This entry is from Isabella Messer, and undergraduate horticulture student at Oregon State University. It highlights a common Oregon pollinator.

Photo by Marc Kummel

As winter starts to wind down, daffodils and crocuses begin to emerge, and butterfly enthusiasts start looking forward to another season of spotting some of my favorite pollinators, the Lepidoptera. While peak butterfly season still may be a ways off(5), there is no reason to delay in learning about and exploring the world of butterflies, as I have been doing these last few days with Ochlodes sylvanoides(Boisduval, 1852), or the Woodland Skipper.

These little beauties can be identified by their tawny upperwings which sport a black border and large red patches on their underside(1,2). The hindwings of the Woodland Skipper can vary greatly from being unmarked to being yellow or even showing a chevron pattern(1, 2).

Woodland Skippers are native to Oregon and in fact, are native to most of the western United States. With a range that stretches from South Dakota to Oregon and from Vancouver, BC to San Diego, CA, Skippers are one of the most abundant butterfly genera in the US(6,2). The preferred habitats of Woodland Skippers include grassy areas in chaparral, mountain meadows, and hillsides(1). For those of you living among

Photo by Claire Christensen

With Portland’s many hills, it seems likely that your garden would be an appealing place for these butterflies to make their home. If you are looking to attract some Woodland Skippers to your garden, this may not be terribly hard as O. sylvanoides are generalists. Larval food plants consist largely of common grasses such as bermuda, wildrye, wheatgrass, and canary(1,2). Adult food plants can vary widely, from Oregon natives such as yarrow, sweet pea, and willowherb to others such as catmint, tansy, and zinnia(1). If you are having a slow start to your gardening season and have lots of patches of exposed dirt, that is okay seeing as adult Woodland Skippers will also sip salts from mud puddles(1).

Keep the hope of summer and Woodland Skippers in your garden alive, as this winter season begins to come to an excruciating close, and when August(3,4) finally rolls around, keep your eyes open for these tawny beauties.    


  1. Lotts, Kelly and Thomas Naberhaus, et al. “Woodland Skipper”. Butterflies and Moths of North America. 2017. Butterflies and Moths of North America.
  2. Woodland Skipper — Ochlodes sylvanoides.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program.  Retrieved on February 22, 2018, from
  3. Allen, Nancy., et al. “Create a Butterfly Garden”. 2002.
  4. Chu, Janet R.. “Butterflies A Continuing Study of Species and Populations In Boulder County Open Space Properties – 2011 Inventory and 2007-2011 Analyses”. Boulder County Parks and Open Space and Boulder County Nature Association. Dec. 2011.
  5. Kaufman, Kenn. “Year-round Guide to Butterflies”. Birds and Blooms. 2016.
  6. Department of Systematic Biology, Entomology Section, National Museum of Natural History, in cooperation with Public Inquiry Services Information Sheet Number 189. “Butterflies in the United States”. Smithsonian.


This entry is from Isabella Messer, an undergraduate horticulture student at Oregon State University. It highlights a common Oregon pollinator.


Despite the misleading name, we have unfortunately not discovered a new cross species between California butterflies and tortoiseshell cats. Even though this butterfly has a larval stage instead of a kitten stage, the California Tortoiseshell Butterfly is still a beautiful representative of the Lepidoptera. 

A California Tortoiseshell flashes its bright upperwing. Photo by Doug Backlund

As you may be able to guess, the largest populations of the California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica (Boisduval, 1852)) are located across California(1). While the majority may be in California, the California Tortoiseshell habitat range stretches south from British Columbia to Mexico and east from California to Wyoming(1). When the California Tortoiseshells experience a population explosion in the summer(1), some populations have been known to travel as far east as Vermont, New York and Pennsylvania(2). 

These lovely butterflies can be identified by their bright orange upperwing which features black spots and black border(1). Their underwings are mottled brown and gray and resemble dead leaves(2). When in larval(caterpillar) form, N. californica can be identified by its all-black appearance with the exception of a white line running down its back and the slight blue at the base of its black spines(2).

The cleverly disguised underwings of the California Tortoiseshell. Photo by Doug Blackbund

Unlike some of the other pollinators that we have discussed over the months, the California Tortoiseshell Butterfly is somewhat picky when it comes to choice of host plant for the immature and habitat mature butterflies. Adults will oviposit (lay eggs) only on various species of wild lilac (Ceanothus) where the immature butterflies will be hosted until they reach maturity(3). Adult N. californica are less specific about their habitats by the time the reach maturity. They can generally be found in mountainous regions in chaparral, woodland and brush areas(1). 

While these charming butterflies may not be extremely common in the Portland area due to its low elevation, if you take a trip up to Mount Hood this coming summer, it is more than likely you will run into one of these beauties.


  1. Lotts, Kelly and Thomas Naberhaus, et al. “California Tortoiseshell”. Butterflies and Moths of North America. 2017. Butterflies and Moths of North America.
  2. Ross A. Layberry, Peter W. Hall, and J. Donald Lafontaine. “California Tortoiseshell”. Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility. 9 Jul. 2014.
  3. Art Shapiro. “Nymphalis californica”. Art Shapiro’s Butterfly Site.