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Compton Tortoiseshell Butterfly (Nymphalis l-album)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Compton Tortoiseshell Butterfly

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Image Credit: Jim and Kathy H., taken in MI
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Image Credit: Jim and Kathy H., taken in MI
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Image Credit: Jim and Kathy H., taken in MI
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A dark, muted color scheme has bright accents on the fashionable Compton Tortoiseshell.

Updated: 01/26/2021; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Tortoiseshell butterflies have jagged wing edges that are softer, less sharp, than their close relatives, the Commas. Careful study of the topside pattern helps tell them all apart; the undersides are even more similar. 'Tortoiseshell' is a term that describes a nonspecific pattern of dark, mottled colors that are also seen on tortoises. The Compton Tortoiseshell has a myriad of black, yellow, and red-orange on the tops of the wings. White, rectangular marks are near the wing tips, and also on the hindwings? outer, upper edges. A yellow border rims the bottom of the hindwings. Underneath, the wings are tan and brown, and covered in striations. The area near the head and body is darker than by the edges. The lines are irregular and mirror some of the jagged edges. An incredibly small white ?comma?-shaped mark may be visible on the hindwing.

Caterpillars feed on an assortment of deciduous trees like aspen, birch, and willow. This species of Tortoiseshell is found mainly in the southern provinces of Canada and New England, but it can spread into the northern U.S. during the year. Look for it in wooded areas where host trees grow.

General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Patterned insect icon


Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Nymphalidae
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          Genus: Nymphalis
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            Species: l-album
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Nymphalis l-album
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 52mm to 70mm (2.04" to 2.75")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: orange; black; white; tan
Descriptors: jagged wings; ruffled edges; white spots; white curved comma mark; tan underneath; short tails; flying; gray-green by edge of wing

Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 52mm (2.0in) and 70mm (2.8in)
Lo: 52mm
Md: 61mm
Hi: 70mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Compton Tortoiseshell Butterfly may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Compton Tortoiseshell Butterfly. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.


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