The Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia) is one of the largest and most spectacular butterflies found in North America. Its bright orange forewings are marked with a deep orange-brown border and characterized by the two rows of spots along the hindwing. The difference between the sexes is found in these spots; the male has a row of orange and cream spots while the female has only cream colored spots. The male may be showier, but the female is larger in size. The average wingspan of the regal fritillary spans between 2.5 to 4 inches from tip to tip.
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The Regal fritillary can be found in large open grasslands and prairies in east-central United States. During the late summer months, look for them among the violets. The female will lay up to 1,000 eggs, leaving them at the base of several species of violets. The eggs will hatch 3 - 4 weeks later, and will hibernate shortly afterward. In early spring, the black larvae will feed solely on the violets they were laid on. In about three weeks, the larva enters its brown and mottled pupa to emerge as a lovely butterfly.
Unfortunately for these pretty little creatures, the life span of the Regal fritillary is quite short. Males survive for about a month while females can live for almost two months. Despite its brief lifespan, the butterfly should have the chance to thrive. Over the years, Regal fritillaries have become increasingly rare. Loss of habitat due to agriculture, fragmentation and land development has greatly affected populations in several states. In Indiana, the Regal fritillary is a state-endangered species.
Protecting Prairies, Preserving Life
Do you remember that song "Home of the Range?" It goes something like "Oh give me home, where the buffalo roam...?" Well, regal fritillaries feel the exact same way when it comes to their habitat. Give them a home where buffaloes once roamed; give them prairies and they will come.
More than ten years ago, the Regal Fritillary was found in only one nature preserve in Indiana. Beaver Lake Nature Preserve in Newton County is a 640 acre field home to prairie flowers and grasses, and one of the few areas in our great state where original prairie still exists. The Nature Conservancy in Indiana has purchased more than 7,200 acres that surround Beaver Lake, Conrad Station Savanna and parts of Willow Slough Fish & Wildlife Area to be part of the Conservancy's Kankakee Sands Restoration Project. Here we have worked to restore the land back to its original prairie/wetland/black oak barrens habitat. Thanks to the smart planning and hard work done by staff and volunteers, Kankakee Sands has been restored enough to support a larger population of Regal fritillaries and has brought hope of our populations spreading elsewhere.
Importance of Violets
Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but when it comes to the larvae of the Regal Fritillary, violets are life savers - literally. Violets are the sole source of food for butterflies belonging in the genus Speyeria.
Bird's foot, blue prairie, common blue, lance-leafed and arrowleaf violets are just a few varieties it needs to survive.