E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Coenonympha california Hübner, [1819]
Common Ringlet; Ringlets
Family: Nymphalidae (Brushfoots)
Species account authors: Crispin Guppy and Jon Shepard.
Extracted from Butterflies of British Columbia
The Families of Lepidoptera of BC
Introduction to the Butterflies of BC

Photo of species

© Werner Eigelsreiter  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #1348)

E-Fauna BC Static Map
Distribution of Coenonympha california in British Columbia
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Species Information

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Illustration Source: Butterflies of British Columbia by Crispin Guppy and Jon Shepard © Royal BC Museum


Common Ringlets are characterized by a predominantly white to orange brown or tan wing ground colour; lighter shades are present in females, and at least a ventral apical forewing ocellus is present in most subspecies. Male genitalia are long and slender, with the uncus at least 2.5 times longer than the tegumen. The valves and brachia are slender and strongly sinuous. The genitalia are golden brown, shading to black when heavily sclerotized. Electrophoretic data for Common Ringlet populations from California and adjacent areas demonstrate that subspecies ampelos is conspecific with subspecies california (Porter and Geiger 1988). Hence ampelos is a subspecies of C. california, and by extension columbiana and insulana must also be subspecies of C. california because of their clear phenotypic affinities to ampelos. We also place benjamini as a subspecies of C. california for lack of evidence to the contrary. The only similar butterfly in BC is the grey Northern Ringlet.

Immature Stages

The immature stages of subspecies insulana have been described from Vancouver Island. Eggs are barrel-shaped with 34 faint vertical ribs with faint crossribs. They are white to green yellow, with flecks and streaks of brown forming an irregular band around the middle. First instar larvae are pale, dull flesh-coloured or yellow green. The body tapers towards the back from the second thoracic segment, and has two short, fleshy conical tails. There is a mid-dorsal reddish line, and three similar ones on each side (subdorsal, lateral, and one in between). Mature larvae have a grass green head and body covered in white mushroomlike bodies, resulting in a blue grey bloom. The dorsal line and three subdorsal lines on each side are dark green. There is a yellow lateral line, which highlights a lateral fold. The spiracles appear as small black dots, and the anal processes are tinged with pink. Pupae are short and broad, smooth, and grass green, with a fuscous line on the costal and hind margins of the wing cases, and two short fuscous lines on the underside of the last abdominal segment, converging to form a "V" at the base of the cremaster. The pupa is suspended by its cremaster from a grass stem (Edwards 1887a; Hardy 1960).


Subspecies insulana McDunnough, 1928 (TL: Victoria, BC) occurs in BC on southern Vancouver Island. Adults are tan in colour and lack eyespots. Subspecies columbiana McDunnough, 1928 (TL: Aspen Grove, BC) occurs across central and southern BC east of the Coast Range. Adults are light orange brown and only very rarely have small eyespots. In the vicinity of Kilpoola Lake, south of Richter Pass, there is some intergradation with subspecies ampelos to the south, which has a greyer wing colour and small ocelli on the forewings and hindwings. Subspecies benjamini McDunnough, 1928 (TL: Waterton Lakes, AB) occurs in the Peace River area and in extreme southeastern BC. Adults are dark orange brown (ochre) and usually have an eyespot under the tip of each forewing.

Genus Description

The name Coenonympha is derived from the Greek koinos (shared in common) and numphe (a nymph), possibly meaning a genus containing nymphalid butterflies with widespread distribution (Emmet 1991). The generic common name "ringlets" was first used by Holland (1898) in reference to the small "ringlets" or eye spots on the wings of most species.

Ringlets are small white, orange brown, or grey butterflies with the peculiar bouncing flight pattern characteristic of many other Satyrinae.

In North America, the genus Coenonympha has been treated in a variety of ways by various authors, with the Hayden's Ringlet, C. haydeni (W.H. Edwards, 1872), being the only consistently recognized species. Some authors have considered all North American Coenonympha except haydeni to be subspecies of the European C. tullia Müller, 1764; others have recognized five species in addition to haydeni. Most recently, Layberry et al. (1998) considered all Coenonympha in Canada to be C. tullia, except for C. nipisiquit McDunnough, 1939 in coastal Quebec and New Brunswick.

We have determined that the northwestern BC Coenonympha in the C. tullia group have male genitalia that are significantly different from the C. tullia group in the rest of North America. The male genitalia of northwestern BC Coenonympha are similar to those of European C. tullia, hence we apply the name C. tullia to the northwestern BC populations. The remaining North American populations in the C. tullia group are C. california Westwood, [1851], with C. nipisiquit as a possible additional species.

North American Coenonympha species are therefore C. haydeni, C. tullia, C. california, and possibly C. nipisiquit. C. haydeni is a clearly defined species that needs no further discussion. We do not have enough data to adequately assess the status of C. nipisiquit. C. tullia occurs in Europe, Asia, and northwestern North America. C. california occurs in North America from the Mackenzie River east to Newfoundland, and, in the west, south to California. There are about 22 species in the genus worldwide.

All ringlets hibernate as larvae; the hibernating instarvaries within as well as between populations. Larval foodplants are grasses, but whether specific grasses are chosen is unknown.


Common Ringlets have one brood in May to July, and subspecies insulana has a second brood in August to October. The two broods of insulana barely overlap, with extremely worn first-brood adults flying with fresh second-brood adults. Eggs of subspecies insulana are laid in May by first-brood adults; they produce some larvae that grow rapidly and mature into a second brood of adults in August and September. Other larvae grow slowly and hibernate as quite mature larvae, and produce first-brood adults the following year. Eggs laid by second-brood adults in the fall produce larvae that hibernate as young larvae, and produce more second-brood adults the following fall. The eggs hatch in about 12 days. Pupation in "fast-track" larvae occurs about eight weeks after hatching. Larvae of insulana that hibernate have four instars; those that do not go into diapause have three instars prior to pupation (Edwards 1886a; Hardy 1960). Adults lay eggs on grass, and the larvae require green grass for food. Hence on Vancouver Island, Common Ringlets can exist only in areas that are damp enough to maintain green grass throughout the driest period of the summer and yet do not flood excessively in the winter. Such areas became more common due to land clearing up to the 1950s, but are now becoming overgrown by brush and trees or destroyed through urbanization.

Larval foodplants are not firmly established, but are probably grasses and, less likely, sedges. Scott (1992) records various grasses and sedges as oviposition sites, but none are confirmed larval foodplants.


Common Ringlets are found in meadows and grasslands at all elevations across southern BC and at low elevations in the Peace River area. Downes (1956) considered insulana as probably the most abundant butterfly on Vancouver Island. It was restricted to the Saanich Peninsula until about 1965, and then expanded northward to Chemainus (Guppy 1974; Shepard 1977). It is now uncommon, and increasing urbanization and invasion of habitat by Scotch broom are rapidly eliminating or isolating many populations.



Common Ringlets occur from southern NT to CA west of the Great Plains, east across Canada from BC to NF, and the northeastern United States.

Status Information

Scientific NameOrigin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
Coenonympha tullia benjaminiNativeS3BlueNot Listed
Coenonympha tullia insulanaNativeS1RedNot Listed
BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Additional Photo Sources

General References

Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2021. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 2022-07-02 7:07:48 PM]
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