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

Oeneis polixenes Hübner, [1819]
Arctics; Polixenes Arctic
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

© Norbert Kondla  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #5153)

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Distribution of Oeneis polixenes 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


Polixenes Arctics in BC are grey brown, and males usually have a wide yellow brown submarginal band on the dorsal hindwings. The dorsal wings of females are usually mostly yellow brown. There are small pale yellowish dots along the margins of the dorsal hindwings. The ventral hindwings have a dark band across them, bordered by lighter striated grey areas. The wings are thinly scaled and translucent.

Immature Stages

Eggs of subspecies brucei from Colorado are subconical, broadest about one-third up from the base and narrowing towards the top. There are 20 vertical ribs, dull white in colour. First instar larvae are pale green white, turning green grey, with two short, stubby tails. The dorsal, subdorsal, and lateral stripes are pale brown, the underside is dull white, and the legs and prolegs are whitish and translucent. Mature larvae are buff, with two brown lines down the middle of the back, a broad deep black lateral band with a light buff line along the lower edge, and a dark grey spiracular band. The basal ridge is light buff with a grey line below it, and the underside, legs, and prolegs are grey buff. The head is yellow (Edwards 1887-97).


Subspecies luteus Troubridge & Parshall, 1988 (TL: Pink Mountain, BC) occurs throughout most of northern BC. Males have orange brown submarginal areas, and the females have generally yellow brown dorsal wing surfaces. Subspecies yukonensis Gibson, 1920 (TL: Klutlan Glacier, YT, 8,200 feet) occurs along the Haines Highway in extreme northwestern BC. The dorsal wing surfaces of this subspecies are grey brown without any orange brown or yellow brown, and the wings are translucent. Subspecies brucei (W.H. Edwards, 1891) (TL: vic. Bullion and Hayden Mtns, Hall Valley, Park Co., CO) occurs in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta but has yet to be found in BC. The dorsal wings are an even soft, translucent brown.

Genus Description

The name Oeneis refers to Oeneus, king of the ancient city of Calydon in western Greece, husband of Althaea and father of Meleagr and Tydeus. The name of the European genus Melanargia is derived from Meleagr, and another species of Satyrinae was derived from Tydeus. The common name "arctics" was first used by Holland (1898) in reference to the arctic and alpine distribution of many species.

Arctics are medium-sized brown or grey butterflies. They usually have eyespots on the wings. They fly rapidly and erratically over short distances, and then drop suddenly to the ground or onto a tree trunk. Arctics all have a two-year life cycle, with the young larvae hibernating the first winter and the almost mature larvae hibernating the second winter. The two-year life cycle results in many species having adults in flight only every second year, with butterflies in alternate years being greatly reduced in abundance or missing entirely in some or all areas.

Eggs are white or off-white in colour, and are conical in shape, with vertical ribs down the side. First instar larvae are thinly covered with hairs, and are tan or greenish. Mature larvae are slender and are tan or greenish with longitudinal stripes of various colours down the back and sides. They are thinly covered with hairs that are frequently reddish in colour. Pupae are roughly cylindrical and rounded, and have brown,yellow brown, and olive markings. Descriptions of the immature stages are all from outside BC, with the exception of the Great Arctic.

Larval foodplants are usually grasses and sedges. One species, the Jutta Arctic, also feeds on rushes. Eggs are laid singly on leaves of the foodplant, or nearby on dead leaves or debris. The foodplants naturally utilized in BC are not known for any species; the little information that is available is from Manitoba, Alberta, or the American Rocky Mountains.

Arctics fall into three basic ecological groups (Masters 1969): forest-dwelling species (macounii, nevadensis, jutta); prairie and steppe species (uhleri, chryxus, alberta); and arctic taiga-tundra/alpine summit species (bore, melissa, polixenes). Oeneis bore and polixenes can sometimes be difficult to identify by wing pattern alone, but the valves of the male genitalia are distinctly different. Oeneis rosovi is also difficult to distinguish from O. polixenes, but there are no genitalic differences between the two species.


Polixenes Arctics are univoltine. They are in flight in July and August, and fly every year. Larvae may hibernate immediately after hatching or in the fourth instar (Ferris and Brown 1981). Larval foodplants are unknown in BC. In the lab the larvae feed on the grass Poa pratensis, and likely eat grasses and sedges in the wild (Scott 1992).


Polixenes Arctics occur in the mountains of northern BC. They inhabit moist alpine tundra and rocky ridgelines.



Polixenes Arctics occur from AK across arctic Canada to Labrador. There are isolated populations scattered south through the Rocky Mountains to NM, and in the east south to Maine.

Status Information

Scientific NameOrigin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
Oeneis polixenesNativeS5YellowNot Listed
Oeneis polixenes beringianusNativeS4YellowNot Listed
Oeneis polixenes yukonensisNativeS1S3RedNot 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) 2019. 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: 2020-07-12 6:09:31 AM]
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