Recognized as one of three hot spots in Canada for butterflying, Manitoba is a paradise for the winged beauties because of our rich tapestry of ecosystems. Grasslands, boreal forests, mixed woodlands, forest-tundra and arctic tundra are ideal habitats preferred by up to 150 species throughout the months of May to September.
Butterfly expert and author of Manitoba Butterflies: A Field Guide Simone Hébert Allard leads us on a summer field trip through her favourite local haunts. No nets needed-just patience, a trusty guidebook to identify your colourful friends, and a camera to capture the moment.
Where to spot butterflies
With an abundance of larval food plant for caterpillars and then nectar plants for adults, southern Manitoba’s tall grass prairie is a paradise for butterflies. At the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve near Tolstoi, 1 hour south of Winnipeg, catch a glimpse of up to 20 species on a summer day, including the Black Swallowtail, Silver-spotted Skipper or Milbert’s Tortoiseshell. In Winnipeg, pockets of preserved tall grass and vibrant butterfly populations are found at the Living Prairie Museum, as well as along Omand’s Creek Greenway, an urban oasis for wildlife that meanders through Winnipeg’s West End.
Boreal forests that dominate Whiteshell Provincial Park along the eastern Manitoba-Ontario border are alive with majestic yellow and black Canadian Tiger Swallowtails, Manitoba’s second-largest butterfly, and the Grey Comma, with its bark-like check-marked underside.
Marshes and bogs in Riding Mountain National Park, 3 hours northwest of Winnipeg, are where you want to be to spot Coppers. The purplish metallic sheen of the male Dorcas Copper is striking, along with the larger Bronze Copper sporting a showy orange band along its lower hindwings.
Churchill is a springboard into the Arctic tundra where Frigga, Freija and Polaris fritillaries frolic alongside greenish-yellow Labrador Sulphurs. Some butterflies found in the extreme north of the province, such as the Arctic Blue, actually have furry bodies to keep them warm.
The sandy soil is a reminder of the ancient beaches, but the 3000 sq km area of Sandilands Provincial Forest is now covered with a rich forest of mixed hardwoods and majestic pine. Sand ridges known as Bedford Hills and Cypress Mountains are the second highest point of elevation in Manitoba.
The Shirley Richardson Butterfly Garden at the Assiniboine Park Zoo is a seasonal exhibit stocked each spring with native butterfly species including Monarchs and Painted Ladies. Sub-tropical species are introduced later in the summer.