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Speyeria cybele

What do they look like?

Great spangled fritillaries are relatively large butterflies with a wingspan of 5.85 to 10.1 cm and a length of 9.1 to 9.9 cm. The sexes are colored differently. The females are paler with a dark blackish color on the rear half of their wings. This pattern is not seen as distincly in males. Both males and females have a pale orange color on the outside of their wings. Both sexes also have a pale orange underside with black spots on the forewings and broad, tan bands on the hindwings.

Great spangled fritillaries' caterpillars have orange spines on a black body. (Carter, 1992; Scott, 1986; Struttmann, 2004)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range length
    9.1 to 9.9 cm
    3.58 to 3.90 in
  • Range wingspan
    5.85 to 10.1 cm
    2.30 to 3.98 in

Where do they live?

Great spangled fritillaries live in the temperate forests of Northern America. Their range includes almost all of Canada and the United States north of Georgia. (Carter, 1992)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Great spangled fritillaries live mostly in temperate climates but can be found in extremes from the arctic to the subtropical. They can be found in both open woodlands and prairies, preferring to be in moist climates. (Carter, 1992; Struttmann, 2004)

  • These animals are found in the following types of habitat
  • temperate

How do they grow?

After hatching from their eggs, Speyeria cybele caterpillars overwinter and do not become active until the spring. Unlike most butterfly larvae, which molt five times, great spangled fritillary caterpillars molt six times, becoming bigger each time they molt until it they reach the final larval stage. (Carter, 1992; Scott, 1986; Struttmann, 2004)

How do they reproduce?

During mating, males seek out females. A male will perch near a female and open and close his wings. This releases a "strong and spicy" scent from the male's scent scales that can attract females. Males are attracted to females based on their size, color, and how fast they flap their wings. Females have special scent receptors that help them identify the appropriate plants upon which to lay their eggs. The females lay their pale yellow eggs singly near food sources during their migration. These may be laid in late June and July, but the majority are laid in August or September. (Ahmad, 1983; Klots, 1951; Waldbauer, 1996)

After laying eggs, butterflies exhibit no parental care.

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning

How do they behave?

These caterpillars, after hatching from their eggs, overwinter and do not become active until the spring. They hide under leaves during the day and eat at night.

Unlike the larvae, the adults are diurnal and stay close to food sources during the day. The brood of great spangled fritillaries migrate once from mid-June to mid-September and are most active during July and August. It is on this flight that the females lay their eggs. (Carter, 1992; Scott, 1986; Struttmann, 2004)

How do they communicate with each other?

Males use pheromones to attract females. Visual cues are also used in mate recognition. Females use chemical cues to find a suitable host plant on which to lay eggs. (Ahmad, 1983; Klots, 1951; Waldbauer, 1996)

What do they eat?

As mature butterflies, great spangled fritillaries, due to their large size, prefer large flowers including violets and thistles.

Similar to many other butterflies, great spangled fritillaries have chemoreceptors on the bottom surfaces of their four walking legs. These allow butterflies to find nectar with their feet. In females, these receptors are adapted to assist in reproduction.

As caterpillars, great spangled fritillaries eat the leaves of violets (Viola rotunidfolia). It does so only at night, spending the day hiding under leaves. (Ahmad, 1983; Carter, 1992; Klots, 1951)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • nectar

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Speyeria cybele pollinates different types of plants.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates

Do they cause problems?

Great spangled fritillaries do not have a negative effect on humans.

How do they interact with us?

As most butterflies do, great spangled fritillaries, while feeding on nectar, pollinate the flowers they visit. This promotes diversity by making self-fertilization less likely. This benefits humans in that it keeps these species of flowers viable and alive.

Are they endangered?

Great spangled fritillaries have an extremely large range. Some of the temperate forests and rainforests within its range are threatened, but that has not had an effect on their numbers.

Some more information...

Great spangled fritillaries are the most common fritillaries in the Eastern United States. (Struttmann, 2004)


Matthew Wund (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Ellen Gass (author), Southwestern University, Stephanie Fabritius (editor), Southwestern University.


Ahmad, S. 1983. Herbivorous Insects. New York City, New York: Academic Press.

Carter, D. 1992. Butterflies and Moths. New York City, New York: Dorling Kindersley, Inc..

Klots, A. 1951. A Field Guide to the Butterflies of North America, East of the Great Plains. Boston, Massachusets: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Scott, J. 1986. The Butterflies of North America. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Struttmann, J. 2004. "Butterflies of North America/Butterflies of Nebraska" (On-line). Accessed 12/22/04 at

Waldbauer, G. 1996. Insects through the Seasons. London, England: Harvard University Press.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Gass, E. 2001. "Speyeria cybele" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed May 24, 2024 at

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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