Of the 158 species of butterflies found throughout southern British Columbia, Washington, northern Idaho, and northern Oregon, only one was not included the exhaustive research resulting in David James and David Nunnallee’s Life Histories of Cascadia Butterflies. According to James, the Melissa Arctic is found in the mountains above 7000-8000 feet, “but we never found it.”

The Melissa Arctic is described in Robert Pyle’s Butterflies of Cascadia on page 360.


Melissa Arctic

Oeneis melissa (Fabricius, 1775)

The upperside is dull blackish grey, translucent, more so on the forewing, so that the light underside markings show through. There are usually no eye-spots (occasionally a small faint one on the forewing underside). The hindwing underside is heavily mottled with black and pale grey with a little more black in the medial band, but the band is usually only slightly darker than the outer third of the wing and often barely darker than the basal third. Wingspan: 34 to 50 mm.

Early Stages: The variable larvae range in colour from reddish brown to dusky green, with blackish, brown, and greenish stripes. The head is brown with six blackish stripes. The foodplants are sedges (Carex bigelowii and C. rupestris), although the larvae will eat grasses and sedges in captivity (Scott, 1986).

Habits: This butterfly is usually seen in dry arctic and alpine tundra, most often on gravelly ridges in the lowlands, and on rocky ridges and scree slopes in the mountains. Males perch on rocks and investigate any butterfly that comes close.

Flight Season: Oeneis melissa flies from mid-June to early August. It is biennial, but flies every year in most areas.


Read more about Northwest butterflies inLife Histories: The Butterflies of Cascadia.