Speyeria cybele
Great Spangled Fritillary

Family Description:
This species is comprised of a number of subspecies, including cybele, charlotti, leto, and others.
Caterpillar: The caterpillar is black and marked lengthwise along the back with two lines of gray dots. The head is dark brown, and the "neck" is reddish yellow. The body is covered with bristly spines colored orange at the base and black at the tips.
Adult: The Fritillaries as a group are very similar in appearance, and the differences between individual species are often minor and difficult to see. Positive identification to the species level is difficult and requires detailed examination. This is a large Fritillary, with a wingspan of 2 1/8 to 4 inches. The upperside of the male and some females is brownish orange to orange and is edged with one or two black lines. The bases of the wings may appear clouded with brown or blackish brown. The forewing is marked with short, wavy black lines, three or four of which on the leading edge are nearly parallel. There is no spot at the base of the forewing, below the short wavy lines, as in some Fritillaries. A thick, wavy black line runs vertically across the center of the wing. Additionally, there is a row of black spots, followed by a row of black, inverted "v"-shaped marks along the outside edge. The wing veins are outlined thinly in black. The hindwing is similarly marked. (Some females, especially in our area, are marked similarly to males except that the background color is golden yellow to pale yellow, and the wing bases are clouded heavily with black.) Underneath, the forewing is golden yellow to orange, often darker at the base, and marked as above. There may be several small silver spots at the tip. The hindwing is reddish brown at the base and spotted with different sized silver spots. At the edge of the brown is a curved row of silver spots, followed by a wide band of light yellow. The edge is marked with a second, curved row of silver spots, some possibly pointed, and a band of brown.

This species has a fairly extensive from southern British Columbia and central Alberta across the southern half of Canada to Nova Scotia; from the Pacific Northwest across the northern half of the U.S. to the Atlantic, extending south into central California, northern New Mexico, and northern Georgia. It occurs through much of Idaho.


Its preferred habitat includes woodlands, forests and forest openings, and moist meadows.


Caterpillar: Caterpillars feed on the leaves of several species of violets (Viola spp.).
Adult: Butterflies drink nectar from a wide variety of flowers, and may obtain additional moisture and nutrients from dung.


There is one new generation of caterpillars each year. Eggs hatch in the fall; the newly emerged caterpillars, having not yet fed, enter a physiological state called diapause to overwinter. In the spring the young caterpillars feed on the new leaves of host plants. Adults generally fly from mid-June through September. Some adult females may enter a kind of diapause during the summer after mating. They re-emerge in late August or September to lay their eggs. Fritillaries are long-lived for a butterfly, surviving several weeks to months.


Males patrol to find receptive females. pheromones, chemicals used to locate and attract the opposite sex, are produced by both male and female Fritillaries. These chemicals are believed to play an important role in assisting these butterflies to find and recognize other members of their own species. Eggs are laid singly near host plants. In cases where the violet plant has already withered and blown away, females are still able to lay their eggs near to where the host plant will reappear the next spring. This is possible, it is believed, because females are able to locate violet roots by smell!

Idaho Status: Unprotected nongame species.
Global Rank:

G5; most populations are widespread, abundant, and secure. Western populations, however, may be declining due to destruction of habitat.

Ferris, C.D. and F.M. Brown (eds.) 1981. Butterflies of the Rocky Mountain States. Univ. of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, USA, 442 pp.

Opler, P. A., H. Pavulaan, and R. E. Stanford. 1995. Butterflies of North America. Jamestown, North Dakota, USA: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Home Page. http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/distr/lepid/bflyusa/bflyusa.htm (Version 05Nov98).

Opler, P. A. and A. B.Wright. 1999. A Field Guide to the Western Butterflies.   Second Edition.  Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, New York, USA, 540 pp.

Pyle, R. M. 1981. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, New York, USA, 924 pp.

Scott, J. A. 1986. The Butterflies of North America. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, USA, 583 pp.

Stanford, R. E. and P. A. Opler. 1993. Atlas of Western U.S.A. Butterflies (Including Adjacent Parts of Canada and Mexico). Published by authors, Denver, Colorado, USA, 275 pp.