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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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 sources suggest that this butterfly species may benefit from prairie restoration, because Aphrodite fritillary individuals are most common in prairie habitat. (Taron, 2003)
Cayla Zielinski (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Elizabeth Wason (author, editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.
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