Northern Crescent (Phyciodes cocyta) (Cramer, 1777)

Diagnosis: Very similar to the preceding species, this small (wingspan: 25 to 35 mm) butterfly has only recently been recognized as a separate species. It is bright orange with broad black borders on the upperside. It is best identified by the broad, open orange areas on the hindwings. The female is larger, with more extensive black markings, and is frequently confused with the Pearl Crescent (tharos) and the Tawny Crescent (batesii). The antennal club is orange underneath and has an orange tip.

Subspecies: Smaller specimens from northern populations have been called arcticus and larger specimens from southern British Columbia have been called pascoensis, but there is so much variation that we do not recognize any subspecies of cocyta in Canada.

Range: More northern than the Pearl Crescent, this butterfly ranges from the northeastern U.S. westward across Canada to Vancouver Island. It reaches far up into the north to Sawbill River, Labrador, Inukjuak (Port Harrison), Quebec, Churchill, Manitoba, Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories, and the Ogilvie River, Yukon.

Specimen collection data

Similar Species: The recently separated Pearl Crescent has black lines in the open orange areas on the hindwing upperside, and usually has black and white antennal clubs in eastern Canada. The Tawny Crescent (P. batesii) has more extensive black markings on the upperside and the antennal clubs are black and white. [compare images]

Early Stages: The larva is similar to that of the Pearl Crescent, except that the branching spines are lighter brown or a pinkish grey. It feeds on asters, including Small Blue Aster (Aster simplex) in Manitoba (Klassen et al., 1989).

Abundance: This is one of the commonest butterflies throughout its Canadian range.

Flight Season: In most areas Phyciodes cocyta flies from mid-June to mid-July, in between the first and second flights of the Pearl Crescent (tharos). There is a partial second brood of cocyta in early September.

Habits: The Northern Crescent has a wide variety of habitat preferences from abandoned city lots to mountain meadows, practically anywhere that asters grow. It tends to prefer more lush, moist meadows than does the Pearl Crescent (tharos). It is regularly seen mud-puddling in large numbers. Phyciodes cocyta is usually easy to distinguish on the wing from similar orange and black butterflies by its characteristic flap-glide flight.

© 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.