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 live in the temperate forests of Northern America. Their range includes almost all of Canada and the United States north of Georgia. (Carter, 1992)
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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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.
Speyeria cybele pollinates different types of plants.
Great spangled fritillaries do not have a negative effect on humans.
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.
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.
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 http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/distr/lepid/bflyusa/ne/74.htm.
Waldbauer, G. 1996. Insects through the Seasons. London, England: Harvard University Press.