Description of Residence for Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo), Prairie Population, in Canada

Section 33 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) prohibits damaging or destroying the residence of a listed threatened, endangered, or extirpated species. SARA defines residence as:

a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or hibernating [s.2(1)].

The prohibition comes into effect in different ways depending on the jurisdiction responsible for the species. Because the Mormon Metalmark is not under pre-existing federal jurisdiction, the residence prohibition is only automatically in effect on federal lands on which the species occurs. SARA also contains a provision to prohibit the destruction of non-federal species' residences on provincial, territorial, and private lands by way of an Order by the Governor in Council (GIC), if the Minister of the Environment recommends it necessary to do so [s.34(2), 35(2)]. Unless such an Order is made, responsibility for this species remains with Provinces and Territories.

The following is a description of residence for the Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo), prairie population, created for the purposes of increasing public awareness and aiding enforcement of the above prohibition. Information for this residence description was derived primarily from studies on the Prairie population of Mormon Metalmark. Mormon Metalmarks are known to have one type of residence: the host plant, Eriogonum pauciflorum Pursh (branched umbrella-plant, also known as the fewflower buckwheat or smallflower wild buckwheat), and the surrounding root zone of the host plant.

The entire plant was determined to be the year-round residence because many different parts of the plant function as food, as well as providing protection from predators and shelter from the weather for the eggs, caterpillars, pupae and hibernating caterpillars throughout the entire year. The root zone has been included in the definition of the residence and refers to both the surface area surrounding the plant that is wide enough to contain the roots of the plant as well as a depth of soil that is deep enough to contain the roots. The root zone is included because both the caterpillar and pupae may use the litter surrounding their host plant as shelter, the host plant needs roots to live and develop, and older, larger caterpillars have been observed travelling between host plants as well as seeking refuge under rocks and in cracks in the soil between plants9.

Species Information (from COSEWIC):

Scientific Name - Apodemia mormo

Common Name - Mormon Metalmark (Prairie population)

Current COSEWIC Status & Year of Designation - Threatened - May 2003

Range in Canada - Saskatchewan (Fig. 1).

Rationale for Status - At the northern edge of its range, this butterfly has a small population and it is a habitat specialist occurring in a highly restricted area. Although there is no evidence of a population decline, the small total population of mature individuals (200 to 1000), is within the criteria for Threatened status.

Figure 1. Map of Southern Saskatchewan showing the distribution range of Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo) (Prairie population) in Canada. Only three populations of that butterfly species is known, and occurs in and around Grasslands National Park of Canada.

Figure 1. Map of Southern Saskatchewan showing the distribution range of Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo) (Prairie population) in Canada.

1) Host Plant

The year-round residence for the Mormon Metalmark is defined as any individual of branched umbrella-plant (Eriogonum pauciflorum (Pursh)) that is occupied by the Mormon Metalmark.

Physical Appearance and Context

Host Plant

The branched umbrella-plant (Fig. 2) grows on arid hillsides and barren slopes in badland habitat in Saskatchewan1 (Fig. 3). It is a perennial with a woody base and can reach approximately 60 cm in height. The leaves are approximately 5 cm long by 1 cm wide, light gray, and covered with short pale hairs2.

The prairie population of the Mormon Metalmark is dependent solely on this plant during all life stages, except for the adult stage. The adult may feed on the flower clusters (umbels) of branched umbrella-plant at times, but also feeds on the nectar of common rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosus). Further research is needed before a residence can be defined for the adult stage of the Mormon Metalmark.


Mormon Metalmark eggs are flattened spheres that are pinkish-white turning purple, which are laid on the underside of leaves, on stems, or on the umbels of the host plant as either single eggs or clusters of 2-4 eggs3, 4, 5. Eggs are laid on the host plant by the adults sometime between early August to mid-September 6. Large mature plants are more frequently used for oviposition (egg-laying) sites than immature plants, presumably to ensure a large enough food source and protection for caterpillars5. It is unknown if the eggs hatch in fall or spring in Canadian populations.


Often, early-instar butterfly caterpillars hibernate in the winter inside inflated stems, dried flower heads, or in litter near the host plant7. For the Mormon Metalmark, it is unknown if caterpillars emerge from eggs in late fall and hibernate through the winter or if they emerge in the spring. In either case, the branched umbrella-plant provides the shelter through the winter. Late-instar caterpillars may rest during the day at the base of the host plant in a nest of leaf litter held together with silk7 or under rocks or in cracks in the ground between host plants 9. Mormon Metalmark caterpillars are purplish, with six rows of short hairs protruding in bunches from the body. The dorsal hair rows are black at the base and the lateral hair rows are ochre7, 8. Colour photographs of the caterpillars can be found in Butterflies of British Columbia and in Blue Jay (March 2010) 6, 9.


Pupation occurs primarily in debris at the base of the host plant or within hollow stems of some host plants4, 7. Mormon Metalmark pupae/chrysalis are short, stout, partly hairy, and mottled brown with dark spots on the abdomen4, 7. Colour photographs of the pupae can be found in Butterflies of British Columbia6.

Figure 2. Picture of Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo) perching on a branched umbrella-plant (Eriogonum pauciflorum) in Saskatchewan.

Figure 2. Picture of Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo) perching on a branched umbrella-plant (Eriogonum pauciflorum) in Saskatchewan.

Figure 3. Picture of Mormon Metalmark habitat in the prairies of South Saskatchewan: scarcely vegetated arid hillsides in badlands.

Figure 3. Mormon Metalmark habitat in Saskatchewan.


When occupied by the Mormon Metalmark, the branched umbrella-plant meets the criteria of a dwelling place and is essential to the successful performance of several crucial functions of the Mormon Metalmark. The plants are essential for providing a structure on which to lay the eggs, and shelter for the developing eggs3, 4, 5. The plants, and their root zone also provide essential protection for early- and late-instar caterpillars, and winter shelter7, 9. In addition, the host plant affords shelter from the environment and protection from predators during metamorphosis from pupa to adult4, 7, 9. Finally, branched umbrella-plants play the role of l food plants for the Mormon Metalmark caterpillars 1.

Figure 4. Picture of the host plant, the branched umbrella-plant (Eriogonum pauciflorum). Two individuals are shown with typical greyish leaves stemming from a woody base and bearing several whitish, spherical flower heads.

Figure 4. Picture of the host plant, the branched umbrella-plant (Eriogonum pauciflorum).

Damage and Destruction of Residence

Any activity that destroys the function of the host plant would constitute damage or destruction of the residence. This would include, but is not limited to, any activity that: results in damage to any part of the plant, including leaves, stem, or flowers; removes the plant or surrounding litter from its location; results in shading of the plant; or blocks access of the Mormon Metalmark to the host plant.

Period and Frequency of Occupancy

The host plant is considered a residence any time it is occupied by any life stage of the Mormon Metalmark, which may occur year-round.

Additional Information

For more information, go to the prairie population of the Mormon Metalmark

For more information on SARA, go to SAR Public Regisry

Recommended Citation

Please cite this document as:

Government of Canada. Species at Risk Act Public Registry. Residence Descriptions. Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo), Prairie Population, in Canada.


  1. St. John, D. 2003. COSEWIC Status Report on the Mormon Metalmark Butterfly Apodemia mormo. Committee of the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa, Ontario. (accessed 29 February, 2008).

  2. USGS. 2003. Few-flowered Eriogonum (Eriogonum pauciflorum). Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grassland. Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, USGS. (, accessed 16 September, 2003 )

  3. Scott, J.A. 1975. Flight patterns among eleven species of diurnal Lepidoptera. Ecology 36:1367-1377.

  4. Pyle, R. M. 2002. The butterflies of Cascadia: A field guide to all the species of Washington, Oregon, and surrounding territories. Seattle Audubon Society, Seattle. 420 pp.

  5. Arnold, R.A. and J.A. Powell. 1983. Apodemia mormo langei. Ch. 6 In Ecological studies of six endangered butterflies (Lepidoptera, Lycaenidae): Island biogeography, patch dynamics and design of habitat preserves. Univ. Cal. Publ. Entomol. 99:1-161.

  6. Guppy, C.S. and J.H. Shepard. 2001. Butterflies of British Columbia. UBC Press, Vancouver. 414 pp.

  7. Scott, J.A. 1986. The butterflies of North America: A natural history and field guide. Stanford University Press, Stanford. 581 pp.

  8. Howe, W. H. 1975. The butterflies of North America. Doubleday and Company, Inc., New York. 633 pp.

  9. Peterson, K., E. Amosa, S. Pruss, and N. Erbilgin. 2010. First caterpillar observations of the Mormon metalmark butterfly in Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan. Blue Jay 68(1): 37-40.