Variegated Fritillary: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

The Variegated Fritillary, scientifically known as Euptoieta claudia, is a fascinating butterfly species belonging to the Nymphalidae family. You might

Characteristics

The variegated fritillary is a unique butterfly with intriguing characteristics. Let’s delve into some of its key features:

  • Color: The variegated fritillary’s wings are predominantly tawny orange with black spots on the margins. The underside of the hindwing features a mottled pattern in browns and grays, giving them a distinct appearance.

  • Wingspan: The wingspan of this butterfly ranges from 1¾ – 3¼ inches (4.5 – 8 cm), making it a medium-sized butterfly.

  • Pattern: A unique characteristic of the variegated fritillary is its checkered pattern on the wings. This pattern is reminiscent of the fritillary flower, which also has a checkered appearance.

  • Silver spots: Unlike its relative, the great spangled fritillary, the variegated fritillary lacks silver spots on the underside of its wings. This difference makes it easier to distinguish between the two species.

  • Dimorphism: There is some sexual dimorphism in the variegated fritillary, although it is not as pronounced as some other butterfly species. Males may appear slightly lighter in color, while females can be a bit darker.

In summary, the variegated fritillary is a fascinating butterfly with a colorful and patterned appearance. Its wings boast a tawny orange hue with distinctive black markings, mottled browns and grays on the underside, and a checkered pattern that sets it apart from other butterflies. No silver spots and subtle sexual dimorphism help distinguish it from related species, making it a truly unique addition to the world of butterflies.

Reader Emails

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 – Variegated Fritillary, Buckeye, and Drone Flies

 

flies, bee mimics, and butterflies
This was taken in my garden a week or so ago in Nottingham, Pa. It gets southern exposure, so it was pretty warm in the sun. This yellow mum, which smelled so good, attracted LOTS of attention. it was covered in some sort of bee mimic flies, many butterflies, small black flies, house flies, and little flies that looked like sweat bees. None of the different species seemed to care about the others, except to compete for what little nectar was there. I hope you can identify some of these for me. thanks,
Lee Weber

Hi Again Lee,
The butterflies are relatively easy. First, we rotated your image, so you should see the site. At the top is a Variegated Fritillary, Euptoieta claudia. At the bottom is a Common Buckeye, Junonia coenia. Also at the bottom with close wings is what appears to be a Common Cabbage Butterfly, Pieris rapae. The large bee mimics are Drone Flies, Eristalis tenax. Thanks so much for sending such a rich and wonderful image.

Letter 2 – Variegated Fritillary

 

possible Hackberry or Satyr Butterfly
I have lots of these flitting around my Lantana in Corpus Christi TX. I’d love to get a positive id.
Kara

Hi Kara,
This looks to us like a Variegated Fritillary, Euptoieta claudia.

Letter 3 – Variegated Fritillary

 

Butterfly Identification
Good day –
I’m having a horrible time trying to identify this butterfly. It was shot in West Central Texas (Tom Green County) in the last couple of weeks and I cannot find a good identification for it. Any help will be greatly appreciated. Warm regards
jim

Hi Jim,
This looks to be a Variegated Fritillary, Euptoieta claudia. Caterpillar food plants include violets and passionvine.

Letter 4 – Variegated Fritillary, Common Buckeye and female Io Moth

 

Subject: moths & butterfly
Location: Murfreesboro Tn & Souther Ohio
August 15, 2012 12:56 pm
What are the names of these moths & butterfly?
Signature: Ms Nichols

Variegated Fritillary

Dear Ms Nichols,
Since you submitted three different species representing two different families from two different states, you have wreaked havoc with our system of archiving postings.  You have a Variegated Fritillary, a Common Buckeye and a female Io Moth.

Common Buckeye

It is interesting that both the Common Buckeye and the female Io Moth have evolved to employ the same defensive devices, false eyespots, to deter predators.

Female Io Moth

 

Letter 5 – Variegated Fritillary

 

Subject: What is this – butterfly or moth?
Location: Michigan City, IN – near Lake Michigan
October 6, 2012 8:38 pm
My friend was walking out to the lighthouse at Michigan City, IN and snapped this butterfly. I have never seen one like it and was curious what it iwas.
Signature: Janet Baines

Variegated Fritillary

Hi Janet,
Your butterfly is a Variegated Fritillary,
Euptoieta claudia, and this posting on BugGuide shows both sides of the wings.

Letter 6 – Variegated Fritillary

 

Subject: Maybe a Variegated Fritillary Butterfly
Location: Coryell County, central Texas
February 5, 2013 4:28 pm
Hello, gorgeous day in the seventies, with sunshine and butterflies which distracted me from work… again! I’m thinking that this beauty may be an Euptoieta claudia, a
Variegated Fritillary. It was feeding from the same wildflower that is attracting so many butterflies right now, and which may be a native Corn-Salad. For size reference, those flowers are tiny, 3-4 mm across the cup of the flower.
Signature: Ellen

Variegated Fritillary

Hi Ellen,
Your identification of a Variegated Fritillary is correct.  Your individual looks very much like this specimen on BugGuide.

Letter 7 – Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

 

is this a buckeye caterpillar?
Hi!
I’m trying to figure out if this is a buckeye caterpillar or not. Thanks for you time,
Carmen Kirby

Hi Carmen,
This is an exact match to a Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar posted on BugGuide.

Letter 8 – Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

 

Caterpillar
Hello, Was looking thru your site trying to id this fella and my wife said to just ask you. So… We’ve been able to id a few of the Caterpillars we have seen in our butterfly garden thru your site. So thanks for that! My wife found it yesterday on the Violets and Veronica plants. It seems to be about an inch long and red body, white patches, and black “spikes”. I think we are close looking at some of the other fellas on your site (Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar ?) , but just wanted to know for sure. Thanks in advance,
Chris & Valerie
North Carolina

Hi Chris and Valerie,
Finding a spiny caterpillar on violets is always a good indication that the caterpillar is one of the Fritillaries. Most are difficult to distinguish from one another, but we are confident that you have correctly identified your Variegated Fritillary.

Letter 9 – Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar and next day Chrysalis (not Buckeye)

 

caterpiller identy
i cant name it… would you beable to help. found on my house on the part just below the door. tomorrow in the sun if its still there ill try to take a better picture of it.

This is a Buckeye Butterfly Caterpillar, Junonia coenia. Our guess is that if you take a photo tomorrow, you will find something very different, a chrysalis. The position of the caterpillar, hanging head down with a “C” curve indicates this. The caterpillar left its food source, possibly Snap Dragons in your garden, and sought the side of the house as a safe place to pupate.

(10/03/2005) Buckeye Caterpillar update
thanks for letting me know what it was.. heres some new pictures taken today,

Correction (07/02/2006)
The caterpillar and pupae identified as Buckeye is a Variegated Fritillary. Do you know how to tell the difference between the Viceroy and Red-spotted Purple? I wrote about them a moment ago and later saw a response on your site which mentioned the similarity. I’ve reared hundreds but always together and never took the time to try to differentiate. Don’t forget to order your free butterfly eggs and free butterfly plant seeds!
Thanks
Edith Smith
Shady Oak Butterfly Farm
Butterflies for Every Occasion! Celebratory Releases
12876 SW CR 231, Brooker, FL 32622
352-485-2458
http://www.butterfliesetc.com

Letter 10 – Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar and Chrysalides

 

Spiky orange caterpillar
June 9, 2010
Sending one more picture that might be a little less fuzzy. — My daughter and I found these caterpillars crawling all over the pansies last week. We put them in a bug keeper and all but one have cocooned. They are about one inch long, with orange and white stripes and black spikes. One of the cocoons is in the background of the picture. It is greenish-gray with orange spots. Any idea what they are? Thanks so much!
Kim and Katie (age 4)
Dallas, TX

Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar and Chrysalides

Hi Kim and Katy,
It appears that your third caterpillar is also about to form a chrysalis.  These are the immature forms of the Variegated Fritillary, Euptoieta claudia, and in a few weeks, you should be treated to the emergence of lovely orange butterflies.  You can see images of the adult butterfly on BugGuide.  BugGuide indicates the following food plants:  “Larvae feed on Passionvine (Passiflora), Violets & Pansy (Viola, Flax Linum, Moonseed (Menispermum), Mayapple (Podophyllum), Stonecrop (Sedum), Purslane (Portulaca) and others. Adults are fond of flowers, and especially seem to like Thistles and yellow Composites. They also frequently visit damp ground.
”  Since we will be out of the office between June 15 and June 23, we are presetting a few letters to post during our absence so that our readership will continue to get daily updates.  You letter is set to post live to our website on June 22.

Letter 11 – Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

 

Unknown Caterpillar
Location: Gilbert, AZ 85233
April 2, 2011 2:58 am
Hello,
Please help identify this caterpillar I found on a pansy flower in my garden in Gilbert Arizona (southeast Phoenix). I found it Feb. 26th. Thank you!
Signature: Lindsey

Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

Hi Lindsey,
This pretty little caterpillar will metamorphose into the lovely Variegated Fritillary,
Euptoieta claudia.  You can see BugGuide to compare images of the caterpillar and to see the adult.

Letter 12 – Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

 

Identification Request: caterpillar?
Location: norman ok
May 23, 2012 9:00 pm
trying to identify this caterpillar from my flower garden in norman oklahoma on May 22. i had 2 of them in close proximity.
Signature: chad

Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

Dear Chad,
This beautifully marked caterpillar is a Variegated Fritillary.  According to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on Violets & Pansy (Viola, Flax Linum, Passion Vine (Passiflora), Moonseed (Menispermum), Mayapple (Podophyllum), Stonecrop (Sedum), Purslane (Portulaca) and others. Adults are fond of flowers, and especially seem to like Thistles and yellow Composites. They also frequently visit damp ground.”  We suspect you must have violets or pansies in your garden.

Letter 13 – Variegated Fritillary Caterpillars

 

Subject: Caterpillar/Worm is Devastating Violas
Location: Bloomfield, Nebraska
May 26, 2012 3:02 pm
I have never seen this bug before, nor can I find it online. They are DEVASTATING my Violas! This is the first and ONLY year that anything has attacked the Violas. They range in size from approx. 2mm to 1 or 1.5 inch. They do not ”loop” when moving.The larger ones seem to prefer the flowers. The smaller ones have been found under the flower or on a leaf. They are also on a windowbox of Pansies but not the hanging basket. Very little damage to the Pansies but ALL the Violas have been devastated! They are on Every single Viola plant I have. Which are spread out amongst 6 different areas. They are ONLY on the Violas even the ones that are under or touching other plants. Which include Dianthus, Roses, and a small evergreen tree. Well, one miniature rose does have some holes on some of the leaves and some of the buds were black edged, but, they were this way last year also. They are very soft-bodied, however, dormant oil did not seem to have any effect. I have re sorted to hand picking and squishing or throwing in soapy water. Also, when squished, the ”guts” are dark green.
The 3rd picture is of the white Viola prior to being infested. They are out of control! Please help!
Signature: Melissa from Northwest Nebraska

Variegated Fritillary Caterpillars

Hi Melissa,
We hope we responded before there was any large scale extermination for this matter.  These are the caterpillars of the Variegated Fritillary.  The chrysalis of the Variegated Fritillary is a beautiful gold-flecked object.  The adult Variegated Fritillary butterflies are lovely creatures.  Many gardeners put in plants to attract butterflies, and while nectar producers are vital, providing food plants for the caterpillars is another decisive factor needed to ensure healthy butterfly populations.  The plants will grow back new leaves and flowers and you can enjoy the adult butterflies in a few more weeks.

Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

 

Letter 14 – Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

 

Subject: caterpillar
Location: Boyce, VA, US
July 21, 2014 10:02 am
Can you help me identify this caterpillar? Found it on some violet family plants.
Signature: Emelford

Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar
Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

Dear Emelford,
This pretty little caterpillar is a Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar,
Euptoieta claudia, and we quickly identified it thanks to this image posted to BugGuide.  The adult Variegated Fritillary is a lovely orange butterfly.

Letter 15 – Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

 

Subject: What’s this Caterpillar
Location: Lundar Beach, Manitoba, Canada
August 11, 2014 9:49 pm
Can you please help me identify this caterpillar? It was one of five found feeding on some Johnny-Jump-Ups /mini pansies. I saw one moult the skin around its head and antennae.nnHow long will it feed as a caterplillar before making a chrysalis, and then how long to be a butterfly or moth. Thank you for your help. I also found a milkweed bug nearby. It looks like a hex bug. I really like insects, spiders, snakes and frogs. My Noni photographs them for me.
Thank you.
Jayden
8 yrs old
Signature: Jayden

Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar
Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

Dear Jayden,
This pretty caterpillar is a Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar, and it appears to be nearly fully grown, meaning it will soon metamorphose into a lovely metallic Variegated Fritillary ChrysalisBugGuide has some valuable information, including:  “Permanent resident in south. Annually spreads and colonizes northwards usaully to southern Canada. Rarely encountered north of Great Basin west of Rockies, and north of southern California near Pacific Coast.”  BugGuide also states:  “Multiple generations per year (up to two or three in north, and four or more overlapping broods in south). Only overwinters in southern states. Overwintering stage is debated, but definitely as larvae, which are often found under logs, boards, and rocks during cold, and will wander around looking for food on warm mid-winter days. Perhaps can overwinter in all stages, depending upon the climate of a particular region.”  We interpret all that to mean that the lovely Variegated Fritillary may not be a permanent resident in your area, perhaps because the winters are too harsh for overwintering caterpillars to survive, though with global warming, things may be changing.  BugGuide data indicates sightings for Saskatchewan and Manitoba to be September and October, so perhaps this individual will emerge as an adult in the next two months, and that any progeny may not survive your winter.

THANK YOU!  Yes. That is the caterpillar for sure. My Noni and I thought it was a Crescent Butterfly larva.  But that caterpillar wasn’t an exact match.  Now I want to put one of the caterpillars in my bug keeper to watch it make it’s chrysalis.
Jayden

Letter 16 – Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

 

Subject:  Caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug:  Howard County, MD
Date: 09/19/2019
Time: 09:08 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Please ID this. I found a location where they are everywhere.
How you want your letter signed:  John

Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

Dear John,
This is a Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar.  Here is a BugGuide image for reference.

Letter 17 – Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

 

Subject:  Caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug:  Louisa, Virginia
Date: 09/22/2019
Time: 02:41 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  What caterpillar is this and what plant is it’s host?
How you want your letter signed:  Sharon

Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

Dear Sharon,
We believe this is a Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar and according to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on Violets & Pansy (
Viola), Flax (Linum), Passion Vine (Passiflora), Damiana (Turnera), Moonseed (Menispermum), Mayapple (Podophyllum), Stonecrop (Sedum), Purslane (Portulaca) and others. Adults are fond of flowers, and especially seem to like Thistles and yellow Composites. They also frequently visit damp ground.”

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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5 thoughts on “Variegated Fritillary: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell”

  1. Omigosh, I have an infestation of these! It’s so exciting, I had no idea violas were a host plant. Now I’m glad I planted them last fall. They’ve been beautiful all winter and now they have caterpillars on them! I only hope the caterpillars start transforming soon, because the violas aren’t going to last much longer when the heat comes (North Texas).

    Reply
  2. Hi. I just found the same kind on my pansies, too, here in Colorado Springs, CO. I hope I get to see what it turns into!

    Reply

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