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Speyeria aphrodite

What do they look like?

Aphrodite fritillary eggs are reddish brown. As a larva, the insect is brownish black with brown spines. The top of its head is light orange, and the bottom of its head is black. When it pupates, the insect is brownish black with yellow wing cases, and its abdomen is gray with spines.

Adults have an average wingspan of 50 to 84 mm. Their wings are reddish orange or brown, with black spots. A unique characteristic of the forewings is a black spot surrounded by a black "halo". On the underside of the hindwings are silver spots that appear shiny and metallic when they reflect light, and a pale line colors the edge of the wings. The eyes of adults are dull yellowish green.

Males and females of this species look different. Females are larger than males and have darker coloration. In addition, ten subspecies of Aphrodite fritillary exist, and the appearance of larvae and adults varies across the range of the species. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009; Leahy, 2013; Schmidt, 2003; Taron, 2003)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • female more colorful
  • Range wingspan
    50 to 84 mm
    1.97 to 3.31 in

Where do they live?

Speyeria aphrodite, commonly known as the Aphrodite fritillary, is a butterfly native to the United States and Canada. It can be found across the eastern United States and southern Canada, with a continuous distribution and no geographic barriers in its range. In the northern part of its range, the species is found from eastern Washington to Nova Scotia. In the southern part of its range, the species is found from Arizona to Georgia.

Ten subspecies have been identified. Three of the subspecies (Speyeria aphrodite aphrodite, Speyeria aphrodite alcestis, and Speyeria aphrodite manitoba) co-occur in the Great Lakes region. The hybrid zones between these three subspecies are relatively well defined. This means that the subspecies are fairly different from each other. (Dunford, 2007; Hammond, 1990; Leahy, 2013; Schmidt, 2003; Taron, 2003)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Larvae are found where their primary host plant species (violets) grow. The butterfly is known to pollinate milkweed and other plants. Its habitat includes prairies, grasslands, forests, fields, stream edges, mountain meadows, old fields, bogs, and brushlands. (Dunford, 2009; Leahy, 2013; Ries, 2011; Schmidt, 2003; Taron, 2003; Wilson, 1969)

How do they grow?

Aphrodite fritillary eggs hatch 1 to 2 weeks after they are laid. When they hatch, the larvae eat their own eggshells. The eggs often are laid near violet plants that have already died. If first-instar larvae do not have plants to eat, they hibernate through the winter. When violets later emerge in the spring, the larvae feed on the leaves of the violet plants. All species in the genus Speyeria develop through 6 larval instars. The caterpillars pupate and metamorphose into butterflies. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009; Taron, 2003)

How do they reproduce?

Aphrodite fritillaries usually locate mates in the bottom of valleys. Males start flying about a week before females and patrol for most of the day in open areas. Not much information is available about the mating behaviors specific to Aphrodite fritillaries, but the mating behavior of other species in the genus Speyeria probably is similar. A male presents himself to a female with his wings perched forward and flaps them to transmit his pheromones (secreted chemical signals) to the female. If the female does not accept the male, she responds by quickly fluttering her wings. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009)

One new Aphrodite fritillary generation appears each year. Adults fly between May and early September, and males start flying before the females. Females begin to mate immediately after emerging, from May through July. At that stage, however, females are not yet reproductively mature, so they do not begin to oviposit (lay eggs) until August or September. These observations have led researchers to believe that the production of eggs by Aphrodite fritillary females may be delayed until the environmental conditions are suitable for egg-laying. This delay in egg production is called reproductive diapause.

Each fertilized egg is laid singly near violet plants that already have died back for the year. Aphrodite fritillary females can find the dead host plants by detecting the gases released by dormant violet roots. The exact number of eggs laid by Aphrodite fritillaries is unknown, but other similar butterfly species (in the genus Speyeria) lay hundreds of eggs in a season. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009; Ries, 2011; Sims, 1984; Taron, 2003)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Speyeria aphrodite reproduces once per year during the summer months.
  • Breeding season
    Mating begins in the summer, while oviposition occurs in August and September.

A female Aphrodite fritillary protects fertilized eggs in her body until she lays them. Females lay eggs near plant species that are suitable as food for the larvae. The violet species that feed the hatching larvae often have already died back for the year. Even so, females can find good oviposition (egg-laying) sites by smelling the plants that they cannot see--these female butterflies can detect the gases released by the dormant violet roots. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female

How long do they live?

Aphrodite fritillary individuals probably live for about 1 year. They lay eggs in August or September, and the larvae may hibernate until the following spring. Adults emerge in May through July, and they die after reproducing. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 years

How do they behave?

Males emerge and begin flying between May and July. Females emerge soon after the males. These butterflies use a "solar positive" strategy of thermoregulation, meaning that they fly toward sunlight to maintain their body temperature. (Clench, 1966; Leahy, 2013; Schmidt, 2003; Taron, 2003)

Home Range

The hybrid zones of the three Aphrodite fritillary subspecies that live in the Great Lakes region are well defined. These sharp borders suggest that the home range of this species is about the size of the observed hybrid zone boundaries (or an even smaller area). (Hammond, 1990)

How do they communicate with each other?

Males attract females with pheromones (secreted chemical signals), and females can find suitable oviposition (egg-laying) sites by detecting the gases released by the dormant roots of host plants.

Like other butterflies, Aphrodite fritillary adults also probably use chemotactile sensory receptors to "taste" suitable host plants. They can use vision to find plants and mates. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009; Inoue, 2006)

What do they eat?

Aphrodite fritillary larvae are herbivores, mainly eating the leaves of their violet host plants. Larvae are known to eat violet species such as Viola rotundifolia, V. paplionacea, V. palustris, V. adunca, V. adunca variation bellidifolia, V. sororia, S. canadensis, V. glabella, V. nuttalli, and V. sempervirens.

Adults feed on the nectar of milkweed species, Buddleja species, ironwood species, thistle, dogbane, knapweed, vetches, red clover, purple coneflower, Joe-Pye weed, black-eyed susan, Queen Anne's lace, hawkweed, mint, rabbitbrush, pea plants, Monarda fistulosa, Cirisium carolinianum, Carduus nutans, Liatris squarrosa, and Echium vulgare. Adults also are known to feed on dung. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009; Leahy, 2013; Schmidt, 2003; Taron, 2003)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • nectar
  • Other Foods
  • dung

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Aphrodite fritillary larvae and adults have been found in the digestive systems of common nighthawks, chimney swifts, black-throated buntings and towhees. Deer mice also may prey on Aphrodite fritillaries. (Dunford, 2007)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Larvae feed on several violet species.

The butterflies appear to pollinate milkweed species. They feed on the nectar of many other plants and probably also help to pollinate those plant species. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009; Schmidt, 2003; Wilson, 1969)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates
Species (or larger taxonomic groups) used as hosts by this species
  • Viola rotundifolia
  • Viola paplionacea
  • Viola palustris
  • Viola adunca
  • Viola adunca variation bellidifolia
  • Viola sororia
  • Viola canadensis
  • Viola glabella
  • Viola nuttalli
  • Viola sempervirens
  • Milkweed (Asclepias)
  • Buddleja species
  • Ironwood (Vernonia)
  • Thistle
  • Dogbane (Apocynum)
  • Knapweed (Centaurea)
  • Vetches (Vicia)
  • Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium)
  • Black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
  • Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota)
  • Hawkweed (Hieracium)
  • Mint (Mentha)
  • Rabbitbrush
  • Pea plants
  • Monarda fistulosa
  • Cirisium carolinianum
  • Carduus nutans
  • Liatris squarrosa
  • Echium vulgare

Do they cause problems?

This butterfly species pollinates some wildflowers and other plants that are beneficial to humans; however, it also may pollinate invasive knapweed species or other non-native plants. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009; Wilson, 1969)

How do they interact with us?

Adult Aphrodite fritillaries may benefit humans by pollinating wildflowers and other plant species. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009; Wilson, 1969)

Are they endangered?

This butterfly species is not listed on the IUCN Red List, CITES appendices, U.S. Federal, or Michigan endangered species lists. Other resources report that Aphrodite fritillaries are widespread and abundant without any threat of becoming endangered.

Some more information...

Some sources suggest that this butterfly species may benefit from prairie restoration, because Aphrodite fritillary individuals are most common in prairie habitat. (Taron, 2003)

Contributors

Cayla Zielinski (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Elizabeth Wason (author, editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

References

Brittnacher, J., S. Sims, F. Ayala. 1978. Genetic differentiation between species of the genus Speyeria (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae). Evolution, 32: 199-210.

Clench, H. 1966. Behavioral Thermoregulation in Butterflies. Ecology, 47/6: 1021-1034.

Dunford, J. 2009. Taxonomic overview of the greater fritillary genus Speyeria Scudder and the atlantis - hesperis species complexes, with species accounts, type images, and relevant literature (Lepidoptera: >>Nymphalidae>>). Insecta Mundi, 90: 1-74. Accessed February 01, 2012 at http://journals.fcla.edu/mundi/article/view/25182/24513.

Dunford, J. 2007. "The Genus Speyeria and the Speyeria atlantis/Speyeria hesperis Complex: Species and Subspecies Accounts, Systematics, and Biogeography (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae)" (On-line pdf). A dissertation presented to the graduate school of the University of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Accessed February 23, 2012 at http://ufdcimages.uflib.ufl.edu/UF/E0/02/16/07/00001/dunford_j.pdf.

Gatrelle, R. 1998. Two new Nymphalidae from western North Carolina: new subspecies of Speyeria aphrodite and Phyciodes batesii. Taxonomic Report of the International Lepidoptera Survey, 1/3: 1-7.

Hammond, P. 1990. Patterns of geographic variation and evolution in polytypic butterflies. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera, 29/1-2: 54-76. Accessed February 01, 2012 at http://lepidopteraresearchfoundation.org/journals/29/PDF29/29-054.pdf.

Inoue, T. 2006. Morphology of foretarsal ventral surfaces of Japanese Papilio butterflies and relations between these morphology, phylogeny and hostplant preferring hierarchy. Zoological Science, 23/2: 169-189.

Leahy, C. 2013. "Aphrodite Fritillary" (On-line). Mass Audobon. Accessed February 01, 2012 at http://www.massaudubon.org/butterflyatlas/index.php?id=34.

Opler, P., K. Lotts, T. Naberhaus. 2013. "Attributes of Speyeria aphrodite" (On-line). Butterflies and Moths of North America. Accessed February 01, 2012 at http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Speyeria-aphrodite.

Ries, L. 2011. "Speyeria aphrodite" (On-line). Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed February 01, 2012 at http://eol.org/pages/158355/overview.

Schmidt, B. 2003. "Species Page - Speyeria aphrodite" (On-line). University of Alberta Entomology Collection. Accessed February 01, 2012 at http://www.entomology.ualberta.ca/searching_species_details.php?b=Lepidoptera&c=7&s=2832.

Scott, J. 1975. Mate-Locating Behavior of Western North American Butterflies. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera, 14/1: 1-40. Accessed February 24, 2012 at http://lepidopteraresearchfoundation.org/journals/14/PDF14/14-001.pdf.

Sims, S. 1984. Reproductive Diapause in Speyeria (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae). Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera, 23/3: 211-216. Accessed February 01, 2012 at http://lepidopteraresearchfoundation.org/journals/23/PDF23/23-211.pdf.

Taron, D. 2003. "Aphrodite Fritillary: Goddess of Butterflies" (On-line). Chicago Wilderness Magazine. Accessed June 06, 2013 at http://www.chicagowilderness.org/CW_Archives/issues/summer2003/aphrodite.html.

Wilson, L. 1969. The capability of some butterflies as carriers of common milkweed pollen. The Michigan Entomologist, 2/1-2: 40-42. Accessed June 06, 2013 at http://insects.ummz.lsa.umich.edu/mes/gle-pdfs/Vol2No1and2.pdf#page=40.

 
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Zielinski, C. and E. Wason 2013. "Speyeria aphrodite" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed September 01, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Speyeria_aphrodite/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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