Butterfly Abbreviations

Keen birders in North America sometimes use a four-character species abbreviation or code when recording field notes by hand. For example, Hermit Thrush is “HETH,” Song Sparrow is “SOSP,” and so on down the line. I’m still analog in the field - as cell/internet access in my remote part of the continent is poor to nil away from larger towns - so I found I needed a comparable abbreviation system for butterfly species. If such a system already exists, I’m not aware of it…and the idea appeals to my librarian brain. Category is: Category Realness.

I’ve been using these abbreviations for years in my own notes. Butterfly common names in English are not standardized - are they Commas or Anglewings? - so I recognize any list would always be subject to debate and disagreement. This is simply the set of names I’m familiar with for the species I see in Northwestern Ontario/Southeastern Manitoba. NB: I have created codes for taxa-only records, as some families of butterflies - like sulphurs - often cannot be identified to species in the field. The taxa-only codes always end in “S.”

Happy trails!

Acadian Hairstreak ACHA
American Copper AMCO
American Lady AMLA
Aphrodite Fritillary APHF
Appalachian Brown APPB
Arctic Fritillary ARFR
Arctic Skipper ARSK
Atlantis Fritillary ATFR
Baltimore Checkerspot BACH
Banded Hairstreak BAHA
Black Swallowtail BLSW
Bog Copper BOCO
Bog Fritillary BOFR
Broad-winged Skipper BWSK
Bronze Copper BRCO
Brown Elfin BREL
Cabbage White CAWH
Canadian Tiger Swallowtail CATS
Checkered White CHWH
Clouded Sulphur CLSU
Columbine Duskywing CODU
Common Branded Skipper CBSK
Common Buckeye COBU
Common Checkered Skipper CCSK
Common Ringlet CORI
Common Roadside Skipper CRSK
Common Wood-Nymph COWN
Compton Tortoiseshell COTO
Coral Hairstreak COHA
Crossline Skipper CRSK
Dion Skipper DION
Dorcas Copper DOCO
Dreamy Duskywing DRDU
Dun Skipper DUSK
Eastern Comma EACO
Eastern Pine Elfin EPEL
Eastern Tailed-Blue ETBL
Edwards’ Hairstreak EDHA
European Skipper EUSK
Eyed Brown EYBR
Freija Fritillary FJFR
Frigga Fritillary FGFR
Giant Sulphur GISU
Gorgone Checkerspot GCHE
Gray Comma GYCO
Gray Copper GRCO
Gray Hairstreak GRHA
Great Spangled Fritillary GSFR
Green Comma GNCO
Greenish Blue GRBL
Grizzled Skipper GZSK
Harris’s Checkerspot HACH
Harvester HARV
Henry’s Elfin HENE
Hoary Comma HOCO
Hoary Elfin HOEL
Hobomok Skipper HOSK
Indian Skipper INSK
Jutta Arctic JUAR
Juvenal’s Duskywing JUDU
Large Marble LAMA
Least Skipper LESK
Little Wood-Satyr LWSA
Long Dash LODA
Macoun’s Arctic MAAR
Meadow Fritillary MEFR
Milbert’s Tortoiseshell MITO
Monarch MONA
Mourning Cloak MOCL
Mustard White MUWH
Northern Azure NOAZ
Northern Blue NOBL
Northern Broken-Dash NOBD
Northern Cloudywing NOCL
Northern Crescent NOCR
Northern Pearly-Eye NPEY
Northwestern Fritillary NWFR
Orange Sulphur ORSU
Painted Lady PALA
Pearl Crescent PEAC
Peck’s Skipper PESK
Pepper-and-Salt Skipper PSSK
Pink-edged Sulphur PESU
Purplish Copper PURC
Question Mark QUES
Red-disked Alpine RDAL
Satyr Comma SACO
Silver-bordered Fritillary SBFR
Silver-spotted Skipper SSSK
Silvery Blue SIBL
Silvery Checkerspot SICH
Sleepy Orange SLOR
Striped Hairstreak STHA
Taiga Alpine TAAL
Tawny Crescent TACR
Tawny-edged Skipper TESK
Variegated Fritillary VAFR
Viceroy VICE
Weidemeyer’s Admiral WEAD
Western Pine Elfin WPEL
Western Tailed-Blue WTBL
Western White WEWH
White Admiral WHAD

Blue species BLUS
Comma (=Anglewing) species COMS
Copper species COPS
Greater Fritillary species GFRS
Lesser Fritillary species LFRS
Pine Elfin species PELS
Skipper species SKIS
Sulphur species SULS
White species WHIS


I agree that four-letter codes for butterflies are a good idea, and I use them myself. But there are a set of rules that describe how the bird codes are created. Some of your proposed codes do not follow those rules. Actually, your bird example at the top is wrong, Song Sparrow is SOSP, the first 2 letters of each word.
I’ve only bothered to figure out the codes for the butterflies in my home state. Someone needs to do this for all of North America, and figure out which names have collisions and need to break the pattern.


@ursus_arctos - What @maractwin says is correct
In fact the 4 letter abbreviation has been / is in use in ebird quite a lot and experienced ebird users are quite conversant due to the “simple rules” that dictate abbreciations

Example Yellow-billed Blue Magpie is YBBM

while Grandala in GRAN

The Birds of South Asia - The Ripley Guide even lists out the 4 letter code.

It is a feature i find useful, but know that given the diversity of life it would be near on impossible to sensibly 4 letter code all the creatures

1 Like

Thank you so much for pointing that out. Corrected.

How are these abbreviations made ?

For most species, it’s possible to create a four-character abbreviation using either the first two letters of each component in a two-element name (e.g. HObomok SKipper = HOSK) or the first four letters of a single-element name (e.g. HARVester).

However, some names have to deviate from this to avoid duplicated abbreviations. For example, Green Comma, Gray Comma and Gray Copper all generate GRCO using the first method. To fix this, the abbreviation needs to pull another letter. So, GreeN COmma and GraY COmma. That just leaves Gray Copper as GRCO.

The taxa-only abbreviations are three letters from the species name plus -S.

It’s not an exact science, and some of it has to work in context…I always use DION for Dion Skipper, rather than DISK, because we get a species called Red-disked Alpine, and my (aging) brain can’t possibly mix up DION with anything else.

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.