Friday, September 4, 2009

Great Spangled Fritillary

This great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele cybele) quite obligingly perched and posed atop the butterfly bush. The butterfly is most likely a female, based both on subtle color variations that distinguish the sexes and also due to the fact she is around and about at this time of year.

The great spangled fritillary is univoltine, a term signifying that there is one brood per year. Males emerge from pupa 2 to 3 weeks before the females, often in late May here. They are on the wing patrolling for partners through June and into early August. Females begin flying in June and can often be sighted as late as October.

These are large butterflies with a wingspan of 2 1/8 to 3 inches.

Great spangled fritillaries prefer tall plants for their nectar, but range widely in the sources they accept. They will happily feed at milkweeds, thistles, Joe-pye weed, ironweed, dogbane, clover and as seen here, butterfly bush. Butterfly bush is the plant that most frequently sees the clippers in my yard. If nothing else gets pruned, the butterfly bush does, to keep those blossoms coming in profusion over the summer and bringing in the diners for which it is named.

For me, the scent of Buddleia davidii, or butterfly bush, is the quintessential smell of mid-summer.

Oviposition or egg laying begins in August and continues until the female dies. Eggs are deposited singly on or near violet plants and hatch in about 4 weeks. Once hatched, the larvae eat their egg case and then crawl into a protected patch of leaf litter to wait out the winter. In spring the caterpillars feed on young violet leaves. Caterpillars are relatively reclusive feeding only at night. They spend the day hidden in leaf litter, so you are unlikely to spot one.

Knowing a little about this butterflies life stages can help in supporting the population. To encourage the existence of this and other butterflies, it is helpful to allow a variety of plant species to flourish in your yard. Violets are host plants for the larvae or caterpillars of many butterfly species, especially those in the family Nymphlidae. Being less aggressive in tidying up leaf debris in the fall allows for the overwintering of the dormant insects. Often we tidy up for just this reason, but we rid ourselves of pest species at the expense of lovely and beneficial insect species.


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