What Is That … a Butterfly or a Moth?


When it is -30C outside, like this morning, it is comforting to think about the warm weather at the cottage, and the beasties we enjoy so much.

After a morning of kayaking, canoeing and walking, we often find ourselves on the lakeside deck enjoying late-morning tea or early-day wine.  As we watch insects flitting around, the question often arises … “what is that … a butterfly or a moth?”.  Out comes the camera, and after 100s, if not 1000s, of snaps we have a few pictures that are useful and perhaps even illustrative.  (We love our digital cameras.)  At first glance, all those small, brownish butterflies and moths look alike.

skipper1 tawny.jpg
One of the first to catch our attention was the tawny-edged skipper butterfly.  In this picture, you can clearly see the club-ended antennae which hook backwards like a crochet hook and which are characteristic of the skipper family.  This differentiates them from other butterflies.  Although somewhat moth-like it is definitely not a moth.  It mates in June and flies throughout the summer at White Lake.

Skippers are named for their quick, darting flying style.   So far, we have identified and photographed five different species of skipper at the lake including the European skipper, the dun skipper, the northern broken-dash skipper, and the silver-spotted skipper.

skipper2 europ.jpg skipper3 silver.jpg

The best source of information we have found for identifying butterflies, is Rick Cavasin’s website at www.ontariobutterflies.ca .  Rick has also produced an excellent portable field guide to southern and eastern Ontario butterflies.  His guide has been invaluable to us.

An example of moths we originally thought were butterflies is the haploa moth of which there are several species.  The first hint that these beauties are moths is the way they quietly sit on a leaf or window, waiting patiently for one of us to focus and snap that perfect picture.  (Probably not perfect.)  Another hint is their feathery antennae.  This picture is of the neighbour moth (haploa contigua), one we think is as striking and beautiful as any butterfly.

Haploa1 neighbour.jpg

The other haploa we have managed to photograph at the lake is the confused haploa. It is just as beautiful.

Haploa2 confused.jpg

Our favourite site for help identifying moths (we really need help) is www.Bugguide.net.  This site was developed and is managed by the Iowa State University department of entomology.  The volunteers who help with insect identification there are wonderfully helpful and knowledgeable.

Once we started paying attention to the moths and butterflies flitting around the cottage, we realized the types and members are continually in flux.  This makes observing and identifying moths and butterflies during our stay at the lake continuously interesting and challenging.