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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Compton Tortoiseshell Butterfly

A frosty morning
Temperature 8:00 a.m. -5C (23F)


Compton Tortoiseshell
Nymphalis vaualbum


I posted a series of photos yesterday that included this amazing butterfly (seen on October 13th). At the time I hadn't identified the butterfly as a Compton Tortoiseshell, and I am most grateful to Christy for providing me with a name and some fascinating facts at Butterflies and Moths of North America.


  • This butterfly is one of the Brush-footed Butterflies (their two front legs are very short with brush-like appendages that act like a second pair of antennae)
  • The adults fly from July-November before hibernating
  • Habitat: Upland deciduous or coniferous forests
  • Range: Southeast Alaska, across Canada south of the tundra, across Northern United States to New England, south to North Carolina and Missouri
I understand now why the Compton Tortoiseshell was flying in and out of the garage and woodshed and checking under the eaves. It was seeking shelter and possibly a place to hibernate. As to its sudden appearance in our yard one day, my husband's guess is that this butterfly flew in on the wind. He saw the butterfly again yesterday warming itself in the afternoon sun. It could have been the same Compton Tortoiseshell I saw or a different one.

I'm always curious as to how species get their names. Compton is a town in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. While studying the life history of this butterfly in the mid-nineteenth century, the English naturalist, Phillip Henry Gosse lived in this town and gave the butterfly its common name. source: Butterflies of Canada

We'll continue to watch for the Compton Tortoiseshell Butterfly in the cool days ahead.