Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele) (Fabricius, 1775)

Diagnosis: This is one of the largest (wingspan: 62 to 88 mm), and most widespread of the Canadian greater fritillaries. The males are bright orange, with distinct black veining on the upper surface. The females are yellow brown, darker on the base of the wings. The hindwing underside is always heavily silvered and the light submarginal band is wider than in other species.

Subspecies: These are not clearly defined. Subspecies cybele is eastern in distribution, occurring as far west as Manitoba. Smaller specimens in Nova Scotia with more brown in the wide pale band of the hindwing underside are referred to as subspecies novascotiae. Specimens in Northern Ontario and Michigan with very pale females are subspecies krautwurmi. Subspecies pseudocarpenteri, smaller and paler than the nominate form, ranges across the southern Prairie provinces in wooded areas and into the Peace River lowlands of British Columbia, where it is considered threatened. Subspecies leto, with reduced silver spots on the hindwing below, especially the marginal band, and with striking pale yellow females, occurs in southern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta.

Range: This large butterfly is found across southern Canada, mostly south of the Boreal Zone from Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia to the southern interior of British Columbia and north to the Peace River District.

Similar Species: The Great Spangled Fritillary can be distinguished by its lack of a black spot near the base of the forewing above. The other similar Speyeria in Canada have such a spot. Speyeriacybele also has a wide, clear submarginal yellowish band on the hindwing below. In other species, the dark shading on the basal portion of the hindwing underside (the disc) diffuses between the silver spots into the submarginal yellowish band.

The description of the image follows.
Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele cybele), larva. T. Arcand

Early Stages: The larvae are mostly velvety black with brown sides. They have rows of black spines with red bases. Like all other greater fritillaries they feed on violets.

Abundance: The Great Spangled Fritillary has been a common butterfly throughout its range. There is evidence, however, that its numbers have decreased in some parts of Canada owing to habitat loss (Klassen et al., 1989; Guppy et al., 1994).

Flight Season: Throughout its wide range, this butterfly is most common in July, but can be found flying from early June into September depending on location and weather conditions.

Habits: Although cybele is a very fast and active flyer, it can often be closely observed feeding on a wide variety of flowers, such as milkweeds and thistles. It is regularly seen in company with other greater fritillaries in open fields and along roadsides.

The description of the image follows.
Great Spangled Fritillaries (Speyeria cybele cybele), mating. Frontenac Provincial Park, Ont. J. Kamstra

Remarks: This is probably the best known of the fritillaries because it is common in southern Canadain heavily populated areas. Some workers believe that subspecies leto may prove to be a separate species from cybele; further research is required in southern Alberta, where the two taxa come together.

© 2002. This material is reproduced with permission from The Butterflies of Canada by Ross A. Layberry, Peter W. Hall, and J. Donald Lafontaine. University of Toronto Press; 1998. Specimen photos courtesy of John T. Fowler.