What Do Fritillary Caterpillars Eat?

Downy Yellow Violet photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Fritillary Butterfly are those Brushfoot butterflies that come in oranges, browns and black. Most of us know and love Gulf frits, Great Spangled frits, Variegates frits, Aphrodite frits, Silver bordered frits, Meadow frits and Regal frits, if you’re east of the Mississippi River.

Now that I’m relocated to Georgia, the fritillary butterflies here mostly deposit their eggs on Passionflower vines, easy to grow Southern garden favorites. Passionflower also attracts other butterflies, including Zebra heliconians.

The most common hostplant for Fritillary butterflies comes as something of a surprise, and are in most gardens. Fritillary butterflies mostly lay their eggs on violets. it still seems incongruous, that their caterpillar hatch on and feed upon these tiny little plants, present in the early Spring, and not so much as 4″ above the soil.

Shown here are Downy Yellow Violets, that I spotted in Raccoon Creek State Park, in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Holli and Leslie would surely have me remind you, urge you, to please delay your annual leaf raking of your lawns, until mid-Spring. Why? Because Fritillary caterpillars spend the winter as chrysalises each with a rolled leaf around them, right there in the leaf drop sitting on your lawn. Rake your lawns in October/November, and you may be removing (killing) dozens of Fritillary cats, they, awaiting the onset of Spring weather.


10 Years of Patience . . . Pays Off Regally

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa - Visitors of all ages participated in a rare regal fritillary butterfly guided tour on Fort Indiantown Gap. (Department of Military and Veterans Affairs photo by Tom Cherry/Released)

Visitors of all ages participated in a rare regal fritillary butterfly guided tour on Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania (Department of Military and Veterans Affairs photo by Tom Cherry/Released)

Mysterious, very protected, studied, and by all accounts, beautiful. A butterfly that once flew in my hometown, Brooklyn, New York (Butterfly People by Willam Leach, Pantheon Books). Today the only known colony of them in the Eastern U.S. is in central Pennsylvania, and flying in the middle of a military reservation. Gone from Maine to Florida, yet whispers heard that the Regal Fritillary (Speyeria Idalia) really was doing fine in that rolling “prairie” grassland, just ½ hour drive from Harrisburg, the state capitol. 2015 was to be a bit of a bust-out year for me, a push me / shove me year that would include more travel and more chutzpah. Israel in March. Went to the far northern Galilee to find a rare protected Parnassian, that flew in March, only March. We’ll share those images shortly. Went to Georgia, at the invitation of Eatonton’s Briar Patch habitat, with southern butterflies galore. Went to the Allegheny National Forest and nearby Jamestown Audubon Center, both eye candy for anyone seeking butterflies. Suffered a personal loss, the death of my father, which brought me back to Georgia, where he was interred in the Georgia Memorial Veterans Cemetery, and a U.S. Army trumpeter to set the sad tone. Still, more than 10 years ago, I decided I wanted to shoot butterflies that were threatened with extirpation (extinction). I’ve spent so much time amongst fritillaries, and it was time, I should see and photograph the beauty of them all (fair or unfair?) the Regal Fritillary. Where could I find it? Jet to Illinois or farther Midwest, or see them at Ft. Indiantown Gap Military Reservation in Pennsylvania. Let me leave it at this, the people at the forefront of our organizations did not return my calls, or letters. 10 years went by. On Facebook, a group member, new to me, noted a few weeks ago that Fort Indiantown Gap was conducting Regal Fritillary tours to all comers, no reservations required. Huh? 194 miles from Pittsburgh, Thursday night in a Hampton Inn in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, then Friday morning, July 10th, there I was . . . one of 130 people there for the tour. The rain/thunder of the day before was gone, with sun, sun, sun and no wind. The Regal Frits were flying in good numbers. The males speeding along, seeking females. The females were calmly moving from Butterfly weed to Butterfly weed. The crowd thinned, until we were three, me, a pleasant woman, and Jake, a naturalist on staff at Fort Indiantown Gap. Is it not evident that I am having a really good time? Regals are beautiful. Though they seem as carefree as Great Spangled frits, you know that they are so, so rare. Protected by the Pennsylvania National Guard, US Army, and the OMG! F-16’s flying way above. 2.5 hours of Jeff giddiness. I have seen and photographed one of the most evasive butterflies in the United States.The slides are at this moment in Kansas, then they go the Rewind Memories here in Pittsburgh, then we shall see what we shall see. The Jeff you see here is a very relaxed Jeff, only thinking of seizing this opportunity to the fullest, and very, very Thankful. 10 years, do you get it? Jeff