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Manitoba Museum

Butterflies and Moths (Lepidoptera)

Gossamer-winged Butterflies


This family of butterflies includes the Harvesters, Coppers, Hairstreaks, and Blues. There are 63 species in Canada, many of which are rare. Their common name comes from the delicate and shimmery appearance of their wings. Hairstreaks are known for their thin-tailed hindwings. The larvae of many species feed on plants, often preferring flowers and seeds. Others may be parasitic, predatory, carnivorous, or have mutualisms with ants.

Representative Genera and Species:

Satyrium semiluna, S. titus

Pollinator Life Cycle:

Eggs are usually laid in summer and hatch the following spring. Most species hibernate over winter as eggs, pupa, or partly grown larvae. Some species are associated with ants. These larvae have a gland on their abdomens that secretes a sweet fluid. The ants “milk” this gland to extract the fluid, and in return offer protection from predators.

Rarity Status:

Most species on the Canadian prairies that have been assessed are not rare. Satyrium semiluna is protected under Canada’s Species at Risk Act, and in Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park under the Canada National Parks Act.

Physical Appearance:

Adults in this family are usually under 5 cm, with banded antennae. Their coloration varies from bright colours to shades of brown or copper, and they sometimes have a metallic sheen. Some have thin tails on their hindwings. Their forelegs are characteristically small and lack claws in males, but are fully developed in females. Larvae are slug-shaped, usually green, and covered with hair.

Pollinator Habitat:

These butterflies live in a wide range of terrestrial habitats, and are often found in association with their food plants.

Canadian Distribution:

  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Manitoba
  • New Brunswick
  • Newfoundland/Labrador
  • Northwest Territories
  • Nova Scotia
  • Nunavut
  • Ontario
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan
  • Yukon

Prairie Types:

  • Fescue Prairie
  • Mixed Grass Prairie
  • Tall Grass Prairie
Gossamer-winged Butterflies