Hoary Elfin (Callophrys polia) (Cook & Watson, 1907)

Diagnosis: This diminutive (wingspan: 19 to 26 mm) tailless elfin is brown above and below. It is best recognized by the band of frosted-grey colour on the underside of both wings along the margin.

Subspecies: The eastern population is the nominate subspecies, which is rufous brown above. Subspecies obscura, which has more grey on the upper surface, occurs from western Manitoba westward.

Range: This species has a similar Canadian distribution to the Brown Elfin (C. augustinus), but is not as widespread from east to west. It ranges from southern Nova Scotia (there are no records for Newfoundland or Prince Edward Island), through southern Quebec and Ontario (an isolated record from Kuujjuarapik [Great Whale River], Quebec), north to Churchill, Manitoba, and from there west to Great Slave Lake and north to Yukon and Alaska. It has not been recorded from western British Columbia. In the U.S. it is found south in the mountains to Virginia and New Mexico.

Similar Species: Henry's Elfin (C. henrici) and the Frosted Elfin (C. irus) have hoary shading on the hindwing below, but they have stubby tails on the hindwings. [compare images]

Early Stages: The bright green larvae have lighter green lines down the back and sides, with oblique marks of the same colour on the flanks. Although usually recorded in Canada as feeding only on Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), polia has been found at several sites in New Brunswick in association with Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens) in the absence of Bearberry. In 1993, eggs were found and larvae were successfully raised on Trailing Arbutus, eating the flowers and developing seeds (Reginald Webster, pers. comm.)

Abundance: The Hoary Elfin is generally quite localized to the food plant but can be fairly common in certain locations. It is the most common elfin in Manitoba (Klassen et al., 1989).

Flight Season: This butterfly flies only for a period of a few weeks in most locations, starting in April in British Columbia, but is most commonly seen in May and early June in most of its range.

Habits: Adults are found in the vicinity of its foodplants, usually near bogs, barrens, and dry woods edges. They often nectar on the bearberry flowers or sip moisture from wet spots on the ground.

Remarks: We have often found this butterfly by first noting locations where the foodplant grows and then returning in May to look for adults. In the Ottawa area it was originally thought to be rare, but many more colonies were subsequently discovered using this approach.

It may well be more widespread in northern Quebec and Ontario, but the few collectors who visit this area rarely do so early enough for this species.

© 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.