A wingspread of nearly three inches makes this butterfly one of the largest of the Arctics, so called because they are most often found in the far north or on mountain tops. In the forests of British Columbia, and southward through the mountains to California, the Greater Arctic secretively hides upon the decaying bark and dark mosses of fallen trees. But the males seem to be possessed by a great curiosity, for every so often they dart out to investigate some passing insect or lizard or even a man. The more placid females usually stay in hiding, but when they do fly their flight is so slow and stately that they are easily netted by the collector. Whether the vigilant and active males are actually trying to protect the females is not definitely known, but they sometimes act as though they were trying to either drive away or even lure away an intruder.
The eggs under the magnifying glass look like fragile balls surrounded by carved and sculptured ridges. They are laid on dried grass and the caterpillars grow up to feed on the nearby greener grass, each of them looking remarkably like a green grass stem, with dark striping. The squat, stout chrysalis are often hidden in the soil or under rocks or against the roots of grasses.