There has been an explosion in our butterfly population recently! While some species have been around all summer, others are just starting to make an appearance this year. Now is a great time to come see the butterflies at Prairie Ridge, including the Variegated Fritillary.
The Variegated Fritillary belongs to the brush-footed butterfly group, the largest family of butterflies. Like other members of this group, the forelegs of the Variegated Fritillary are reduced and held close to the body, giving the appearance that the butterfly has only four legs. We have other fritillary species in North Carolina, but the Variegated Fritillary is orange with thick brown markings and has black spots along the edges of the wings and a scalloped edge along the hind wings.
Variegated Fritillaries begin life as eggs laid singly on a variety of host plants. Once the caterpillars hatch, they’ll eat the plant their mothers chose for them and grow. The caterpillars are spectacular, bright orange with black and white markings and long black spines:
Once they have grown sufficiently, the caterpillars eventually transform into shiny white pupae with orange and black markings before emerging as adults. Here in North Carolina, this whole cycle can repeat itself four or more times each year, and in years with mild winters you may see adult butterflies flying all year.
Adult males actively seek mates, but only over short distances and prefer to fly over flat, open, and dry areas. When a male finds a female, you may see the pair do a sort of courtship dance before mating:
If the pair successfully mates, the female will search for a good place for her offspring to grow and lay her eggs.
We have lots of Variegated Fritillaries at Prairie Ridge right now! Look for larvae on passionflower plants and the adults visiting a wide range of plants for nectar. They are especially common in and around the Nature Neighborhood Garden, so come on out and see if you can spot one!
Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive.
Images by Chris Goforth.