Great Spangled Fritillary:
Bold Patterns in Motion

By William T. Hathaway

Great Spangled Fritillary

With the arrival of summer Great Spangled Fritillaries are hovering over orange milkweed flowers and don't seem discouraged by local dry conditions. Each butterfly in the agitated gathering is fluttering from flower to flower, vying for its taste of concealed nectar.

The female Great Spangled Fritillary is a large orange butterfly with dashes, spots and crescents marking the upper wing surface, as illustrated in the top photo accompanying this article. Males are smaller and have more pale colors plus slightly different wing patterns. Large silver spots are characteristic markings on the undersurface of the wings of this species, as illustrated in the lower photo here.

Both photos accompanying this article are of female specimens. See another article about the Great Spangled Fritillary for an outdoor illustration in which the subject is likely a male.

Female Great Spangled Fritillaries deposit their eggs on violet plants. As the eggs hatch, larvae crawl and seek shelter in nearby leaf litter. Nestled in the safety of leaf litter, the larvae go through a forced dormancy throughout the winter months and become active with the arrival of spring. Developing caterpillars then feed on violet leaves and soon transform into pupae from which winged butterflies emerge.

(Also see this photograph in larger format.)