Melissa Blue (Lycaeides melissa) (W.H. Edwards, 1873)

Diagnosis: Males are pale lilac blue above with narrow black margins. Females are dark brown with a more or less continuous row of orange spots near the hindwing margin. The underside is pale grey, with a marginal row of black spots with blue centres, capped with orange and black; there is a thin black line between these spots and the hindwing margin. Wingspan: 18 to 28 mm.

Subspecies: There are five subspecies, of which two occur in Canada. The nominate subspecies melissa is found throughout the west, and subspecies samuelis (known as the Karner Blue) is, or was, found in southwestern Ontario.

Range: Lycaeides melissa occurs in most of the western U.S., the Prairie Provinces north to Porcupine Provincial Forest, Manitoba and Valleyfield, Alberta, in southern British Columbia, and in a narrow band just south of the U.S. border that reaches all the way to the east coast and into extreme southwestern Ontario.

Specimen collection data

Similar Species: The Northern Blue (L. idas). The two species fly together only in the west. [compare images]

Early Stages: The eggs are usually laid on the lower part of the stem or in leaf litter at the base of the plant. Larvae eat leaves and flowers, and are attended by ants. They are green, with a darker green dorsal stripe and pale lateral stripe, and are covered with short hairs. The food plants are Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) for subspecies samuelis and several Lupinus species, and other Fabaceae, including some non-native species, for subspecies melissa. In the east they hibernate as an egg or a newly emerged larva.

Abundance: Very rare and local in southwestern Ontario, probably now extirpated. Uncommon in Manitoba, common in southern Saskatchewan and farther west. Studies are under way on the feasibility of reintroducing subspecies samuelis into Pinery Provincial Park, Ontario.

Flight Season: Lycaeides melissa is on the wing from mid-May to early October on the Prairies, with two generations and an occasional rare third one, and from early June to mid-August in Ontario, with two generations per year.

Habitats: In the west, melissa is found in open virgin prairies and sagebrush, occasionally in dry woods edges and clearings, but in the east it is (was) confined to dry, sandy pine barrens.

Remarks: In most of its eastern range, Lycaeides melissa samuelis, known as the Karner Blue, is endangered or extirpated. The lupines on which it depends have largely disappeared and the butterfly has not been seen in southwestern Ontario since 1991. Other colonies at London and Toronto disappeared many years ago.

© 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.