Speyeria cybele

Geographic Range

Great spangled fritillaries live in the temperate forests of Northern America. Their range includes almost all of Canada and the United States north of Georgia. (Carter, 1992)


Great spangled fritillaries live mostly in temperate climates but can be found in extremes from the arctic to the subtropical. They can be found in both open woodlands and prairies, preferring to be in moist climates. (Carter, 1992; Struttmann, 2004)

Physical Description

Great spangled fritillaries are relatively large butterflies with a wingspan of 5.85 to 10.1 cm and a length of 9.1 to 9.9 cm. Speyeria cybele has scalloped forewings and hindwings. The sexes are colored differently. The females of the species are paler with a dark blackish concentration on the basal half of both their forewings and hindwings. This pattern is not seen as distincly in males. Both males and females have a pale orange color on the outside of their wings. This is where their fritillary spots, black spots near the edges of the wings from whence they get their name, are found. These are black on the forewings and silver on the hindwings. Both sexes also have a pale orange underside with black spots on the forewings and broad, tan bands on the hindwings.

In their larval stage, great spangled fritillaries' caterpillars have orange spines on a black body. (Carter, 1992; Scott, 1986; Struttmann, 2004)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range length
    9.1 to 9.9 cm
    3.58 to 3.90 in
  • Range wingspan
    5.85 to 10.1 cm
    2.30 to 3.98 in


After hatching from their eggs, Speyeria cybele caterpillars overwinter and do not become active until the spring. Unlike most butterfly larvae, which molt five times, great spangled fritillary caterpillars molt six times, becoming bigger each time they molt until it they reach the final larval stage. (Carter, 1992; Scott, 1986; Struttmann, 2004)


During mating, males seek out females. A male will perch near a female and open and close his wings. This releases a "strong and spicy" scent from the male's scent scales. This aids in courtship due to recognition of and the female's attraction to this scent. Males are attracted to females based on size, color, and the frequency of the flapping of the female's wings. This allows the males to determine the females of their own species as well as the most attractive females of their species. The females have sensilla, chemoreceptors on the ventral surfaces of their forelegs. When looking for a place to lay her eggs, a female will land on a leaf and "drum" the leaf, which involves scraping the surface of the leaf. In doing this the chemoreceptors help the female to identify the plant. The sensilla occur in clusters of 4-12, and each pair of sensilla is located at the same place as a pair of spines. These spines are thought to scratch the leaf surface to allow the oils of the leaf to come into contact with the sensilla. The females lay their pale yellow eggs singly near food sources during their migration. These may be laid in late June and July, but the majority are laid in August or September. (Ahmad, 1983; Klots, 1951; Waldbauer, 1996)

After laying eggs, butterflies exhibit no parental care.

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning


These caterpillars, after hatching from their eggs, overwinter and do not become active until the spring. They hide under leaves during the day and eat at night.

Unlike the larvae, the adults are diurnal and stay close to food sources during the day. The brood of great spangled fritillaries migrate once from mid-June to mid-September and are most active during July and August. It is on this flight that the females lay their eggs. (Carter, 1992; Scott, 1986; Struttmann, 2004)

Communication and Perception

Males use pheromones to attract females. Visual cues are also used in mate recognition. Females use chemical cues to find a suitable host plant on which to lay eggs. (Ahmad, 1983; Klots, 1951; Waldbauer, 1996)

Food Habits

As mature butterflies, great spangled fritillaries, due to their large size, prefer large flowers including violets and thistles.

Similar to many other butterflies, great spangled fritillaries have chemoreceptors on the bottom surfaces of their four walking legs. These allow butterflies to find nectar with their feet. In females, these receptors are adapted to assist in reproduction.

As caterpillars, great spangled fritillaries eat the leaves of violets (Viola rotunidfolia). It does so only at night, spending the day hiding under leaves. (Ahmad, 1983; Carter, 1992; Klots, 1951)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • nectar

Ecosystem Roles

Speyeria cybele pollinates different types of plants.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

As most butterflies do, great spangled fritillaries, while feeding on nectar, pollinate the flowers they visit. This promotes diversity by making self-fertilization less likely. This benefits humans in that it keeps these species of flowers viable and alive.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Great spangled fritillaries do not have a negative effect on humans.

Conservation Status

Great spangled fritillaries have an extremely large range. Some of the temperate forests and rainforests within its range are threatened, but that has not had an effect on their numbers.

Other Comments

Great spangled fritillaries are the most common fritillaries in the Eastern United States. (Struttmann, 2004)


Matthew Wund (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Ellen Gass (author), Southwestern University, Stephanie Fabritius (editor), Southwestern University.



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

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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  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.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


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.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

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


active during the night


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


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).

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


Ahmad, S. 1983. Herbivorous Insects. New York City, New York: Academic Press.

Carter, D. 1992. Butterflies and Moths. New York City, New York: Dorling Kindersley, Inc..

Klots, A. 1951. A Field Guide to the Butterflies of North America, East of the Great Plains. Boston, Massachusets: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Scott, J. 1986. The Butterflies of North America. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Struttmann, J. 2004. "Butterflies of North America/Butterflies of Nebraska" (On-line). Accessed 12/22/04 at http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/distr/lepid/bflyusa/ne/74.htm.

Waldbauer, G. 1996. Insects through the Seasons. London, England: Harvard University Press.