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Santa Barbara Field Guides Butterflies

     Nymphalis californica
     California Tortoiseshell


Size: wingspread 1.75-2.2 in.
Recognition: Orange with black and brown wing borders and black patches in FW, including two distinctive patches on leading edge; Milbert's tortoishell (N. milberti), which is found in the same range, has solid black area next to abdomen and distinct reddish orange markings along leading FW edge.
Flight period: On the wing from late June until fall, when they overwinter until the following spring.
Hostplants: Wild lilacs (Ceanothus species).
Habitat: Woodland and scrubby mountain terrain are their normal home, where they prefer open areas; males 'hilltop' seeking mates.
Distribution: Mainly along the Pacific coast; largely restricted to wetter areas than ours, though a relatively frequent colonist/migrant here.
Other: Every couple years or so, Nymphalis californica will migrate in the millions over great distances, and in these years, strays are recorded in many otherwise atypical locales.

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