Monarch

Black/Tiger Swallowtails

Large with a swallow tail

Small White (Cabbage White)

Everywhere, once you start noticing them

Clouded Sulphur

About the same size as Small Whites

Mourning Cloak

One of the early arrivals. Dark brown with white trim

Red Admiral

Another early arrival. Dark brown-black with large white spots and orange patches

Eastern Comma

Orange with black patches, white comma on underside

Red-spotted Purple

Unmissable with wings open. Iridescent purple with a few small red spots

Northern Crescent

Lacey pattern in dark brown on orange

European Skipper (Essex Skipper)

Small orange to brown with forewings usually held at an angle to hind wings – by far the most common

Sliver-spotted Skipper

A dull skipper with a large silver patch on underside – larger than most skippers

Want More?

To be more confident of your observations, a field guide helps with additional and similar species.

“A Pocket Guide to Butterflies of Southern & Eastern Ontario” by Rick Cavasin

“Photo Field Guide to the Butterflies of Southern Ontario” by Ian Carmichael and Ann Vance

For a deeper dive, consider:

“The ROM Field Guide To Butterflies of Ontario” by Peter W. Hall and others, available from The Royal Ontario Museum and Amazon.