Meet the Brown Beauty: Variegated Fritillary Butterfly

A Variegated fritillary butterfly (Euptoieta claudia) is a butterfly that lives in Eastern North America and Central America; it's known for its brown-black wings, pearly, shiny chrysalis, and erratic flight patterns. There haven’t been reports on the toxicity of its caterpillar. 

Variegated Fritillary Species summary

Scientific NameEuptoieta claudia
Family NameNymphalidae
HabitatSunny areas, prairies, fields
RangeEastern North America and Central America
Host PlantsMay apple, passionflowers, purslane, violets
Butterfly DescriptionRelatively large, with brownish wing base and black veins and spots
Caterpillar descriptionHas six rows of black spines, orange body, spotty white rows with black outlines

Variegated fritillary butterfly Lifecycle, Timespan, and Behavior

Like other butterflies, the Variegated fritillary goes through four stages: eggs, the caterpillar, and the chrysalis, until it emerges as an adult. This butterfly stays in the egg stage for about 10 to 15 days. Caterpillars tend to overwinter. The pupal stage lasts 14 to 14 days, and adults survive up to 10 weeks.

Variegated fritillary produces 2 to 3 broods annually. Due to its erratic flight patterns, it’s difficult to notice, approach, and photograph. Still, you may find it on many different flowers. Males will actively patrol, looking for females.

Once the copulation is finalized, the female will pick a host plant and lay eggs singly. Adults fly between April and October, and in the north, they’re active during summer, and early fall.

Butterfly Description

variegated fritillary
Variegated fritillary butterfly

The Variegated fritillary butterfly Euptoieta claudia, order Lepidoptera, family Nymphalidae or brush-footed butterflies, has a wingspan is 1 3/4 to 3 1/8 inches (4.5 to 8 cm), meaning it’s a relatively large species of butterfly.

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The top view of the open wings shows a black and orange checkered pattern. Both sides of the primary and secondary wings have a row of submarginal dark spots near the dark median lines.

The ventral side of the forewings has an orange base with a pale orange side spot bordered in black. The underside of the hindwings has faint postmedian bands, filled with brown and gray, but lacks silver spots. Females are larger than males.

Similarity With Other Species

The Mexican fritillary butterfly is very similar to Variegated fritillary. It’s bright orange with the unmarked upper side of its hindwings and plain undersides. It lacks submarginal spots and median black lines, which are present in Variegated fritillary butterflies.

Variegated Fritillary Butterfly Caterpillar Description

Variegated fritillary caterpillars (larvae) are about 2 inches (5 cm) long. They have 6 rows of black spines, an orange body, and spotty white rows with black outlines. While they may look dangerous, these caterpillars don’t sting.

Are Variegated Fritillary Caterpillars Poisonous?

So far, there haven’t been reports on the toxicity of this caterpillar. When handled, it tends to curl up with its spikes sticking out to defend itself.

Variegated Fritillary Butterfly Chrysalis

Once the larval offspring turns into a chrysalis, it will change color to a pretty pearly white. Its body will also have copper and black spots next to each other, divided into several rows. This is one of the prettiest chrysalises out there.

Distribution and Habitat

This butterfly is present around Eastern North America and Central America. Some sightings include the southern US. Adults migrate from the south in the spring and return when winter approaches.

The favorite habitat of Variegated fritillary includes:

  • open sunny areas
  • prairies
  • fields
  • pastures
  • roadsides
  • landfills

Favorite Host Plants

The female will be ovipositing on a variety of host plants:

  • May apple (Podophyllum peltata)
  • Maypops/passionflowers (Passiflora incarnata)
  • Purslane (Portulaca)
  • Violets (Viola)
  • Moonseed (Menispermum)
  • Stonecrop (Sedum)

If you wish to attract these butterflies, you can plant pansies. They’re caterpillars’ favorite host plants. Still, pay attention to the number of caterpillars, as they can easily kill pansies if their population drastically increases.

What Is the Variegated Fritillary’s Favorite Food?

variegated fritillary
Variegated fritillary on a flower

The most common food plant for the Variegated fritillary caterpillar is plantain. Adults feed on nectar from the following wild plants:

  • Butterfly weed
  • Common milkweed
  • Dogbane
  • Red clover
  • Swamp milkweed
  • Tickseed sunflower

Most Common Predators

The coloration of this butterfly shows it’s not as tasty as predators think. Still, like any other insect, the Variegated fritillary can become the prey of birds, spiders, wasps, and a few other larger insects and animals.

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