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, some are also important pollinators.
High Park Butterfly List (as of June 2018)
With its varied habitats and ease of access, High Park is an excellent place to observe butterflies within the heart of the city. Nearly 83 species, close to half the Ontario list, have occurred here. At least 70 species have been found in the park in recent years. More than 40 species breed annually and another dozen or so have bred on occasion since the mid-1990s. Another 13 species were recorded in the park historically but are no longer present.
High Park lies at the northeasternmost 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 breed 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 Carolinian tree species, as its host.
Oaks, the signature trees of High Park, are the larval host plants for the tiny and occasionally numerous Banded Hairstreak (and until recently, Edwards’ Hairstreak which disappeared from the park in the mid-1990s). Juvenal’s Duskywing also uses oaks as a host plant. 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.
Both Silvery Blue and Wild Indigo Duskywing arrived in the park in the late 1990s during range extensions following the spread of their adopted host plants, cow vetch and crown vetch respectively. The latter species also uses wild lupine as a larval host.
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 while gorging themselves with nectar on ornamentals such as butterfly bush!
In warmer years Fiery Skippers, and sometimes other southern rarities, arrive in High Park in late summer and early fall – look for them in flower beds.
Adapted from Butterflies of Toronto, City of Toronto, 2011
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