Larval food plants for great spangled fritillary and common buckeye butterflies

A great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele) and a common buckeye (Junonia coenia) were seen in my garden in the fall of 2017. September 22 for the great spangled fritillary. October 19 for the common buckeye.


October 19 was also a day when clusters of painted ladies and monarchs graced my garden. It was a special butterfly day for sure. Please see the posts Ladies’ day out in my garden and Home-grown monarchs and milkweed for details on painted ladies and monarchs. Butterflies in my garden send me searching for information about their life cycles and larval food plants, always in the hope of welcoming more butterflies each year by providing for their particular needs. NABA North Jersey Butterfly Club website is a handy source of regional butterfly information.


The above photos of a great spangled fritillary are from September 22, 2017. In 2016, I have photos of great spangled fritillaries on September 14 and September 20. Please see the post Great spangled fritillary: new butterfly in garden for 2016 photos. From above, the forewing of the great spangled fritillary has a row of black spots on orange below irregular bands of black, as seen in photo at left above. According to the U.S. Forest Service website, the word fritillus means chessboard, and that’s a little what the forewings look like. From below, the hindwing has shiny silvery spots on brown-orange separated by a wide cream-colored band, as seen at right above. Females are larger and darker than males. They tend to fly later into the summer to lay eggs. So this is probably a female. It is feeding on verbena, an excellent wildflower for late summer and fall nectar. As can be seen, this butterfly has a chunk of forewing missing, but doesn’t seem to be bothered by the absence.

Great spangled fritillary on verbena September 22, 2017

Great spangled fritillaries are common and widespread in this region of New Jersey. Because they produce only one brood yearly, reproductive success depends on many elements of their life cycle being in sync. Let’s start in early summer, when male great spangled fritillaries emerge, usually several days before the females. When females emerge, the butterflies mate, and the males die. Females continue on in reproductive diapause until late summer when they break diapause to lay eggs in wood chips and leaf litter near violets (viola), their larval food plant.

New growth of blue violets amidst wood chips and leaf litter April 18, 2018

Eggs hatch within 2 to 3 weeks, and the first-instar caterpillars soon go into winter diapause, hiding out in the wood chips and leaf litter around violets. Messy gardening is beneficial for these caterpillars, so remember to keep the fallen leaves around violets as much as possible.

New growth of blue violets amidst wood chips and leaf litter April 18, 2018

Caterpillars become active in spring when the violets, their larval food source, start to grow. They molt 6 times instead of the usual 5 times for butterflies. After all this growing, the caterpillars pupate, forming chrysalises attached by silken thread to nearby rocks or branches. I wish I had photos of all these steps. Maybe this summer.

And we are back to early summer, when the adult flying males and females emerge to start the cycle over again. With all this in mind, I need to nurture violets, maintaining wood chips and leaf litter around them. I’m thinking that I need to transplant some violets to out-of-the-way corners where leaves tend to collect in fall, taking the violets to the leaf litter instead of the other way around. It’s fun to make small tweaks like that in garden plans, and then watch for results.

I need also to keep my camera handy on a daily basis to hopefully record more butterfly activity in my garden this year. Recording actual dates for the different stages of the above life cycle will tell me much more about great spangled fritillary activity in my garden, and will help me to observe differences from year to year.

Common buckeye on verbena October 19, 2017

Common buckeye butterflies (Junonia coenia), one of which visited my garden on October 19, 2017, are not resident to this area of New Jersey. They are migrants. However, NABA-North Jersey website reports that common buckeyes are increasingly regular visitors to north Jersey. I had never seen one before. From above, each brown forewing has a large eyespot with a white band nearly surrounding it, as well as 2 orange bars on each wing. Each brown hindwing has 2 eyespots with an broad orange submarginal band. I did not get a photo of the wings from below. Common buckeyes produce multiple generations each year. They overwinter as adults, but not in northern New Jersey. They are resident across the southern U.S. and much of Mexico, expanding their range northward in the spring and making a return migration south in the late summer and fall.

Common buckeye on verbena October 19, 2017

The Missouri Department of Conservation calls common buckeye butterflies found in Missouri a breeding summer resident. I assume that may be the case with common buckeyes in northern New Jersey as well. So thinking about their larval food plants may not be amiss if I would like to see more of them in my garden, which I do.

Broadleaf plantain July 6, 2015

One of several larval food plants for the common buckeye is the common or broadleaf plantain (Plantago major), as seen above in my garden on July 6, 2015. Oh, wait, I identified broadleaf plantains as weeds 4 years ago and have been pulling them out ever since. I don’t want to reintroduce broadleaf plantains, even for the sake of common buckeye butterflies. There are many broadleaf plantains in the park across the street. I’ll just have to hope the visiting common buckeyes find them there.

Another larval food plant for common buckeyes is slender false foxglove (Agalinia tenuifolia), which is native to this area. I found seeds on Prairie Moon Nursery website and will try planting them this spring. That’s a start at least.

So, I have plans for 2 new butterflies.

The great spangled fritillary is resident to this area and uses violets as larval food plants. They sound easy to plan for, but they have only one brood per year, which might limit their abundance in a small area like my garden.

The common buckeye is a migrant for which larval food plants are not currently found in my garden. But they breed continuously wherever they are in their migration. They must have at least one brood per year in northern New Jersey. But why would they choose my garden except perhaps for nectaring. Nothing is easy when it comes to planning for butterflies. But they are worth it.


If I have any luck at all in attracting butterflies this summer, whether great spangled fritillaries or common buckeyes or other butterflies, and if I have the good fortune to be in my garden with my camera at the same time that they are, maybe even to discover and photograph eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalises in addition to flying adult butterflies, then I will be happy, and I will write a post about it.




3 Comments on “Larval food plants for great spangled fritillary and common buckeye butterflies

  1. Wow, I wish I could see this beauty in real life. Perhaps I will try growing some of the plants you’ve mentioned.

  2. Go for it! You may have violets and plantains already. For nectar plants, I’ve found that adult flying butterflies love verbena. Once I got verbena started, it has self-sown every year. Zinnias are good too. Just be sure they are the old-fashioned ones with lots of nectar.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.