The Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) is a striking creature found across the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America. Known for its vibrant orange wings adorned with bold patterns, it can be commonly found in open habitats such as grasslands, parks, and home gardens.
Adult Gulf Fritillaries typically have a wingspan ranging from 6.5 to 9.5 cm and live for about 14-27 days after emerging from their chrysalis. These butterflies are known for their seasonal movements, where they move northward during spring and form temporary breeding colonies throughout their range.
Key features of the Gulf Fritillary:
- Vibrant orange wings with bold patterns
- Found in diverse regions, from southern U.S. to South America
- Known for seasonal movements and temporary breeding colonies
Gulf Fritillary Overview
Description and Appearance
The Gulf Fritillary is a striking butterfly known for its bright colors and distinct patterns. Key features include:
- Bright orange and yellow wings
- Black markings adorning wing edges
- Iridescent silver spots on wing undersides
- White spots on forewing edges
- Slight sexual dimorphism (males are slimmer)
One distinguishing characteristic of Gulf Fritillary butterflies is their checkered pattern, derived from the shared name with fritillary flowers. Additionally, these butterflies are sometimes referred to as “silverspots” due to their metallic wing markings.
Distribution and Habitat
Gulf Fritillaries inhabit a vast range extending from the southern United States through Mexico, Central America, the West Indies, and South America. These butterflies are commonly found in open habitats, such as:
- Home gardens
In Florida, Gulf Fritillaries are widespread and can be located in all 67 counties. Seasonal movements play a significant role in their distribution, with adults migrating northward during spring and establishing temporary breeding colonies.
The Gulf Fritillary boasts a diverse wingspan ranging from 2½ – 3¾ inches (6.3 – 9.5 cm). The average life span of these butterflies is approximately 14-27 days after emerging from their chrysalis.
Life Cycle of Gulf Fritillary
The life cycle of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly begins with the female laying small, yellow eggs on the host plant. Typically, they:
- Lay eggs on Passionflower vines
- The egg stage lasts about 3-5 days
Once the eggs hatch, the caterpillars begin their development. Some key facts about the caterpillar stage:
- They feed on the host plant’s leaves
- Caterpillars are orange with black spines
Caterpillars go through several instars, or growth stages, before reaching the pupa stage. This process lasts approximately two weeks.
When caterpillars are fully grown, they enter the pupa or chrysalis stage. Important points about this stage:
- The caterpillar forms a J position
- The chrysalis is brown and camouflaged
In the pupa stage, the caterpillar transforms into an adult butterfly, a process that takes around 10-14 days.
Finally, the adult Gulf Fritillary emerges from the chrysalis. The main characteristics of the adult butterfly include:
- Bright orange-red color
- Silver-white spots on wings’ underside
- Wingspan range: 6.5 to 9.5 cm
The adult butterfly lives for about 14-27 days after emerging from the chrysalis.
|Life Stage||Duration||Key Features|
|Eggs||3-5 days||Yellow eggs on Passionflower vine|
|Caterpillar||About 2 weeks||Orange with black spines|
|Pupa (chrysalis)||10-14 days||Brown, camouflaged|
|Adult Butterfly||14-27 days||Bright orange-red, silver spots|
Host Plants and Food Sources
The primary host plants for the Gulf Fritillary caterpillar are various species of passionflower (also known as passiflora). A popular example is Passiflora incarnata, or Maypop. The caterpillars feed on the leaves of these vines as they grow and develop.
- Scientific Name: Agraulis vanillae
Preferred Host Plant
- Species: Passionflower (Passiflora)
- Example: Maypop (Passiflora incarnata)
Other Food Sources for Adults
Adult Gulf Fritillaries feed on nectar from flowers, including:
These nectar sources can be found in various habitats such as gardens, parks, and open grasslands.
|Caterpillar||Passionflower leaves (Passiflora species), Maypop||Passiflora incarnata|
|Adult||Nectar from flowers||Lantana, Aster, Zinnia, Verbena|
Providing these plants and flowers in your garden or landscape will help support the life cycle and population of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly.
Behavior and Interactions
Mating and Reproduction
Gulf fritillary butterflies exhibit sexual dimorphism, with females being larger and darker-striped than males. Males search for and court females during mating season. Once the mating process is over, females lay multiple eggs on the host plants for caterpillars to feed on.
Gulf fritillary caterpillars are known for their bright orange color and small black spines, which deter predators by warning them of the potential unpleasant taste or toxicity. Additionally, some adult butterflies release odorous chemicals as a defense mechanism, further repelling potential predators.
Gulf fritillaries exhibit distinct seasonal migrations each year. In spring, adults move northward from South Florida, forming temporary breeding colonies. They spend their summer in these locations, then fly back to frost-free areas in the fall to overwinter.
Example of Gulf Fritillary Migration:
- Spring: South Florida to Northern Regions
- Summer: Breeding in Northern Regions
- Fall: Return to South Florida for overwintering
Gulf Fritillary Defense Mechanisms:
- Brightly colored caterpillars
- Small black spines on caterpillars
- Release of odorous chemicals by adult butterflies
Comparison Table – Females vs. Males
|Mating Role||Lay eggs after mating||Court females|
Gulf Fritillary and Human Interaction
Gulf Fritillary butterflies are a popular choice for butterfly gardens due to their striking appearance and ease of attracting. They are particularly drawn to:
- Sunny areas
- Open woodlands
Common plants to attract Gulf Fritillaries include:
- Passion vines
Gulf Fritillary butterflies serve as important pollinators for various plants. They prefer:
As pollinators, they contribute to the growth and reproduction of these plants, supporting healthy ecosystems.
Gulf Fritillaries play a vital role in the ecosystems of the Southern United States and California. Some key points:
- They are a food source for birds and other predators.
- Caterpillars feed on passionflower vines, aiding in natural pest control.
- These butterflies help sustain plant populations through pollination.
Remember to respect and appreciate the ecological contributions of Gulf Fritillaries, and consider incorporating them in butterfly gardens to support these beautiful pollinators.
Gulf Fritillary in Context
Similar Butterfly Species
The Gulf fritillary butterfly belongs to the Nymphalidae family, which also includes other well-known species such as the Monarch butterfly and Longwing. Some features of Gulf fritillary butterflies that set them apart from similar species are:
- Bright orange upper wing surface with black markings
- Underside of wings have white dots and metallic silver spots
- Distinct caterpillars with orange coloration and black branched spines
|Feature||Gulf Fritillary||Monarch Butterfly||Longwing|
|Color||Bright orange||Orange and black||Orange and black|
|Wing Pattern||Black markings, white dots, silver spots||Black veins, white spots||Narrow black bands|
|Caterpillar Appearance||Orange with black spines||White, yellow, and black bands||Black with yellow stripes|
Conservation Status and Threats
Gulf fritillary butterflies are widespread and can be found throughout the southern U.S, including Florida and Texas, as well as Mexico, Central America, and South America. They have a large distribution and are not considered endangered or threatened.
These butterflies face some challenges in their natural habitats, such as:
- Habitat loss due to urbanization and agriculture
- Pesticide exposure, which can be harmful to both larval and adult stages
Despite these challenges, the Gulf fritillary population appears to be stable. They can often be found in pastures, open areas, and gardens, where their caterpillars feed on host plants such as the purple passionflower and yellow passionflower.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Aphrodite Fritillary
Butterfly Photos and Identification
I was wondering if you could identify these two butterflies for me. They were spotted at the Tyler Arboretum in southeast Pennsylvania . Although I have a healthy fear of most bugs, like most people the sight of a butterfly is a welcome one (and significantly less anxiety-producing!). I am developing a new found respect for bugs through your site though.
Your one butterfly image is of a Greater Fritillary, probably the Aphrodite Fritillary, Speyeria aphrodite.
Letter 2 – Female Diana Fritillary
Someone had sent in a picture some months ago of a Diana Fritillary and you put in on your web site. If I remember correctly, you mentioned that this was a rarely seen butterfly. While I spent a leisurely day at Wilson Creek Gorge in North Carolina, I feel fortunate to have spotted this butterfly and was able to photograph it. It is truly beautiful! Thought you and others might enjoy seeing it. Looking forward to your new web site. Happy to contribute,
We are so lucky to receive your gorgeous photo of a female Diana Fritillary, Speyeria diana, a rare species with local populations. BugGuide states: “A spectacularly dimorphic species. Males are brown with an orange border. Femaleas are blue and black members of the Pipevine Swallowtail mimicry complex” meaning that the two sexes look nothing alike. We also know that you are requesting an identification on a Geometrid Moth, and that will take a bit of research. Since we are in charge of a hiring committee at our job, we need to go to work several hours early on this pre-dawn, rain-soaked, Los Angeles day, and we don’t have time to provide an answer at the moment.
Letter 3 – Female Diana Fritillary: Rare Find
Is this a red spotted purple?
Hi there Bugman!
I really enjoy perusing your site, it’s great! I looked through all your butterfly pictures (and the ones at http://nabamidtn.org/ ) and the closest that I get to for this butterfly is the Red spotted Purple. Is that right? It doesn’t look exactly like it, byut that was the closest that I could find. They were very beautiful and I spent most of the week running around and chasing them in an effort to get a decent picture. The second one was starnded on the pavement (it had been run over by several cars-between the wheel base-, so I finally rescued it and placed it in the grass, where I was able to get several pictures). I saw several butterflies like it in Gatlinburg, TN this last week (late September). None of the locals seemed to be familiar with it. If it the same as the second one that I saw, it’s underwings are black with orange spots. Actually the two don’t look exactly the same, so I suppose that I have two differnt kinds. These photos are cropped and resized, but otherwise not manipulated. I have the full resolution shots if you are interested in them (5 megapixel). Both were located in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Thanks for any info that you may be able to send my way!
One of your photos is of a Red Spotted Purple, and we have no shortage of those images on our site, so we will not be posting it. Your other image however has us very excited. It is of a female Diana Fritillary, Speyeria diana, a species that exhibits pronounced sexual dimorphism. Some Fritillaries, including the Diana Fritillary, seem to be getting very rare.
Letter 4 – Male Diana Fritillary
Thanks for all your work on this fantastic site. I have spent hours here identifying bugs since moving to rural southeastern Tennessee from a much more urban area. I searched through many pictures here and elsewhere to try to identify this butterfly. From descriptions, but not photos, I think that this is a male Diana Fritillary. I followed several around the yard hoping to photograph one, and spotted this one in the grass. Unfortunately, he was in some distress (not from me), and at least if he is not going to survive, he did get his picture taken. Can you confirm my I.D.? I haven’t found a beetle similar to this guy who apparently thought that since it hadn’t been raining lately, the rain gauge would be a great place to hang out. After liberating him, I got him to pose. If you could help identify him, I would appreciate it. Finally, it has apparently been a very good year for these "Southern Bell" Black Widows, as I have found several around my house with the red marks on the back as well as the abdomen. This one was out on a door frame and not obscured by her web. Thanks for your help, and your wonderful site!
Both time constraints and the complications of our archiving process don’t make multiple identifications in one letter an option right now. We are absolutely thrilled to post your photo of a correctly identified male Diana Fritillary, Speyeria diana. The populations of this gorgeous butterfly have been declining, perhaps due to habitat destruction. Thanks for sending the photo. We will work on that beetle identication if time permits.
Letter 5 – Female Diana Fritillary and a perplexing situation
Female Diana Fritillary ?
Hi again, Bugman
I live in Fairfield Glade, Tennessee on the Cumberland Plateau. Today I spotted this gorgeous butterfly on my neighbor’s Butterfly Bush. It was among lots of yellow and black Swallowtails. And what I think is a Great Spangled Fritillary. Could this be a female Diana Fritillary? Thank you,
Hi there Carla May,
The open winged butterfly you have sent us is definitely a female Diana Fritillary, but the closed winged view has us a bit puzzled. BugGuide has images of female Diana Fritillaries with closed wings and males with closed wings and they look distinctly different from one another. BugGuide even has an image of a pair with closed wings. Comparing your closed winged view to that image is interesting since your example more closely resembles the male and not the female. Are these two photos in fact the same specimen? We ask this because the white spotting visible on the dorsal surface outer border looks to be the markings of the female. Since the Diana Fritillary exhibits such extreme sexual dimorphism, we are puzzled by your documentation. Perhaps a more knowledgeable reader can clarify this for us.
Update: (08/20/2008) More pics of the Diana Fritillary in east Tennessee
Hi Daniel, I saw the mystery Diana Fritillary today on my neighbor’s Butterfly Bush. It was the only butterfly on the bush. I assume it’s the same one I saw yesterday because of the little piece that is missing from it’s right wing. Here are five more photos. In four of them you can see the wing with the little piece that is missing. Hope this helps. Thanks much! Carla May
Fairfield Glade, Tennessee
Hi again Carla May,
Thanks for establishing that this is the same individual. Your new photo clearly shows both the upper and undersides of the wings of this lovely female Diana Fritillary. We still hope someone can clarify the apparent “male” pattern on the underside.
Letter 6 – Female Diana Fritillary
Female Diana Fritillary Butterfly
August 25, 2009
My property abuts Cocke County in East Tennessee on one side and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the other. I have to consider myself a lucky person in that for the past several years I’ve been able to enjoy this lovely beauty and her male counterpart each summer. They, and many other butterflies (Pipevine Swallowtail and Great Spangled Fritillary also photographed this month), so enjoy the ironweed in my backyard. In the spring my backyard is full of a variety of wild violets.
The attached article may be of some interest to you. I was lucky enough to get this photo just a few minutes ago.
Thank you so much for all your help over the years,
In our humble opinion, the Diana Fritillary is one of the most beautiful North American butterflies. We have also read that it is endangered, probably due to habitat loss. The sexual dimorphism is especially marked in this species.
female Diane Fritillary
August 26, 2009
It never falis, I see a new isnect in my yard, and it shows up on your site! I am 99 % sure I caught and released a female Diana Fritillary yesterday. She was stuck in our garage, trying to “get out” of the window. I put a cup over her, and slid some paper underneath. She was healthy and seemed very robust. The BUT in all of this is we are in southeastern PA. According to the info on the internet, this is not her range. But I got a close look at her, and she was a Diana Fritillary. We have tons of wild violets in our yard, which may provide her with a food source.
We are very happy to hear we don’t fail you. According to BugGuide, the Diana Fritillary is found in “Souther [sic] Appalachian region, also Ozark Mountains in Arkansas, Missouri. Rather local and rare.“ BugGuide has reports from Virginia. As we have stated in Mitigated Negative Declaration comment letters in our own Mount Washington, Los Angeles neighborhood, wildlife does not recognize arbitrary boundaries between properties, and the same goes for state and international borders. You are in the Southern portion of Pennsylvania. We are linking to a page with nice photos and a distribution map showing West Virginia, Virgina and the Carolinas. It is entirely possible there is an undocumented population in your area, though you did not indicate if you live in a wooded area. Dare we even entertain the possibility that global warming could be contributing to range expansion? or that Hurricane Bill storms may have blown your specimen off course? We wish you had supplied us with a photograph. Though we do not want to doubt your powers of observation, you might also compare images of Red Spotted Purples to see if that could be what you saw.
female Diane Fritillary
First, sorry for the typos. Second- darn, you could be right. The funny thing is, I almost let her beat against the window so I could get my camera!! Sad, huh? The reason I didn’t is because there are quite a few spiders in the windows of the garage. One lucky bugger snagged a cicada. I didn’t want her to get trapped. Anyway, it could have been the Red Spotted Purple. It did seem to be a bit larger than the little orange fritillaries around here. And the storms that have ripped through here lately would certainly blown a butterfly off course. Thanks for the response. Love your site!
Letter 7 – America's Most Beautiful Butterfly Couple Nominee: Male Diana Fritillary
Location: Carlisle, SC
May 28, 2011 5:10 pm
What butterfly is this?
This gorgeous butterfly is a male Diana Fritillary, . We needed to qualify the identification with a modifier on the sex, because this is a highly sexually dimorphic species, meaning the males and females look like entirely different species. The female butterfly is an aqua blue color. Here is an image from our archives of a female Diana Fritillary.
Update May 28, 2011
If ever there was a strong candidate for beauty in the next authorized What’s That Bug? Calendar, it would be this pristinely beautiful male Diana Fritillary on a modern contraption.
Challenge to our Readership: Take a staged insect photograph … or not.
Get a photo of a couple of Dobsonflies, male and female together. If he is grasping her with those saber-like mandibles, it might be proof that the male needs those mandibles for mating purposes, because they sure can’t be used for eating. This is one of our favorite bug couple photos of all time. It appeared in the 2006 What’s That Bug? calendar.
Letter 8 – Male Diana Fritillary
Subject: Butterfly ID
Location: Somerset County NJ
June 24, 2013 4:46 pm
This butterfly was seen in Somerset County NJ, @Sourland Mountain. June 23, 2013. Can you identify it?
Kathy and Andrew
Dear Kathy and Andrew,
This gorgeous butterfly is a male Diana Fritillary, and it is obvious it has been attracted by the nectar available in milkweed. The female Diana Fritillary looks like a completely different butterfly because of the extreme sexual dimorphism.
Letter 9 – Male Diana Fritillary
Subject: What butterfly is this?
Location: Old Fort, NC 28762
June 11, 2015 4:23 pm
This butterfly landed on the wood of my back porch and just stayed in one place until it left but it slowly opened and closed it’s wings the whole time (15-20 minutes). I’ve tried other butterfly/bug identifying websites but I couldn’t find a picture of it anywhere. I love butterflies and I really want to know if this one is native to this area because I’d love to see one again!
Signature: Thank you for your time, Victoria
This spectacular and not very common butterfly is a male Diana Fritillary, a species with pronounced sexual dimorphism because the female Diana Fritillary looks like an entirely different species. We wish you had sent higher resolution files.
Letter 10 – Checkerspots, Fritillaries and Predacious Diving Beetles Mating
butterfly monkey sex
And other insect porn for you! I was so happy to find out I’m not the only one!
Your photos are all so beautiful. We wish you had provided a bit more information. Your mating Checkerspots in the genus Euphydryas, your mating Fritillaries in the genus Speyeria, and your mating Predacious Diving Beetles, Acilius mediatus, are all wonderful additions to our site.
Letter 11 – Spicebush Swallowtail and Greater Fritillary
Your help in identifying these two flutterbys would be much appreciated. The golden one is a puzzle. The color looks drab but the wings, when open in the sunlight, are a brilliant gold. At first, I assumed that the black beauty was a black swallowtail. Now, I’m not so certain. Could it be a pipevine or spicebush swallowtail? I’d like to label my pictures correctly. Several of these have been swooping about in our garden this year. I’ve noticed that they tend to chase, or harass, the tiger swallowtails. Friendly or hostile behaviour . . . . would love to know. So glad I discovered your helpful site . . . I hope my pictures will help others “put a name to the face!” Thanks!
Susan B. Naumann
|Greater Fritillary||Spicebush Swallowtail|
We must begin by chastising you for not providing us with a location. We do not even want to attempt to identify your Greater Fritillary to the species level without that, and even with a location, that is difficult. One of our favorite writers and amateur lepidopterists, Vladimir Nabokov, has written extensively on this genus in his awesome novel Ada. Suffice to say your Greater Fritillary is in the genus Speyeria. The swallowtail is, we believe, a Spicebush Swallowtail based on the spot patterns. Your photos are quite lovely and a welcome addition.
Hi again, Bugman!
Thanks for the quick response! I apologize for omitting such important information. My Greater Fritillary and Spicebrush Swallowtail pictures were taken in Connecticut. Glad to have the name/spelling correction, too (Spicebrush).
Based on your follow-up, we have changed the spelling to Spicebush Swallowtail, though we have seen both spellings in use. This is probably a carryover from our youth, when we referred to this as a Spicebrush Swallowtail. Spicebush Swallowtail seems to make much more sense.
Letter 12 – Checkerspots, Fritillaries and Predacious Diving Beetles Mating
butterfly monkey sex
And other insect porn for you! I was so happy to find out I’m not the only one!
Your photos are all so beautiful. We wish you had provided a bit more information. Your mating Checkerspots in the genus Euphydryas, your mating Fritillaries in the genus Speyeria, and your mating Predacious Diving Beetles, Acilius mediatus, are all wonderful additions to our site.
Letter 13 – Lesser Fritillary and True Fritillary (but what species?????)
Hi. I think this is some sort of fritillary, but for the life of me I can’t figure out which one. It was taken in SE Pennsylvania, in early September, and there were just hundreds of them around my friend’s garden, and actually around the whole neighborhood. I have some butterfly bushes that supplied us with a constant stream of entertainment all summer, but I never saw these guys there. Any ideas? PS: You are doing such a great thing with your amazing website! Thank you.
To add to your identification confusion, we are of the opinion that you have two different species of Fritillary here. Sadly, we will not be much assistance as we have never mastered the nuances of identifying the different species. Eric Eaton provided this addition: “The upper [left side] fritillary is not a true fritillary, but is called the “variegated fritillary.” The other is something in the genus Speyeria, but you usually need to see the underside of the wings to have a better idea of a species ID.”
Letter 14 – Greater Fritillary
Mystery butterfly in my garden!
I wonder if you could help identify this beautiful butterfly that appeared in my garden for the first time today — I am attaching the pictures. Thanks for any help you can provide.
This is a Greater Fritillary in the genus Speyeria. We are not qualified to identify the exact species. Though they range from coast to coast, here is a quote from Jeffrey Glassberg’s book Butterflies Through Binoculars The West: “These are some of the largest and most beautiful butterflies in the West; unfortunately they are the most difficult group to identify to species. Most of the species are exceptionally variable. Travel a hundred miles and you’ll think your’re looking at a completely different animal. A species may be confused with two other species at one location and with a different set of species at a different location! Making matters even worse is that, in general, most of the identification cues, such as they are, only show you their topsides. … [The] reality is that in many cases you’re going to have to accept that your best identification is that it’s a greater fritillary. In many cases, people who believe they can identify individual butterflies are wrong.”
Letter 15 – Fritillary
What type of butterfly is this?
July 21, 2009
I believe it is some type of greater fritillary butterfly. I was hoping you could provide further information.
Unknown; Either Dallas, Texas or Kansas City, Kansas
Exact Fritillary identification often takes an expert and inspection of the specimen. It is a greater Fritillary, perhaps Great Spangled Fritillary. Photo of underside might help.
Thanks for the quick response! Attached is a picture of the underside. The specimen is several years old so the colors are probably slightly faded.
Thanks for sending the view of the underside, because now we are certain this is not a Great Spangled Fritillary. We believe it may be an Aphrodite Fritillary, Speyeria aphrodite. Again, we want to clarify that we believe a true expert is needed for definitive Fritillary identifications.
Vote in support of our initial identification
Actually, I think you were right the first time. I think it is a Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele) because of the reddish base color and wide cream colored band on the underside of the hind wings. Regards. K
Letter 16 – Mating Knapweed Fritillaries from Syria, we believe
April 10, 2010
this is the first group of pics ,which i have taken as i was on a trip to the mountains of Tartous.
these beautiful butterflies were making love while i was shooting….
i hope you can “ID” them…
ps. i will be sending more letters hoping you will somehow answer them. cuz you are not answering my letters anymore. :'(
We wish we had a staff large enough to respond to the multitude of identification requests we receive each year, but alas, a sole Bugman can only do so much. We are not deliberately ignoring you, but we have been working on completing our book as well as trying to hold down a full time job furthering the education of a future generation of photographers and journalists at Los Angeles City College. We know that your mating beauties are Brush Footed Butterflies in the family Nymphalidae, and that they somewhat resemble some North American species of Fritillaries, but an exact identification will require research. We decided to begin with the Moths and Butterflies of Europe and North Africa website, and we hit the jackpot, kind of, because the homepage has a photo that appears to match your individuals, but alas, there is not an identification, so we need to sort through thumbnails. We got sneaky and downloaded the image hoping it would have a name on it, but alas, the group of images is combined and just titled “home”. We believe these are mating Freyer’s Fritillaries, Melitaea arduinna, though it doesn’t appear that the url on the website changes when that photo is selected. We then pursued that name and found a page on Eurobutterflies that indicated that Freyer’s Fritillary also resembles two other species with this information: “This is a very local species found in the Balkans. It is only found in a few areas, including NW Greece. We’ve found only two colonies and then only a few individuals, one near Lake Vegoritis and one in the Varnous Mountains. Both sites were lush grassy places with plenty of flowers. The very similar Knapweed Fritillary, M. phoebe, and Glanville Fritillary, M. cinxia were flying more commonly with it at both places. The key difference is found in the post discal area of both surfaces of the hindwing. This orange band has black spots, although in phoebe they are usually not present. These spots have a deeply arched black line forming a semi-circle around them on the underside. This is outside the row of lines/ lunules that form the outside border of the white discal area. This is missing completely in cinxia. If spots are present a check of the upperside is helpful to eliminate phoebe – arduinna has fine black markings, phoebe is relatively very dark, particularly on the hindwing. Another place to check is the row of spots in the forewing discal area near the costa of arduinna, these are merged into a streak in phoebe.” The Knapweed Fritillary, Melitaea phoebe, is pictured with a distribution map on Captain’s European Butterfly Guide, with the comment: “No black spots at the wingtip on the underside (see right) and no black in the row of orange spots helps distinguish from the Glanville fritillary.” The Glanville Fritillary, Melitaea cinxia, can also be found on Captain’s European Butterfly Guide, and the photos with the black spots evident would disqualify it as your species. Our money is on the Knapweed Fritillary whose range appears to reach Syria. Our inability to answer all of your numerous requests should not be taken as a slight, since the research in this one posting took us 45 minutes, meaning many other readers will not be receiving a response from us today.
thank you , and i am really sorry
i did not know about all the hard working and effort you give for our demands.
and i do appreciate your work,and i am thankful from all my heart.
i will make a donation just because you are the only ones worthing it,and please please forgive me if i looked too demanding and over asking.
and because of you,many of my pals now,reconsidered the value of this kingdom they rarely care about each day.
greetings from Syria to all the hard working people of WTB.
Hi again WAEL,
There is no need to apologize, but we did want you to know that we have a very small staff and answering all our emails would prevent us from doing much of anything else. Our very hard working webmaster has recently added a translation feature to our site, and we expect that might bring in even more mail.
Letter 17 – What Fritillary is it???
Butterly ID – Fritillary?
Location: Northern Wisconsin
September 3, 2011 11:07 pm
Good day. I took this pic on 8/27, and have been trying to identify what type of butterfly it is. I bought a guidebook and it seems to be a fritillary, but I’m struggling with just which one it is. Thanks for your help.
We still have problems trying to identify many of the Greater Fritillaries in the genus Speyeria to the species level. We will post your photo and continue to research, but we hope to enlist the assistance of our readership with a proper identification. You can also try browsing the species on BugGuide.
Thanks so much for your response. The more I tried to identify “which” specific fritillary, the more confused I became. I’ve been looking into guides and websites specific to the region, but can’t reach a conclusion :). And I know another photo with the wings open would have helped. The ones that seem closest to my pic are Atlantis, Aphrodite, Great Spangled, or Silver-Bordered but I’m not sure.
Thanks, again. This may just be one of “life’s mysteries” and that’s OK.
Nice research Laurie,
Our top choices were the Aphrodite Fritillary and Great Spangled Fritillary, but we didn’t feel confident enough with the identification to relay that information.
Thanks, Daniel. My first two choices were Atlantis or Great Spangled but for no specific reason. One of my guides talks about the forewing on the Aphrodite having an additional black dot, so I had moved that choice down the list a bit. And the size of the Great Spangled seemed a bit large but otherwise close. I know it’s nature and nothing is ever concrete.
I’m gonna post this pic to my bird forum and see what they think and I’ll let you know if they have any thoughts.
Letter 18 – Greater Fritillary
in response to ”What Frittilary?”
Location: Traverse City Michigan
September 4, 2011 5:17 pm
Hi Bugman! The picture if the unknown Frit reminded me of my own unknown frit,later id as an aphrodite. Being new to all this bugstuff I saw the white spots and mistook it for a regal!!LOL!! But because of that experience I probably have the largest collection of birds-foot violets in northern Michigan.
The Aphrodite Fritillary and the Great Spangled Fritillary were our two top choices for the image submitted earlier. Thank you for mentioning that gardeners who want to encourage Fritillaries to reproduce in their yards need to plant violets.
Letter 19 – Bug of the Month June 2012: Greater Fritillary, but which species???
Subject: Identify butterfly
Location: Northwest Missouri
May 31, 2012 9:19 pm
Found this butterfly hanging about our campsite. Would like to identify and any information or acces to such regarding the species. State park, white oak and hickory upland forest. 5/19/2012
Signature: Thomas Orr
This is one of the Greater Fritillaries in the genus Speyeria, but we are not certain of the species. We often have trouble differentiating the Fritillaries from one another, but they are difficult to confuse with other butterfly genera. To further complicate identifications, some species have numerous regional subspecies. According to BugGuide: “This is one genus that is unlikely to be confused with any other. These are medium to large sized, broad-winged butterflies (most are over 2 inches in wing span, all at least nearly this large, and many species are much larger). Most have a distinctive pattern of black dashes and spots above and with rounded or oval (usually silvered) pale spots below, particularly on the hind wing. There are a few species in which colors may be modified from the usual orange ground, and several in which light spots below may be unsilvered. In S. diana the pattern and coloring are highly modified, but this species is also very distinctive and recognizable at a glance. ” The habitat you describe most likely contains many violets, the food plant of the Fritillary caterpillars. Since it is now June 1 and we need a Bug of the Month, we can’t think of a lovelier choice than your Greater Fritillary.
Letter 20 – Greater Fritillary, but which species???
Subject: Butterfly ID
Location: Bethlehem, NH
June 13, 2012 8:08 pm
I found out this is a Greater Fritillary, but what kind? I love the photos since you can see the compound eyes, antennae, and proboscis. Photos taken 6/8/12 in Bethlehem, NH.
We agree that these are gorgeous photographs, but alas, we don’t believe we are able to identify this Greater Fritillary in the genus Speyeria to the species level. We have never been confident with identifying most Greater Fritillaries to the species level. After more than twenty years, we are currently rereading ADA by Vladimir Nabokov (see this 1969 NY Times book review), a noted author and amateur lepidopterist who frequently writes about butterflies in his novels and fiction. ADA, the title character, has a fascination with Fritillaries and it is her fantasy to raise all of the known species, many of which use a single species of violet as the sole larval food, from egg through caterpillar through chrysalis to adult. She dreams of documenting the life cycle and food plant of each species and once she has raised them to the adult stage, she plans to dissect their sexual organs because that is the only way to accurately identify them to the species level, at least that was the only way prior to DNA analysis. According to BugGuide: “Adults feed mostly on nectar and are avid visitors of flowers. They often gather in numbers on Composites (family Asteraceae). Occasionally they may visit moist mineral rich ground as well.” Your individual appears to be drinking mineral rich moisture from the ground.
Letter 21 – Fritillary
Subject: Frittillary Frustration
Location: Wainwright Alberta
August 10, 2012 2:22 pm
Hello again bugman,
Thank you so much for all the help with identifying my moth and my caterpillar but once again i’ve overreached my meager knowledge with this beautiful fratillary! I know we have several here in the wainwright area but i’m not sure how to positively id this one. I think it might be a Great Spangled Fratillary but they are all so close! ps. i love this site!
HI again Jessica,
We also feel woefully inadequate when it comes to differentiating Greater Fritillaries from one another. We will post your photo and perhaps one of our readers will be able to provide more specific information. The color in your photo appears to be off, so we are posting it in two versions, your original and our attempt to color correct. Perhaps you did not white balance for the lighting conditions outdoors and the camera defaulted to tungsten or incandescent light balance.
Letter 22 – Fritillary
Subject: Unknown Fritillary
Location: Douglas County, WI, on RTE#53 half way between Gordon WI and Solon Springs, WI
September 6, 2013 7:01 am
This Fritillary was found in a pine-oak barrens in Douglas County on September 3, 2013. It, and many others of the same species, were nectering on Liatris aspera (rough blazing star). For more information on the location and habitat go to http://fotbs.org/
Signature: Francie Barnes
Sadly, we don’t have the necessary skills to identify this lovely Greater Fritillary to the species level. We spent several weeks in Eastern Ohio/Western Pennsylvania in August and we were very disappointed that we did not see any Fritillaries.
Letter 23 – Greater Fritillary
Subject: butterfly or moth
Location: south eastern CT
July 10, 2014 11:15 am
this photo was taken in July in SE CT. the butterfly or moth is on butterfly weed. Can you identify it?
This gorgeous butterfly is a Greater Fritillary in the genus Speyeria, and as you can see from BugGuide, there are many similar looking species. We suspect this is most likely a Great Spangled Fritillary, Speyeria cybele.
thank you so much. I was looking on a CT insects web site, but there are so many different, but similar pictures, I didn’t know where to start.
Letter 24 – Greater Fritillary
Location: Kings Canyon National Park, California
July 30, 2014
hi again, what’s that bug?
this butterfly confuses me – is is a checkerspot or fritillary?
king’s canyon national park on july 17th, 2014.
thanks very much,
clare, los angeles
This is a Greater Fritillary in the genus Speyeria, and the Greater Fritillaries are larger than the Checkerspots. Greater Fritillaries also have silver spots on the ventral surface of the underwings, which one of your images nicely illustrates. See BugGuide for images of the many North American Greater Fritillaries, which we have a very difficult time distinguishing from one another. According to BugGuide: “This distinctive genus is unlikely to be confused with any other in North America. These are medium to large sized, broad-winged butterflies (most are over 2 inches in wing span, all at least nearly this large, and many species are much larger). Most have a distinctive pattern of black dashes and spots above and with rounded or oval (usually silvered) pale spots below, particularly on the hind wing. There are a few species which diverge from the usual orange ground color, and several in which light spots below may be unsilvered. In S. dianathe pattern and coloring are highly modified, but this species is so very distinctive as to be recognizable at a glance. … Checkerspots can be confused with Fritillaries too (and are also called ‘Fritillaries’ by the British), but they are also much smaller than Speyeria, and the pattern below is always distinctly different (see photos under tribe Melitaeini). The upper side does not have a row of rounded spots near the outer edge of both the front and hind wings as do the ‘true’ Fritillaries.” Two species found in Southern California according to the Butterflies Through Binoculars The West by Jeffrey Glassberg are the Coronis Fritillary, Speyeria coronis [See BugGuide] and the Callippe Fritillary, Speyeria callippe [see BugGuide].
thanks, daniel. i did look online – but wanted to know:
so, it could be the coronis or calliope? would this apply to the west side of the sierra nevada, too? (kings canyon nat’l park).
Based on the range maps in Butterflies Through Binoculars The West, those are the two possible Fritillaries in Southern California. Sadly, BugGuide does not have true range maps, and sightings cause the entire state to be colored, as in the case of S. coronis and S. calliope. Other California species are found in Northern California. According to BugGuide information for all species in the genus: “Caterpillar food plants are Violets, Viola species.” Violet are relatively common in the eastern portion of the country, hence the greater Fritillary diversity there. How many native violets are found in Southern California? Without violets, you will not have Fritillaries.
Letter 25 – Fritillaries and Luna Moth used a source material in textile piece.
Subject: Butterfly and moth
Location: Mountain Home
January 10, 2015 3:38 am
Dear Bugman my friend sent these pics from Mountain Home, Arkansas they were on his woods and I am an Illustrator and want to make a wall hanging and also illustrate these species but want to be sure what they are called please and if there is a clearer image of the moth I could use. I am based in the UK so would need web based images if you have one. Thank you for your help.
We wish we knew what time of year these sightings occurred. The Luna Moth is arguably the loveliest and most distinctive of the diverse North American moths. Nothing from North America looks quite like the Luna Moth, though the Moon Moth from China is obviously closely related. The Luna Moth ranges in Eastern North America from Northern Canada to Florida and west to Texas. The butterflies are Greater Fritillaries known for silver spots on the undersides of the wings like in these Great Spangled Fritillaries. What type of wall hanging are you making? You may use images from our site for inspiration for illustrations provided they are sufficiently altered from the original photographic form.
Dear Daniel thank you for your reply but not sure if you are telling me the orange spotted butterfly is the greater spangled fritillary?? Thank you for giving me permission to use inspiration from your original images but I was going to use the original photographs which my friend took I just wanted to know the name of the orange butterfly I copied to you. The wall hanging will be illustrated, silk painted, felted, water-coloured and then embroidered and will be called ‘A Walk in the Wild Wood’ which will represent the wildlife in his woods on his property including flowers, birds, animals and trees. If I were to use any images for inspiration they would be all of my own design using those methods and yours would only be visually used for colours and identification purposes as I have a BA Hons degree in Illustration of course I understand about changing the original and copyright. Thank you very much for your help. Annie
Thanks for the clarification Annie. By all means use images on our site for inspiration as the final wall hanging will be textile and not photographic. The butterflies are Greater Fritillaries in the genus Speyeria, and we believe they are Great Spangled Fritillaries, Speyeria cybele, but this is a difficult genus for us to identify conclusively to the species level.
Letter 26 – Fritillary, but what species???
Geographic location of the bug: Ellensburg, Washington
Time: 11:34 AM EDT
Found this at work and wondered what kind of butterfly or moth this might be.
How you want your letter signed: Anna
This is a Fritillary Butterfly, but we are not certain which species. The Washington Butterflies page pictures several similar looking species.
Thank you! I think I figured it out from the page you mentioned! I have attached the corresponding screen shots! (Ed. Note: screen shot is Coronis Fritillary) You guys are the best!!!
Letter 27 – Help Save Butterflies: Fritillaries in the UK
Subject: Help Save the Butterfly
Date: January 31, 2018
I thought I’d pop over an email after reading an article on your site about butterflies: https://www.
After building a wonderful butterfly garden with my son last summer, I recently blogged a massive 3000 word guide on how we can stop their numbers declining.
Hopefully it generates a bit of awareness, and teaches people how to help if they fly into your garden!
Feel free to check it out here: https://diygarden.co.uk/
If you think it’s useful, please do link to it from you post. 76% of our butterfly species have declined over the past 40 years, so anything that helps spread the word about protecting these little chaps would be massively appreciated.
In return, I’ll happily share your article with my 7,000+ followers on social media!
Thanks so much for your help, and have a great day 🙂
Thanks for your public awareness campaign and your active attempts in your own yard to create a butterfly garden, both of which earn you the honor of having this posting tagged with the Bug Humanitarian Award. Are you able to tell us which Fritillary species is represented in your image?
Letter 28 – Possibly Zerene Fritillary from Oregon
Subject: Fritillary ID
Geographic location of the bug: Oregon, Fall River (near Bend)
Time: 12:39 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Can you help identify this fritillary butterfly. I had no idea how difficult they are to identify. I can’t determine if this is hydaspe or maybe zerene or perhaps a different species. Thank
How you want your letter signed: Bruce Carlson
Thank you for including both a dorsal and ventral view. Fritillary identification can indeed be quite challenging, but we believe it might be the Zerene Fritillary, Speyeria zerene. According to Butterflies Through Binoculars, The West, the Zerene Fritillary is “mid-sized fritillary that is extremely variable.” The difficulty in distinguishing different species of Fritillaries from one another is further exacerbated by the extreme variability many species exhibit. Here is a BugGuide image of a dorsal view for comparison and also a ventral view from BugGuide. We would defer to any Fritillary experts on this matter.
Update: January 24, 2020
Subject: Update on fritillary ID
Your letter to the bugman: Last year I submitted a photo that you tentatively identified as Speyeria zerene. I now have positive ID that it is Speyeria zerene zerene: “Hey Bruce – We have a positive ID from the experts… you did observe S.z.zerene. See exchange below with USFWS.
Well, I consulted THE expert, Paul Hammond, and he said it was in fact S. z. zerene. He did indicate the following: “Speyeria z. zerene is distinguished from sympatric S. hydaspe by subtle differences in the wing color pattern, but they are often difficult to distinguish. ” You can pass this along as a positive id. Rich
Letter 29 – Possibly Meadow Fritillary
Subject: Possibly Meadow Fritillary
Geographic location of the bug: Campbell, Ohio
Time: 3:29 PM EDT
Daniel noticed this Lesser Fritillary, possibly a Meadow Fritillary, Boloria bellona, pictured on Ohio Butterflies and BugGuide. Fritillaries can be difficult to identify conclusively.
Letter 30 – Fritillary Caterpillar
This is a pitiful excuse for a photo but I tried my best, sorry. Anyway, I found this caterpillar in the backyard curled in a ball in the dirt. He was ripe for the picking by the birds so I brought him in to see if I could help her make it to a butterfly. She is black with reddish at the base of the spikes and has been eating violet leaves (through trial and error). Caterpillar is ready to pupate and I want to make sure I have the right nectar plants for her release. I ruled out mourning cloak because there are no whitish spots. I am truly at a loss. Thanks for your time and I love your website!
Lorrie in Vermont
Violets as a food plant are pretty much compelling information that this caterpillar is a species of Fritillary, probably a Greater Fritillary in the genus Speyeria, though we are not confident enough to identify what species. Fritillaries are nectaring butterflies that love Phlox, Joe Pye Weed, Milkweed, Coneflowers, Thistles, Goldenrod and many other flowers. We doubt your adult butterfly will starve when released.
It ended up being a Great Spangled Fritallary and when we released it he flew so high into the sky right for a tree. A beautiful experience. I haven’t seen many of those around here. Thanks for your help trying to identify the caterpillar. Sincerely,
Letter 31 – Another Gulf Fritillary Metamorphosis
Gulf Fritillary metamorphosis.
I just thought I would share with ya some pictures I took of a gulf fritillary butterfly i found as a caterpillar. I hope you enjoy them.
Shortly before you sent in your letter, we posted another letter depicting the metamorphosis of the Gulf Fritillary, and we chose it for our Bug of the Month.
Letter 32 – Bug of the Month: December 2007 – Gulf Fritillary Metamorphosis
You guys have been wonderful and I appreciate your getting back to me with some answers. I am sending you all a couple of shots of the changes in a gulf fritillary butterfly I happened to catch all happening at the same time. I hope they are of some use . Again, keep up the good work. This is a fantastic site. I just wish you could input colors on the search area because I don’t know exactly where to look to find some of these critters until I get an answer back. Thanx,
Scott Austin TX
It is time for us to choose the Bug of the Month for December, and we will be using your wonderful documentation of the metamorphosis of the Gulf Fritillary. This lovely orange butterfly has caterpillars that feed on passionflower, and can be found in warmer climates in the U.S. where that plant is cultivated, including California, Arizona, Texas and Florida. We know that our website has numerous problems, but at this point, it is such a behemoth, it probably cannot ever be tamed.
Letter 33 – Two Stages in Gulf Fritillary Metamorphosis
Gulf Fritillary larva and butterfly
I live in Ventura California and saw this caterpillar in a local park a few months ago (early spring). I thought it was a Gulf Fritillary larva until I saw a confirmed Gulf Fritillary larva on your website. Mine looks redder and does not have a orange head. What does it eat? I can’t find this butterfly in any of my family’s bug books, can you help identify it? thanks for your help,
Both your caterpillar and butterfly are Gulf Fritillaries, Agraulis vanillae. The caterpillar feeds exclusively on Passion Vine. The adults take nectar. Hogue describes the caterpillars as slate gray or purple on the back with burnt orange stripes on the sides.
Letter 34 – Gulf Fritillary newly metamorphosed
A butterfly just emerged from its chrysalis outside the back door. I say, good start to the week.
Location: Highland Park, Los Angeles, California
August 15, 2011
Any idea who this looker is?
I’m your Highland Park near-neighbor.
We were just in Highland Park Saturday and we need to run to Digicolor on York Boulevard as soon as we finish this posting. You must have passionflower vines nearby. This is a newly emerged Gulf Fritillary, one of the most common butterflies in Los Angeles, and its range has expanded considerably with the cultivation of its food plant, vines in the genus Passiflora, which have naturalized in Southern California.
Correct on the passionflowers! Thanks.