Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly

You know the butterfly numbers are low if the milkweeds look like this … no butterflies.

Milkweeds are a butterfly magnet.

Great spangled fritillaries are large butterflies that commonly visit milkweeds. They have a 2 1/2 to 4 inch wingspan.

Great spangled fritillary on butterflyweed

This angle shows silver spots underneath on the hindwings

Great spangled butterflies (Speyeria cybelle) are single brooded. The males begin flying in May, and the females emerge about a month later. They only lay eggs on violets. This is where I think it gets interesting. The females fly around dropping eggs near violets, only sometimes laying them on the plants. The eggs hatch, and the teeny caterpillar doesn’t eat until the violets begin growing in the spring. They will drink water.

So, how does something that teeny-tiny survive several months with no food? To compensate for the high mortality rate, a female can lay up to 2,000 eggs. The chances of finding a caterpillar are slim, because they feed at night and are off the plant when not feeding.

I have a story I just have to tell here. There’s a limestone barrens south of here. I visited it once during a high-butterfly-population summer. The butterflyweeds were in full bloom, along with purple and yellow coneflowers and much more. I stood 3 feet from a clump of butterflyweed and counted 17 butterflies on it! There were fritillaries, swallowtails, sulphurs, skippers and more. The whole barrens was a mosiac of colors and alive with butterflies. I’ve never seen populations like that since, and that was about 25 years ago.

I came home and insisted my husband and youngest son (then 6 or 7 years old) go with me to see and experience what I had. We didn’t go until 3 days later, and there had been a strong storm in the meantime. Storms can greatly affect butterfly numbers. There were still enough flying that they both were impressed.

While there, Davis crossed the road and went up a short steep bank to a patch of butterflyweed. When I looked up, he had the butterfly net over his shoulder and had the index finger of his right hand out, trying to coax a butterfly to walk up on it. And me with no camera.

Thank heavens, I still have a perfect mental image of him among all those butterflies.


6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Therese on June 24, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Interesting and visually appealing, as usual!!! Loved the story of Davis. You need to paint or sketch your memory. Instigator????


  2. Beautiful photos and wonderful butterfly story, loved all!


  3. “orange” and “butterfly” go very well together:)


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