How do you pronounce it? With the accent on the first syllable or the second? Either way, it is a gorgeous butterfly.
This giant beauty often tricks the kids into thinking it’s a monarch because of its size and similar coloration. But when you pay attention, you see the markings are completely different. Fritillaries love to sip nectar from a wide variety of plants from late June through early September. Three months. Maybe a little bit more. That’s it. Hmm…
Whenever I see a butterfly or moth, I get curious about its life cycle. Oh, I know they all start as an egg that hatches to become a caterpillar. A butterfly caterpillar will pupate as a chrysalis, a moth in a cocoon. Then the adult emerges, mates and lays more eggs. We all learned that in grade school.
What I get curious about is how they spend the whole year… especially… what do they do in winter?
The Great Spangled Fritillary lays eggs singly on or near violets in late August or early September. The larva hatches in two to three weeks and eats a portion of its own egg case. Then, without eating another thing, it burrows down into the leaf litter and enters a state of diapause. This is how it will spend the winter.
When spring comes, the larva will make its way to munch on violet leaves and flowers – but only at night. During the day it burrows back under the leaf litter, away from the host plant.
The caterpillar will attach itself under a rock or log and pupate; the adult will emerge in late June after two or three weeks.
Now do you know what I’m curious about? I learned all this by reading books and articles on the Internet. I want to know – who figured this out, and how? Monarchs are so “public” in all stages of their life cycle. As caterpillars they munch boldly in broad daylight. They pupate right before our eyes dangling in plain sight from a stem. They emerge and nectar and migrate and lay eggs – all as if it is a show for our pleasure.
But the Fritillary – public only in its nectaring… lays eggs close to the ground… I’ve never seen that. The caterpillar munches secretively – at night – then disappears during the day… Who discovered that? The chrysalis – hidden under a log or rock… Who thought to look there?
In my next life, I want to be that scientist.
- Massachusetts Butterfly Club
- Mass Audubon Butterfly Atlas (This site has the most complete information about the life cycle that I found, as well as an elaborate discussion of the differences between this and similar species.)