Polixenes Arctic (Oeneis polixenes) (Fabricius, 1775)
Diagnosis: The upperside is yellowish to orange brown, translucent. There is occasionally a row of small diffuse orange spots or one or two small eyespots above and beneath. The hindwing underside is shaded with dark brown and pale grey, usually with the medial band dark and contrasting. Wingspan: 33 to 51 mm.
Subspecies: There are seven subspecies of Oeneis polixenes recognized in North America, of which five occur in Canada. The nominate subspecies (polixenes), from Quebec and Labrador, has the forewing above dark-brown flushed with paler orange, and the hindwing beneath is very dark with few pale striations; subspecies subhyalina, from the Arctic Islands and the arctic coast of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, has the forewing dark grey brown and the hindwing beneath very dark; the wings are more translucent than in other subspecies; subspecies beringianus, from Churchill, Manitoba, west through most of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories to Yukon and Alaska, and south to southern Alberta, has an orange flush on the forewing, as in nominate polixenes, but with light grey striations on the hindwing underside; subspecies woodi, from the arctic coast of Yukon and Alaska, has the forewings grey brown and the ventral hindwings pale grey; subspecies yukonensis, from southwestern Yukon, is small, pale grey brown in colour, and highly translucent.
Range: Oeneis polixenes is found from coastal Newfoundland, Labrador and northern Quebec, across Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the southern tier of Arctic Islands, to Yukon and Alaska. It extends into northwestern British Columbia and the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and Aberta, and there are isolated populations near Labrador City, the Gaspé Peninsula, Maine, and in the U.S. Rocky Mountain states.
Similar Species: The White-veined Arctic and Melissa Arctic (O. bore and O. melissa). Philip's Arctic (O. rosovi) lacks the orange flush of polixenes beringianus where the ranges of these two species coincide. [compare images]
Early Stages: The larvae have a grey-green dorsal stripe and tan, black, and grey lateral stripes. The head is greenish yellow, with six dark stripes. Oviposition has been observed on sedges (Carex misandra) and grasses (Festuca mibra), and larvae eat both in captivity (Scott, 1986).
Flight Season: It generally flies from mid-June to late July, but can be seen until mid-August in Labrador. Oeneis polixenes flies every year in most areas.
Habits: The Polixenes Arctic is most commonly found in dry, grassy, rocky arctic and alpine tundra; these areas can be fairly rocky, but it does not fly in rocky barrens and scree slopes like Melissa Arctic. Adults make short flights above the grassy tundra and often land on small rocks.
© 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.
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