Species Profile

Frosted Elfin

Scientific Name: Callophrys irus
Other/Previous Names: Callophrys [Incisalia] irus
Taxonomy Group: Arthropods
COSEWIC Range: Ontario
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: May 2019
COSEWIC Status: Extirpated
COSEWIC Status Criteria:
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This butterfly occurred in one restricted area of oak savanna in southern Ontario. It was last recorded in 1988 and has not been seen since despite repeated surveys.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Extirpated by 1988. Designated Extirpated in April 1999. Status re-examined and confirmed in May 2000, April 2010, and May 2019.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Extirpated
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Habitat | Biology | Reasons for extirpation | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Frosted Elfin

Frosted Elfin Photo 1



The Frosted Elfin (Incisalia irus) is a hairstreak butterfly with a largely uniform brown upperside and variegated underside which has a dusting of pale scales on the outer third, a markedly disjointed white and dark postmedial line, a short “tail” on the hind wing and a dark “thecla” spot near the base of the tail. The larva is pale green with paler markings which vary between populations in the level of contrast with the background colouration. (Updated 2017/05/24)


Distribution and Population

The Frosted Elfin occurs as three subspecies, one restricted to Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, and a second to the coastal regions of the southeastern United States. The third, the nominate subspecies, occurs from Florida north to New England (and historically, southern Ontario) and west to Alabama and Wisconsin. However, there is some controversy as to whether or not the Lupine and Wild Indigo feeding ecotypes of the nominate subspecies represent different species. Both forms are found in the eastern United States but only the Lupine feeder has been found in Canada. The only known Canadian site for this species was near the St. Williams Forestry Station in Haldimand-Norfolk County in southern Ontario. An earlier record from the Pinery Provincial Park has been shown to be based upon a misidentification. (Updated 2017/05/24)



The Frosted Elfin occurs predominantly in oak savannah and pine barren habitats where the larval foodplant Lupinus perennis occurs. In the east, small areas of suitable habitat may be occupied, whereas further west, larger areas are required for the species to persist. The butterfly has a preference for edge areas such as openings in more densely canopied woodlands, right-of-ways, powerline cuts, etc. Suitable habitat seems to have been maintained by occasional fires or grazing, but research shows that within its current range in Wisconsin, occasional mowing is preferable to rotational burns. (Updated 2017/05/24)



The adults emerge in spring and the flight period is usually over by mid-June. Males are territorial. Females oviposit on Lupine flowering spikes, preferring those which are in full sunshine. The larva feeds on Lupine flowers and, later, on developing seed pods. Pupation takes place either in the leaf litter at the base of the host plant or under the ground. Few natural enemies have been recorded. (Updated 2017/05/24)


Reasons for extirpation

Reasonably extensive areas of patchily distributed Lupines are required. In the absence of influences preventing succession, the forest canopy in these areas becomes too dense and/or the understorey crowds out the Lupines. In turn, this leads to a reduction in the frequency of flowering or can prevent it altogether. The territorial behaviour of males, the females’ preference for ovipositing only on flowering spikes that are in full sunshine, and the cannibalistic behaviour of larvae all contribute to reduce the effective population size of the species. (Updated 2017/05/24)



Federal Protection

The Frosted Elfin is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.


Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Karner Blue (Lycaeides melissa samuelis), Frosted Elfin (Callophrys irus) and Eastern Persius Duskywing (Erynnis persius persius) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry


Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date In cooperation with the Karner Blue Recovery Team, the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources are preparing a recovery strategy for the Karner Blue and Frosted Elfin in Canada. The recovery goals and objectives are aiming to create enough suitable habitat for the Karner Blue in three geographically distinct areas (Northfolk, Lambton and Northumberland Counties) so that the species can be reintroduced into Canada. By completing recovery actions for the Karner Blue, especially involving the restoration of oak savannah and tallgrass prairie habitat, the Frosted Elfin and Persius Duskywing will benefit, as they depend on the same habitat as well (the two species, however, are only known historically from the Norfolk location). Recovery efforts for the Karner Blue are much more advanced than for the Frosted Elfin and Persius Duskywing, largely due to the significant progress made on recovery of this species in the United States. Summary of Research/Monitoring A research study, led by York University in 2004, assessed the suitability of each of the restored oak savannah areas in Ontario targeted for Karner Blue reintroduction by collecting quantitative field data to determine if they meet a minimum ecological standard for reintroduction. Although none of the sites met all the minimum standards for Karner Blue reintroduction, further restoration and management is possible to improve the habitats so that they are suitable for reintroduction. Specific recommendations, required to achieve minimum standards for reintroduction, were provided in the study for each area. Activities based on these recommendations are ongoing. At Alderville First Nation, a Black oak savannah and tallgrass Prairie project is underway that aims to improve and protect Karner Blue and Persius Duskywing butterfly habitat, and associated rare tallgrass habitats. A volunteer Wild Lupine planting program has been underway for seven years, and the success of these plantings is being assessed through the measurement of Lupine development, density, and survival. The evaluation of the lupine population is necessary to ensure the plants are self-propagating and the site is suitable for supporting viable populations of Lupine. Protocols for transport and release of butterflies have been developed in the U.S. and the Toronto Zoo has been working on a captive rearing protocol for the Karner Blue. In 2006, Pinery Provincial Park completed a study on second brood nectaring plant availability. The results will be used to guide more restoration work to increase diversity of second brood nectaring species. Summary of Recovery Activities There has been a number of oak savanna restoration projects carried out in each of three target areas for reintroduction (Lambton County, Norfolk County, and Northumberland County). These undertakings have provided a great deal of experience and knowledge in the reclamation of sites. Lambton County – Lake Huron shorelineAt Pinery Provincial Park, habitat improvement initiatives have been underway since 1997. The Park has regularly collected and planted Wild Lupine seeds since 1993 to increase regeneration and also to connect this location with the Port Franks location to facilitate dispersal between populations. Seeds from nectar producing flowers, such as Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus), have been planted to provide a food source to adult butterflies. Outreach material on the Karner Blue butterfly is on display at the visitor’s centre and park tabloids/newsletters are released regularly to inform the public of recovery activities. The Karner Blue Sanctuary in Port Franks also has undergone habitat restoration since 1992 through the removal of tree plantations and thinning of forests to open up the area and increase the growth of the former oak savannah vegetation. Nectar source plantings have been conducted in the past at this location. Norfolk County – St. Williams The St. Williams Forest is managed as a conservation reserve by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Its combined diversity of ecological communities (including oak savanna, oak woodland, other tallgrass communities; and sand barrens, forests, wetlands, and streams) supports one of the highest concentrations of species at risk in Ontario and Canada. A goal of the management of this area is to maintain and restore native ecological communities and their associated species. The area has undergone restoration (thinning and controlled burns) to reclaim habitat in locations historically known to support both the Karner Blue and Frosted Elfin. Northumberland County – Rice Lake PlainsA Joint Initiative among the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ontario Parks, County of Northumberland, Lower Trent Conservation, Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority, the Wetland Habitat Fund, conservation partners, and the local landowners is working together to protect and steward one of Ontario's last remaining sites of tallgrass prairie and black oak savanna and the species that live there. Numerous activities are underway in the area. With assistance from the Habitat Stewardship program, field reclamation measures to improve or create tallgrass and savannah habitat have been undertaken at Alderville First Nation, including restoring original vegetation by planting native prairie seeds, removing encroaching growth, and conducting controlled burns. Wild Lupine plantings have occurred annually since 2002 to increase the population and density for Karner Blue Butterfly habitat. There are currently 32 ha of savanna and tallgrass habitat available, with another 9 ha of old field slated for restoration in the future. In 2007, Alderville First Nation is planning to seek out local residents and inform them of the value of tallgrass habitat and the species at risk it supports. Articles in community newsletters, displays, websites, and audio/visual presentations are keeping the local public aware of activities, volunteer opportunities, workshops, and meetings to support the stewardship for the Karner Blue. Moreover, the Toronto Zoo has produced outreach materials (e.g. The Oak Savannah and Karner Blue Butterfly Wheel) for educational and fundraising purposes. URLs Ontario’s Biodiversity: Species at Risk: Frosted Elfinhttp://www.rom.on.ca/ontario/risk.php?doc_type=fact&lang=&id=56 Butterflies of Canada: Frosted Elfinhttp://www.cbif.gc.ca/spp_pages/butterflies/species/FrostedElfin_e.php Butterflies of Canada: Persius Duskywinghttp://digir.agr.gc.ca/spp_pages/butterflies/species/PersiusDuskywing_e.php Ontario’s Biodiversity: Species at Risk: Karner Bluehttp://www.rom.on.ca/ontario/risk.php?doc_type=fact&lang=&id=57


PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

10 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment Summary and Status Report: Frosted Elfin Callophrys irus (2010-09-03)

    Assessment Summary – April 2010 Common name Frosted Elfin Scientific name Callophrys irus Status Extirpated Reason for designation * A reason for designation is not specified when a review of classification is conducted by means of a status appraisal summary. Occurrence Ontario Status history Extirpated by 1988. Designated Extirpated in April 1999. Status re-examined and confirmed in May 2000 and in April 2010.
  • COSEWIC Status Appraisal Summary on the Frosted Elfin (Callophrys irus) in Canada (2020-01-16)

    This butterfly occurred in one restricted area of oak savanna in southern Ontario. It was last recorded in 1988 and has not been seen since despite repeated surveys. Note: This COSEWIC assessment was received by the Minister on October 15th, 2018.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Frosted Elfin (2010-12-02)

    The Frosted Elfin is a hairstreak butterfly with a largely brown upperside and variegated underside. It has a markedly disjointed white and dark postmedial line, a short "tail" on the hind wing, and a dark "thecla" spot near the base of the tail. The larva is pale green, with paler markings.
  • Response Statement - Frosted Elfin (2020) (2020-01-07)

    This butterfly occurred in one restricted area of oak savanna in southern Ontario. It was last recorded in 1988 and has not been seen since despite repeated surveys.

Recovery Strategies


  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 146, number 14, 2012) (2012-07-04)

    The purpose of the Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act is to add 18 species to Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk (the List), and to reclassify 7 listed species, pursuant to subsection 27(1) of SARA. This amendment is made on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and on consultations with governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the Canadian public.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 (2010-09-03)

    Under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. During the past year, COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings and reviewed the status of 79 wildlife species (species, subspecies, populations). During the meeting of November 2009, COSEWIC assessed or reviewed the classification of the status of 28 wildlife species. COSEWIC assessed or reviewed the classification of an additional 51 wildlife species (species, subspecies and populations) during their April 2010 meeting. For species already found on Schedule 1 of SARA, the classification of 32 species was reviewed by COSEWIC and the status of the wildlife species was confirmed to be in the same category (extirpated - no longer found in the wild in Canada but occurring elsewhere, endangered, threatened or of special concern). The wildlife species assessment results for the 2009-2010 reporting period include the following: Extirpated: 6 Endangered: 39 Threatened: 16 Special Concern: 17 Data Deficient: 1 This report transmits to the Minister the status of 46 species newly classified as extirpated, endangered, threatened or of special concern, fulfilling COSEWIC’s obligations under SARA Section 24 and 25. A full detailed summary of the assessment for each species and the reason for the designation can be found in Appendix I of the attached report. Since its inception, COSEWIC has assessed 602 wildlife species in various risk categories, including 262 Endangered, 151 Threatened, 166 Special Concern and 23 Extirpated. In addition, 13 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct. Also, to date, 46 wildlife species have been identified by COSEWIC as Data Deficient and 166 wildlife species were assessed as Not at Risk. This year has been a particularly productive year for COSEWIC’s Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge (ATK) Subcommittee. In April 2010 COSEWIC approved the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Process and Protocol Guidelines, providing clear and agreed principles for the gathering of Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge to carry out COSEWIC functions as required under Section 15(2) of SARA (See Appendix III of the attached report). We are grateful for the rich and enthusiastic contribution made by community elders and experts in helping the ATK Subcommittee prepare the ATK protocols.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species – November 2010 (2010-12-02)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by February 4, 2011 for species undergoing normal consultations and by February 4, 2012 for species undergoing extended consultations.
  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species January 2020 (2020-01-07)

    COVID-19 and the consultations on the listing of species at risk As a result of the ongoing COVID 19 situation, it is not possible to have in-person meetings. Taking this into consideration, please note that consultation closing dates have been set for both the Normal and Extended consultations for the terrestrial species considered in this document. We will work to ensure that all the known, potentially affected parties have the opportunity to contribute to the consultations and that the consultation process is flexible and sensitive to the current context. If you wish to contribute, please submit your comments by April 2, 2021 for species undergoing normal consultations and by September 2, 2021 for species undergoing extended consultations. You may provide comments by email, letters, or through the online survey. The Government of Canada is committed to preventing the disappearance of wildlife species at risk from our lands. As part of its strategy for realizing that commitment, on June 5, 2003, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species provided for under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species on Schedule 1 benefit from the protection afforded by the prohibitions and from recovery planning requirements under SARA. Special Concern species benefit from its management planning requirements. Schedule 1 has grown from the original 233 to 622 wildlife species at risk. Please submit your comments by May 7, 2020, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultations and by October 7, 2020, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations. For a description of the consultation paths these species will undergo, please visit the Species at Risk (SAR) Public Registry website at: The Minister of the Environment's Response to Species at Risk Assessments. To respond to survey questions, please go to the survey page.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016-07-06)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update December 2, 2021
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