Species At Risk

Frosted Elfin

(Callophrys irus)
Extirpated (no longer found in Ontario)
Frosted Elfin
Frosted Elfin occurrences map


The Frosted Elfin butterfly gets its name from the pale gray scales that edge its hind wings and give them a frosted look. The male has gray-brown upper wings and the female’s are reddish brown. This tiny butterfly has a wingspan of about 2.5 centimetres. The caterpillars are a light blue-green and have white lines down the back.

Current Range

The range of the Frosted Elfin extends from New England west to Minnesota , and south to Alabama.

Historical Range in Ontario

The only known Canadian site for this species was in an area of oak savannah near the St. Williams Forestry station in Norfolk County in southern Ontario. It was last recorded there in 1988.

Why It Disappeared from Ontario

The Frosted Elfin was likely never common or widespread in Ontario. It was only discovered here in 1960 and has only been confirmed at one location. Its demise was due to its dependence on the lupine plant for survival. Natural succession and the planting of pines in the 1940s at the site eventually created shady conditions that lupines could not tolerate. As the lupines disappeared, so did the Frosted Elfin.

Throughout its eastern North American range, the Frosted Elfin butterfly has declined largely as a result of habitat loss. Its preferred oak savannah habitat is one of the most threatened habitats in eastern North America today.


The Frosted Elfin butterfly is found predominately in oak savannah and pine barren habitats, as well as open woods and forest edges where wild blue lupine, the sole food plant of the butterfly larvae, grows.

Females lay eggs on the flower buds of wild lupine, and the caterpillars feed on the flowers and seedpods. In late summer, the caterpillars build a shelter in the leaf litter on the ground by tying leaves together with silk, and they overwinter in the pupal stage. In early spring, the adult butterflies emerge.


Help Make Sure We Don’t Lose More Endangered Species in Ontario

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Frosted Elfin. You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful. nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca.
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Private land owners have an important role to play in species recovery. You may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats. For more information visit: ontario.ca/speciesatrisk.
  • Volunteer with a local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.

Did you know?

The Frosted Elfin is a poor flier, which, along with its dependence on lupine, may explain why its populations are isolated and scattered.

Did you know?

Males are territorial and will defend their home stands of wild lupine.

Did you know?

The Frosted Elfin shares the same foodplant as other extirpated butterfly species in Ontario, the Karner Blue and Eastern Persius Duskywing.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.