Little Wood Satyr Butterfly – Megisto cymela

Little Wood Satyr Butterfly – Megisto cymela
Family: Nymphalidae (Brush-footed Butterflies) / Subfamily: Satyrinae – Satyrs
Live adult butterflies photographed at Winfield Mounds Forest Preserve, Winfield, Illinois
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Little Wood Satyr Butterfly
This specimen shows a pale purple fringe on the forewings.

Life cycle: Eggs are pale green. Caterpillar is brown with tiny white bumps, feeds on grasses and possibly sedges; larvae overwinter partially grown. Habitat: Deciduous woods and forest clearings, meadows and fields, pine woods, salt bays and streamsides. Range: Saskatchewan, North and South Dakota, Colorado, Texas and NE Mexico; east throughout southern Canada and U.S.

Little Wood Satyr Butterfly Dorsal
This satyr's dorsal eyespots all have two "pupils"

Description: Each wing, both above and below, has two prominent eyespots with yellow rims and two pupils. Smaller eyespots may be clustered around large one. No other small satyr has eyespots in pairs above and below.

Little Wood Satyr Butterfly feeding on oak tree sap

I came across a tree sap party one day in late June. There were a dozen or more northern pearly-eyes and little wood satyrs all clustering on one pin oak tree that was oozing sap at several locations. That sap was like catnip for those butterflies. They kept coming and going and jockeying for position, it was really a sight to see. Little Wood Satyrs do not frequent flowers in search of nectar as do most other butterflies; adults rarely feed at all, taking only water at puddles or sap as is shown here.

These butterflies are fun to watch when gamboling about amidst a stand of trees; it really looks as if they are having fun, which is how they got their name; satyrs of Greek mythology are best known for their fondness for drinking, dancing and revelry.

The Little Wood Satyr is a very adaptable butterfly. It requires only some woods, grass and moisture to thrive; it is a prodigious reproducer and can become extremely abundant under the right conditions. The summer of 2004 was just such a time here near Chicago. I cannot isolate any particular weather or other conditions that made it so, it just was. Those butterflies were everywhere! The Little Wood Satyr is equally at home flitting from tree trunk to tree trunk, many times in a group of butterflies that seem to be playing tag, and expertly negotiating tall grass and thick underbrush with their dancing, seemingly slow-motion flight.

They fly on cloudy days, unlike many butterflies, and they tolerate deep shade as well.  One of my favorite woodland denizens!


  1. Opler, Paul A., Harry Pavulaan, Ray E. Stanford, Michael Pogue, coordinators. 2006. Butterflies and Moths of North America. Bozeman, MT: NBII Mountain Prairie Information Node
  2. National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects & Spiders (North America), Chanticleer Press 1980
  3. Eric Eaton & Ken Kaufman, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, Hillstar Editions 2007
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Order Lepidoptera, which contains both butterflies and moths, includes at least 125,000 known species including 12,000 in North America. Butterflies are revered for their brightly colored wings and pleasing association with fair weather and flowers.
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