Common Ringlet (Coenonympha tullia) (Müller, 1764)

Diagnosis: The Common Ringlet is highly variable in colour and in the number of eye-spots, between and within subspecies and even local populations. The most widespread subspecies, inornata, varies from light buff to orange brown to greyish brown above, with the hindwings and the outer half of the forewings often darker than the basal part of the forewings. Usually there are no upperside markings, just occasionally a single faint ring near the forewing apex. On the underside the basal half of the forewing is the same colour as the upperside and the basal half of the hindwing is dark grey. The outer half of both wings is light grey, and both wings are divided by an irregular pale band. About 60 per cent of specimens have a distinct pale-bordered black spot with a silver pupil near the forewing apex. Other subspecies are characterized below by comparison with subspecies inornata. Wingspan: 27 to 39 mm.

Subspecies: Up to 20 subspecies are recognized in North America, and more, including the nominate C. tullia tullia, in Eurasia; some have been previously considered to be distinct species. In Canada, we recognize seven subspecies. Subspecies inornata flies in most of eastern Canada west to at least northern Manitoba; mcisaaci, from Newfoundland, is darker grey brown and lacks hindwing ocelli; benjamini, from the Prairies to eastern and east-central British Columbia, is bright ochre with a prominent ocellus on the forewing beneath; mackenziei, from Nunavut, the southern Northwest Territories and northern Alberta, is pale ochre with white fringes; kodiak, from Yukon and western Northwest Territories, is dull brownish yellow, usually with no ocelli; columbiana, from southern British Columbia, is yellowish-buff in both sexes (like females of inornata), usually with no ocelli; and insulana, from Vancouver Island, is like columbiana but with a greenish-grey underside.

Range: Coenonympha tullia is found throughout northern Europe and Asia and from coast to coast in the northern U.S. and Canada. Its range extends much farther north and south in the west, stretching from California to Alaska. In Canada it is absent from Nova Scotia, rare in Prince Edward Island, and has been expanding southward for some years into southern Ontario, now reaching as far as Elgin, Elgin County, and eastward in New Brunswick to the Atlantic coast. It occurs northward along the shores of Hudson Bay to Inukjuak (Port Harrison), Quebec, and to Tuktoyuktuk, Northwest Territories, near the Arctic Ocean.


Specimen collection data


Similar Species: The Maritime Ringlet (C. nipisiquit). [compare images]

Early Stages: The larvae are green, olive, or brown, with a dark dorsal stripe and alternating dark and light lateral stripes. There are two short pink tails, and the head is tan or green. They feed on many species of grasses, including Blue Grass (Poa pratensis) and needle grass (Stipa spp.), and usually over winter in the third or fourth instar in thick mats of dead grass.

Abundance: This species is common to abundant over most of the range, less so in the northeast.

Flight Season: Most subspecies have one generation per year and fly from late May to early July (late July in the north). Subspecies inornata, in southern Ontario and Quebec, has a partial second generation from mid-August to mid-September.

Habits: The Common Ringlet flies in a wide variety of grassy habitats, including roadsides, woodland edges and clearings, prairies, bogs, and arctic and alpine taiga and tundra.

Remarks: The supposed subspecies "heinemanni" was described from Grindstone Island, in the St. Lawrence River between Ontario and New York State. It was described as a subspecies of nipisiquit, primarily because of the late summer flight period, but also because of its dark colour and the fact that the type series was collected in a marsh. For some years August specimens in eastern Ontario were considered to be Coenonympha nipisiquit heinemanni, but it was later proved that they were just a partial second generation of subspecies inornata; some larvae from Northumberland and Peterborough Counties in southern Ontario went into diapause in the third or fourth instar, but others completed their development the same year, laying eggs that produced larvae that overwintered in the second instar. Other larvae from near Cochrane in northern Ontario all went into diapause in the third instar and emerged in June of the following year (Eberlie, 1990).

© 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.