Guide to the Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly

A Great spangled fritillary lives all around North America and is unique for its characteristic orange and black coloration. This butterfly is present from mid-June to mid-September.

Great Spangled Fritillary Species Summary

Scientific NameSpeyeria cybele
Family NameNymphalidae
HabitatOpen areas, moist places, fields, pastures
RangeNorthern United States and Southern Canada
Host PlantsViolets
Butterfly DescriptionBrown wings with yellow edges, plenty of black dots, and patterns across forewings and hindwings
Caterpillar DescriptionBlack with protruding black spikes

What color are the great spangled fritillary’s wings?

Great spangled fritillary on a flower
Great Spangled Fritillary on a flower

The Great spangled fritillary is among the most attractive butterflies out there. Luckily, it’s common and easy to approach. This butterfly species is quite large, with a wingspan of 2 1/2 to 4 inches. It’s among the most common North American butterfly kinds.

The male’s upper side is orange with black marks on the forewing veins. Females are tawny, a bit darker, and larger than males. The undersides of the hindwings are pale with a submarginal band and larger silver spots.

Brief Comparison with similar species

The black spots and rows of black markings on the forewings can help you differentiate other similar species:

  • Aphrodite fritillary (Speyeria aphrodite)
  • Atlantis fritillary (Speyeria atlantis)
  • Northwestern fritillary (Speyeria Hesperis)

Great spangled fritillary’s caterpillar description

The caterpillar of the Great spangled fritillary is black, overlaid with bright orange knobs with barbed black spines. This larvae coloration is supposed to deter predators, yet many animals find it tasty. The first instar will overwinter and won’t feed until spring.

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Once it grows, the caterpillar will form a very well-hidden chrysalis. The chrysalis will be shaped like a peanut with chestnut black and brown colors and faint orange markings on a glossy body.

How long is the life cycle of the great spangled fritillary?

Egg Stage10 to 15 days
Caterpillar Stage14 to 28 days
Chrysalis Stage14 to 24 days
Butterfly Stage14 to 70 days

What is the butterfly’s perfect Habitat?

The Great spangled fritillary likes open areas such as fields, valleys, pastures, open woodland, woodland edges, and prairies. It’s a common visitor of gardens with purple coneflower and butterfly bushes. The Great spangled fritillary also gladly visits sunny places and wetlands with wildflowers, like milkweeds or New York Ironweed.

What is the host plant for the great spangled fritillary?

You’ll often notice the caterpillar near violets, as native violet species (Viola), are the host plants. For example, these butterflies will be around:

  • Native round-leaf violet
  • Arrow-leaf violet
  • Common blue violet

What do great spangled fritillary caterpillars eat?

Caterpillars eat violets, as those are the host plants. Adult butterflies drink nectar from several types of flowers, such as:

  • Milkweeds
  • Thistles
  • Verbena
  • Ironweed
  • Mountain laurel
  • Dogbane
  • Bergamot
  • Purple coneflower
  • Joe-Pye weed
  • Red clover

Behavior and flight

These butterflies fly at medium speed, almost in a straight line. Males will fly around, looking for females. Females will lay eggs in the late summer, around violets, as violet leaves will serve as food for caterpillars.

Common Predators

The most common predators of the Great spangled fritillary butterfly are birds and spiders. However, the caterpillar hides in the leaf litter, so it’s usually safe from attacks. What’s more, the caterpillar will only feed during the night, to avoid predators.

Are Great Spangled Fritillary Butterflies Poisonous?

Since some tropical species of this butterfly feed on toxic plants, their bodies also become toxic. They use wing patterns to warn predators.


This is a common butterfly across North America. The most common sightings include Alberta east to Nova Scotia (Canada), and south to Oregon (United States). It’s also present around Central Arkansas, California, northern Georgia, New York State, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin.

Do Great Spangled Fritillary Butterflies Migrate?

Instead of migrating, these butterflies overwinter locally. Once the time comes, the males will emerge first, with females following a few weeks later. Males die after mating, while females produce one brood annually.

How to Attract Great Spangled Fritillary Butterflies to Your Garden?

If you keep violets or any of these in your garden and leave some leaf litter, you might be lucky to have at least one generation of the Great spangled fritillary butterflies.

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