Among the many butterfly species found in K-Country, one group stands out. The Crescent butterflies include the Northern Crescent (Phyciodes cocyta), Field Crescent (Phyciodes campestris), and far less common Tawny Crescent (Phyciodes batesii).
Three of a kind
The Northern Crescent butterfly is perhaps the most commonly observed Crescent butterfly in K-Country. It is a medium-sized butterfly with reddish-brown upper wings marked with black spots and white markings. The underside of its hindwings features a distinct crescent-shaped orange band. If you can see it, it helps to distinguish it from other similar-looking species. The Northern Crescent butterfly is typically found in forested areas and meadows in the boreal and montane regions of the Rockies. It feeds on a variety of flowering plants such as thistles, asters, and goldenrod.
The Field Crescent butterfly is similar in appearance to the Northern Crescent butterfly, but has a more curved or wavy orange band on the underside of its wings that extends across both the forewings and hindwings. The Field Crescent butterfly is typically found in open grasslands and meadows. It feeds on a variety of plants such as milkweeds, asters, and clovers.
The Tawny Crescent butterfly is the least common of the Crescent butterflies. It is a small to medium-sized butterfly with reddish-brown upper wings marked with black spots and orange-brown markings. The underside of its hindwings features a row of crescent-shaped orange spots. The Tawny Crescent butterfly is typically found in the dry grasslands and meadows of eastern K-Country. Here, it feeds on a variety of flowering plants such as rabbitbrush, thistles, and asters.
The three Crescent species are very similar and difficult to tell apart, hence we’re lumping them together. They all share a curved back upper forewing, spots on the hindwing, and intricate orange, brown and black markings on top. There are notable differences on the undersides of their wings. However, they sit with wings flat, making seeing the underside difficult.
All three species of Crescent butterflies found in Kananaskis Country have a similar life cycle. This involves mating, egg-laying, caterpillar development, and pupation. All overwinter in an adult stage, but are inactive. During the winter, they go through a process called diapause, which is a period of suspended development.
During diapause, the adult butterflies hide in sheltered locations such as under bark or inside tree cavities. Here, they remain inactive and conserve their energy until the warmer weather returns. The butterflies’ metabolism slows down during this period. They can survive for several months without food or water. When the weather begins to warm up in the spring, the butterflies emerge from diapause and become active again. They are not the most common early spring butterflies seen; that title goes to Mourning Cloaks and Milbert’s Tortoiseshells.
The now-active adult butterflies typically mate in the summer months. The females lay their eggs on host plants such as asters, milkweeds, and thistles. The caterpillars hatch from the eggs and feed on the leaves of the host plant. They eventually pupate and emerge as adult butterflies in time for their winter diapause, starting the cycle again.
Meet some of the other cool butterflies of K-Country here.