Search Field Guide
Advanced Search
MT Gov Logo
Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Melissa Arctic - Oeneis melissa

Potential Species of Concern
Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S2S3

Agency Status

External Links

General Description
[From Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002] Forewing 2.4-2.7 cm. Wings translucent, overall appearance black to brownish, wing fringes often checkered; area of hindwing greater than area of forewing. Uppersurface gray-brown, lacking eyespots or faint if evident. Undersurface of hindwing tightly mottled black and gray, basal and postmedian lines lacking or faint with white outlines.

One flight; mostly July, mid-July to mid-August in Alberta, mid-June to July in the Arctic, early to mid-August in Wyoming (Scott 1986); late June to early August (Glassberg 2001); mid-July to mid-August in Washington (Pyle 2002); late June to late July in British Columbia (Threatful 1988); June to July in northern alpine areas and July to August in southern alpine areas of British Columbia (Guppy and Shepard 2001).

Diagnostic Characteristics
Best determined by a combination of slightly transluscent wings lacking eyespots (faint if present), the undersurface of the hindwing tightly mottled black and white, the basal and postmedian lines absent (or weak and bordered by white).

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Range Comments
Holarctic. In North America, Arctic Alaska east to Baffin Island and Labrador, south in the west in discontinuous populations to northern Washington in the Cascade Range, northern New Mexico in the Rocky Mountains, south in the east to the Appalachian Mountains of New Hampshire (Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002); 3350 m to 4270 m elevation in Colorado (Brown 1957; Ferris and Brown 1981), 3050 m to at least 3350 m elevation in Wyoming (Ferris and Brown 1981), above 2135 m elevation in Washington (Pyle 2002), 2134 m to 2732 m elevation in British Columbia (Threatful 1988). In Montana, reported from Glacier, Carbon, and Stillwater counties (Kohler 1980; Stanford and Opler 1993), most recently (2013) Sweet Grass County, above treeline to at least 3350 m elevation in the Beartooth Mountains (Ferris 1975). Uncommon to common (Glassberg 2001).


Above treeline in dry alpine tundra, talus slopes, wind-swept rocky or short grass ridgetops, fellfield; also arctic dry tundra (Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Threatful 1988; Pyle 2002). Not described for Montana, but probably similar.

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2012.  Mammals of Montana.  Second edition.  Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana.  429 pp.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Limited information. Larval food plants include a few species of Carex in nature, Poa in captivity, Deschampsia in Asia (Scott 1986, 1992; Guppy and Shepard 2001; Pyle 2002). Adult foods apparently unknown or not reported; rarely feeds on flower nectar (Scott 1986, 2014).

Reproductive Characteristics
Limited information. Females lay eggs on or near host plant, in litter, and on rocks. Caterpillars feed at night on leaves. Two years are required to complete development; hibernates the first winter as L2 or L3 instar, the second winter as L5; , pupates under mosses, rocks, or partly in the soil (Scott 1986, 1992). Males perch and patrol throughout the day in rocky areas (rocky ridge tops, rockslides, rock chutes on hillsides) in search of females (Scott 1975b, 1982, 1986).

Login Logout
Citation for data on this website:
Melissa Arctic — Oeneis melissa.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from