Deciphering Butterflies: Crescents

Deciphering Butterflies: Crescents

Crescents are orange and black butterflies that can cause confusion for even the most astute butterfly observer. Pay close attention to both the dorsal and ventral sides of the butterfly when attempting to make an ID.

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)

Quite variable. Males usually have black antennal knobs. Upperside is orange with black borders; postmedian and submarginal areas are crossed by fine black marks.

Underside of the forewing tawny with dark patches, ventral hindwing has a dark marginal patch containing a light-colored pearl colored crescent. Spring and fall broods (form marcia) have a gray mottled hindwing below.

Pearl Crescent species page

Northern Crescent (Phyciodes cocyta)

Antennal clubs of male are orange. Females are quite dark, darker than males. Upperside is orange-brown with dark borders; median orange-brown areas are mostly open and intact, with few dark markings which is not the case in Pearl and Tawny Crescents.

Underside of hindwing is orange with a tan patch surrounding the pale marginal crescent.

Northern Crescent species page

Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta)

Mylitta is brighter, and less darkly marked, than most other Phyciodes. The dorsal forewing is bright reddish orange with narrow dark markings. Lacks the prominent black inner marginal spot of Phyciodes pallidus. Dorsal orange on Mylitta males is yellowish and uniform, whereas females have two colors of orange. Black marks on the dorsal hindwing tend toward obsolescence.

Underside is yellow-orange with somewhat blurry rusty orange markings.  Ventral markings and patterns vary in intensity.

Mylitta Crescent species page

Phaon Crescent (Phyciodes phaon)

Phaons resemble Painted Crescents. Separate them by checking undersides, for Painted Crescent has a nearly immaculate hindwing while that of Phaon has markings more typical of other crescent. Ventral forewing near the costa has a white bar framed by broad dark bars; the dark bars are narrow in Painted Crescent.

Forewing uppersides have contrasting bands of black, cream and orange.

Phaon Crescent species page

Graphic Crescent (Phyciodes graphica)

Orange above with markings of fine black lines. Below, forewing has a series of postmedian and submarginal orange circles on a dark background.  It is flat orange above with concentric black lines. Beneath, the forewing median and postmedian orange patches are enclosed in black boxes.

Graphic Crescent species page

Tawny Crescent (Phyciodes batesii)

Tawny Crescents resemble Pearl and Northern Crescents, but with more extensive dark marks above.

Antennal knobs are black and white. Upperside is dark brown; forewing with pale orange postmedian band and orange submarginal band. Underside of forewing is yellow; black patch on inner margin is larger than black patch near costa. female with black submarginal dots.     The dorsal forewing of males has a yellowish postmedian band, making them two-toned orange. On the hindwing below, the brown patch surrounding the crescent spot is washed out.

Tawny Crescent species page

Field Crescent (Phyciodes pulchella)

Uppersides are highlighted with offset black, orange and yellow bands. Wing fringes are checkered.

Underside of forewing is yellow-brown with a yellow bar at the cell and small black patches on the inner margin. Underside of hindwing is yellow-brown with rusty markings.

Field Crescent species page

Pale Crescent (Phyciodes pallida)

Upperside is pale orange; dark markings are reduced, especially on hindwing. Forewing both above and below with dark spot at center of inner margin.

Underside is yellow with red-brown markings; crescent on hindwing is white. 

Pale Crescent species page

Painted Crescent (Phyciodes picta)

Dorsally the Painted Crescent has a dark background. The forewing has alternating light and dark bands and the spots are yellowish.

Below, forewing apex and all of hindwing are a nearly immaculate yellow-cream with markings pale or absent except for a few faint smudges/spots near the hindwing margin.

Painted Crescent species page

Gorgone Checkerspot (Chlosyne gorgone)

Not a crescent but common and easy to mistake for them.

Gorgone Checkerspot species page