Speyeria aphrodite

Geographic Range

Speyeria aphrodite, commonly known as the Aphrodite fritillary, is a butterfly native to the United States and Canada. It ranges widely across the eastern United States and southern Canada, with a continuous distribution absent of any geographic barriers. Speyeria aphrodite is found from eastern Washington to Nova Scotia in the northern part of its range and from Arizona to Georgia in the southern part of its range.

Ten S. aphrodite subspecies are known, and three of the subspecies (Speyeria aphrodite aphrodite, S. a. alcestis, and S. a. manitoba) co-occur in the Great Lakes region. The hybrid zones between these three subspecies are relatively well defined. (Dunford, 2009; Hammond, 1990; Leahy, 2013; Schmidt, 2003; Taron, 2003)


Speyeria aphrodite larvae are found where their primary host plant species (violets) occur, and the butterfly is known to pollinate milkweed and other plants. Suitable habitat includes prairies, grasslands, forests, fields, stream edges, mountain meadows, old fields, bogs, and brushlands. (Dunford, 2009; Leahy, 2013; Ries, 2011; Schmidt, 2003; Taron, 2003; Wilson, 1969)

Physical Description

The eggs of Speyeria aphrodite are reddish brown. As a larva, S. aphrodite is brownish black with brown spines, while its head is light orange dorsally and black ventrally. When it pupates, S. aphrodite is brownish black with yellow wing cases, while its abdomen is gray with spines.

Speyeria aphrodite adults have an average wingspan of 50 to 84 mm. Its wings are reddish orange or brown, with black spots. A unique characteristic of the forewings is a black spot surrounded by a black "halo". On the underside of the hindwings are silver spots that appear shiny and metallic when they reflect light, and a pale line colors the edge of the wings. The eyes of S. aphrodite adults are dull yellowish green.

Sexual dimorphism occurs in S. aphrodite. Females are larger than males and have darker coloration. In addition, ten subspecies exist in the S. aphrodite species complex, and the phenotype of larvae and adults varies geographically. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009; Leahy, 2013; Schmidt, 2003; Taron, 2003)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • female more colorful
  • Range wingspan
    50 to 84 mm
    1.97 to 3.31 in


Speyeria aphrodite eggs hatch 1 to 2 weeks after they are laid, at which point the larvae eat their eggshells. The eggs often are laid near violet plants that have already senesced; unfed first-instar larvae hibernate through the winter. When violets emerge in the spring, S. aphrodite larvae feed on the leaves of the violets. All species in the genus Speyeria develop through 6 larval instars, after which the caterpillars pupate and metamorphose into butterflies. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009; Taron, 2003)


Speyeria aphrodite typically locates mates in the bottom of valleys. Males start flying about a week before females and patrol for most of the day in open areas. Information regarding the mating behaviors specific to S. aphrodite is sparse; however, butterfly species in the genus Speyeria likely are similar in their mating biology. In related butterfly species, a male presents himself to a female with his wings perched forward and flaps them to transmit his pheromones to the female. If the female does not accept the male, she responds by quickly fluttering her wings. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009)

One new generation of Speyeria aphrodite appears each year. Adults fly between May and early September, and males start flying before the females. Females begin to mate immediately after emerging, from May through July; however, they are not yet reproductively mature, and they do not begin to oviposit until August or September. Researchers cite these observations when suggesting that S. aphrodite experiences reproductive diapause.

Each fertilized egg is laid singly near violet plants that already have senesced for the year. Speyeria aphrodite females can find senesced host plants by detecting the volatiles emitted by dormant violet roots. Specific information regarding the number of eggs laid by S. aphrodite is unavailable, but other butterfly species in the genus Speyeria lay hundreds of eggs in a season. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009; Ries, 2011; Sims, 1984; Taron, 2003)

  • Breeding interval
    Speyeria aphrodite reproduces once per year during the summer months.
  • Breeding season
    Mating begins in the summer, while oviposition occurs in August and September.

A Speyeria aphrodite female protects fertilized eggs in her body until she lays them. Females lay eggs near plant species that are suitable as food for the S. aphrodite larvae. Because the violet species chosen by S. aphrodite females often have already senesced, females find good oviposition sites by detecting the volatiles emitted by dormant violet roots. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female


Although specific data on the lifespan of Speyeria aphrodite are not available, the insect probably lives for about 1 year. Speyeria aphrodite lays eggs in August or September, and the larvae may hibernate until the following spring. Adults emerge in May through July, and they die after reproducing. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 years


Not much information is available regarding the behavior of Speyeria aphrodite; however, it likely is similar to other Speyeria species. Speyeria aphrodite males emerge and begin flying between May and July; females emerge soon after the males. Speyeria aphrodite exhibits a "solar positive" strategy of thermoregulation, wherein it flies toward sunlight to maintain its body temperature. (Clench, 1966; Leahy, 2013; Schmidt, 2003; Taron, 2003)

Home Range

The hybrid zones of the three subspecies of Speyeria aphrodite that occur in the Great Lakes region are fairly abrupt, suggesting that the home range of S. aphrodite individuals is limited to the size of the observed boundaries of the subspecies (or an even smaller area). (Hammond, 1990)

Communication and Perception

Speyeria aphrodite males attract females with pheromones, and females can find suitable oviposition sites by detecting the volatiles emitted by the dormant roots of host plants.

Like other lepidopterans, S. aphrodite adults likely also use chemotactile sensory receptors to "taste" suitable host plants and vision to find plants and mates. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009; Inoue, 2006)

Food Habits

Speyeria aphrodite is an herbivore as a larva, mainly eating the leaves of its violet host plants. Larvae are known to eat Viola rotundifolia, V. paplionacea, V. palustris, V. adunca, V. adunca variation bellidifolia, V. sororia, S. canadensis, V. glabella, V. nuttalli, and V. sempervirens.

Speyeria aphrodite adults feed on the nectar of milkweed species, Buddleja species, ironwood species, thistle, dogbane, knapweed, vetches, red clover, purple coneflower, Joe-Pye weed, black-eyed susan, Queen Anne's lace, hawkweed, mint, rabbitbrush, pea plants, Monarda fistulosa, Cirisium carolinianum, Carduus nutans, Liatris squarrosa, and Echium vulgare. Adults also are known to feed on dung. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009; Leahy, 2013; Schmidt, 2003; Taron, 2003)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • nectar
  • Other Foods
  • dung


Speyeria aphrodite adults have been found in the crops of common nighthawks and chimney swifts, while S. aphrodite larvae have been found in the stomachs of black-throated buntings and towhees. Deer mice also may prey on S. aphrodite. (Dunford, 2007)

Ecosystem Roles

Speyeria aphrodite larvae feed on several violet species.

The butterflies appear to pollinate milkweed species, and they probably play a role in pollinating the many other plant species on which they feed. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009; Schmidt, 2003; Wilson, 1969)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates
Species Used as Host
  • Viola rotundifolia
  • Viola paplionacea
  • Viola palustris
  • Viola adunca
  • Viola adunca variation bellidifolia
  • Viola sororia
  • Viola canadensis
  • Viola glabella
  • Viola nuttalli
  • Viola sempervirens
  • Milkweed (Asclepias)
  • Buddleja species
  • Ironwood (Vernonia)
  • Thistle
  • Dogbane (Apocynum)
  • Knapweed (Centaurea)
  • Vetches (Vicia)
  • Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium)
  • Black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
  • Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota)
  • Hawkweed (Hieracium)
  • Mint (Mentha)
  • Rabbitbrush
  • Pea plants
  • Monarda fistulosa
  • Cirisium carolinianum
  • Carduus nutans
  • Liatris squarrosa
  • Echium vulgare

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Speyeria aphrodite adults may benefit humans by pollinating wildflowers and other plants of interest. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009; Wilson, 1969)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Although Speyeria aphrodite pollinates some wildflowers and other plants that are of interest to humans, the butterfly also may pollinate invasive knapweed species or other undesirable plants. (Dunford, 2007; Dunford, 2009; Wilson, 1969)

Conservation Status

Speyeria aphrodite is not listed on the IUCN Red List, CITES appendices, U.S. Federal, or Michigan endangered species lists. Other resources report that S. aphrodite is widespread and abundant without any threat of becoming endangered.

Other Comments

Some sources suggest that Speyeria aphrodite may benefit from prairie restoration, because the species is most common in prairies; however, no data have been collected to support this assertion. (Taron, 2003)


Cayla Zielinski (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Elizabeth Wason (author, editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

delayed fertilization

a substantial delay (longer than the minimum time required for sperm to travel to the egg) takes place between copulation and fertilization, used to describe female sperm storage.


a period of time when growth or development is suspended in insects and other invertebrates, it can usually only be ended the appropriate environmental stimulus.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


"many forms." A species is polymorphic if its individuals can be divided into two or more easily recognized groups, based on structure, color, or other similar characteristics. The term only applies when the distinct groups can be found in the same area; graded or clinal variation throughout the range of a species (e.g. a north-to-south decrease in size) is not polymorphism. Polymorphic characteristics may be inherited because the differences have a genetic basis, or they may be the result of environmental influences. We do not consider sexual differences (i.e. sexual dimorphism), seasonal changes (e.g. change in fur color), or age-related changes to be polymorphic. Polymorphism in a local population can be an adaptation to prevent density-dependent predation, where predators preferentially prey on the most common morph.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


Brittnacher, J., S. Sims, F. Ayala. 1978. Genetic differentiation between species of the genus Speyeria (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae). Evolution, 32: 199-210.

Clench, H. 1966. Behavioral Thermoregulation in Butterflies. Ecology, 47/6: 1021-1034.

Dunford, J. 2009. Taxonomic overview of the greater fritillary genus Speyeria Scudder and the atlantis - hesperis species complexes, with species accounts, type images, and relevant literature (Lepidoptera: >>Nymphalidae>>). Insecta Mundi, 90: 1-74. Accessed February 01, 2012 at http://journals.fcla.edu/mundi/article/view/25182/24513.

Dunford, J. 2007. "The Genus Speyeria and the Speyeria atlantis/Speyeria hesperis Complex: Species and Subspecies Accounts, Systematics, and Biogeography (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae)" (On-line pdf). A dissertation presented to the graduate school of the University of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Accessed February 23, 2012 at http://ufdcimages.uflib.ufl.edu/UF/E0/02/16/07/00001/dunford_j.pdf.

Gatrelle, R. 1998. Two new Nymphalidae from western North Carolina: new subspecies of Speyeria aphrodite and Phyciodes batesii. Taxonomic Report of the International Lepidoptera Survey, 1/3: 1-7.

Hammond, P. 1990. Patterns of geographic variation and evolution in polytypic butterflies. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera, 29/1-2: 54-76. Accessed February 01, 2012 at http://lepidopteraresearchfoundation.org/journals/29/PDF29/29-054.pdf.

Inoue, T. 2006. Morphology of foretarsal ventral surfaces of Japanese Papilio butterflies and relations between these morphology, phylogeny and hostplant preferring hierarchy. Zoological Science, 23/2: 169-189.

Leahy, C. 2013. "Aphrodite Fritillary" (On-line). Mass Audobon. Accessed February 01, 2012 at http://www.massaudubon.org/butterflyatlas/index.php?id=34.

Opler, P., K. Lotts, T. Naberhaus. 2013. "Attributes of Speyeria aphrodite" (On-line). Butterflies and Moths of North America. Accessed February 01, 2012 at http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Speyeria-aphrodite.

Ries, L. 2011. "Speyeria aphrodite" (On-line). Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed February 01, 2012 at http://eol.org/pages/158355/overview.

Schmidt, B. 2003. "Species Page - Speyeria aphrodite" (On-line). University of Alberta Entomology Collection. Accessed February 01, 2012 at http://www.entomology.ualberta.ca/searching_species_details.php?b=Lepidoptera&c=7&s=2832.

Scott, J. 1975. Mate-Locating Behavior of Western North American Butterflies. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera, 14/1: 1-40. Accessed February 24, 2012 at http://lepidopteraresearchfoundation.org/journals/14/PDF14/14-001.pdf.

Sims, S. 1984. Reproductive Diapause in Speyeria (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae). Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera, 23/3: 211-216. Accessed February 01, 2012 at http://lepidopteraresearchfoundation.org/journals/23/PDF23/23-211.pdf.

Taron, D. 2003. "Aphrodite Fritillary: Goddess of Butterflies" (On-line). Chicago Wilderness Magazine. Accessed June 06, 2013 at http://www.chicagowilderness.org/CW_Archives/issues/summer2003/aphrodite.html.

Wilson, L. 1969. The capability of some butterflies as carriers of common milkweed pollen. The Michigan Entomologist, 2/1-2: 40-42. Accessed June 06, 2013 at http://insects.ummz.lsa.umich.edu/mes/gle-pdfs/Vol2No1and2.pdf#page=40.