Brown Elfin (Callophrys augustinus) (Westwood, 1852)

Diagnosis: This most widespread of Canadian elfins is small (wingspan: 19 to 26 mm), with a plain grey-brown upperside in the male, slightly more orange in the female. The underside is sharply divided between a distinctive pale chestnut brown on the outer half and a dark brown on the basal half; there is a row of small black spots in the middle of the lighter area.

Subspecies: There are three Canadian subspecies. The nominate subspecies augustinus is found in most of eastern Canada west to Alberta; subspecies iroides occurs in western Canada; and subspecies helenae, named from southwestern Newfoundland, with slightly more contrast between light and dark areas on the underside, is found in Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Recently, specimens of augustinus from the Avalon Peninsula in southeastern Newfoundland were found to have extreme contrast between light and dark areas, creating a banded appearance, more like Callophrys mossii than augustinus. Either subspecies helenae was inadequately described, or there is another distinct subspecies in southeastern Newfoundland.

Range: Typically a butterfly of the Canadian Boreal Zone, the Brown Elfin is found from Vancouver Island to the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland. Its range extends southward in the mountainous areas of the eastern and western U.S. It flies throughout the boreal forest from Goose Bay, Labrador, and James Bay in Ontario and Quebec, to treeline in the Mackenzie River Valley and at Eagle River on the Dempster Highway in northern Yukon, and in southern Canada wherever soil conditions permit the foodplants to grow.


Specimen collection data

Similar Species: The two most similar elfins in Canada, Moss's Elfin (C. mossii) and the Hoary Elfin (C. polia) have some hoary grey shading in the pale outer half of the hindwing below. [compare images]

Early Stages: The larva is olive green to yellow green, with a yellow line down the back and oblique lines on the sides. It feeds on the flowers, fruits, and leaves of a wide variety of plants, mainly Ericaceae, including blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata), and Labrador Tea (Ledum groenlandicum).

Abundance: The Brown Elfin tends to be locally common and is the most often encountered elfin in most of Canada.

Flight Season: The Brown Elfin is on the wing from early May to mid-June in most of its eastern range. In the west and north it is somewhat later, from mid-May to late June. Subspecies iroides in British Columbia is recorded from March to June.

Habits: It is found almost anywhere in Canada where acidic soils predominate, including bogs, barrens, and conifer woods where the larval foodplants occur. They often fly in company with other elfms and like to sip moisture from wet sand and earth.

Remarks: This interesting little butterfly was named after a Canadian Inuit who was called Augustus by the members of the nineteenth-century John Franklin expedition. John Richardson, the naturalist on the Franklin Arctic Expedition, honoured Augustus for his devoted duty to the expedition members.

The author of the name augustinus is Westwood. Ferris (1989:30) correctly pointed out that the species name augustus (W. Kirby, 1837) had to be replaced by augustinus (Westwood, 1852). Unfortunately, in the checklist, Ferris accidentally listed the author of augustinus as Kirby, 1873 (Ferris, 1989:82), and many works since have repeated the error in author and year.

© 2002. This material is reproduced with permission from The Butterflies of Canada by Ross A. Layberry, Peter W. Hall, and J. Donald Lafontaine. University of Toronto Press; 1998. Specimen photos courtesy of John T. Fowler.