Happy Friday, Bug Fans!!! We hope you’re having a great Friday. This week marks our 53rd edition of Friday Flyers! Last week we completed a full year of Facebook posts featuring fascinating insect information and beautiful insect photographs. It’s been a lot of fun sharing our posts with you. Now it’s time to start a new year of Friday Flyers. Right now in Northern Illinois, we’re approaching a seasonal peak of butterfly activity. Most species have completed or have nearly completed their first generation. The first generation adults will be on the wing from now until early August, busily creating the second generation of 2014. The warmer weather and abundant rainfall have created the perfect conditions for the second generation to flourish. The food plants are lush and nutrient-packed, just what a growing caterpillar needs. And they really need their nourishment because most of these second generation caterpillars will have to pupate and hibernate through the winter months so they can emerge as adults next spring.
One of the most interesting butterflies that will be on the wing shortly is the Great Spangled Fritillary, Speyeria cybele. There are already some flying, but their numbers should increase during the next couple of weeks. There are a number of Fritillary species in our part of Illinois, but Cybele is the largest and most beautiful. Their wingspans are usually in the 2 1/2 to 3 inch range, with the females being typically the larger sex. Both sexes are similar in color, a combination dark orangey-brown near the body and light orangey-brown at the outer wing margins. There are also a large number of black “hash-marks” creating a complicated pattern. The ventrals (undersides) of both sexes follow the same color scheme, but lighter and paler. But the most interesting ventral markings are the hind wing silver spots! These spots actually have a metallic appearance that is created by the way the wing scales reflect the light. Most Fritillary species have the silver spots. The ventral silver spots are so striking that many collectors have trouble deciding which side to display facing up.
Fritillary butterflies are relatively fast flyers, but they love to drink the nectar from Milkweed flowers and Thistle flowers. This gives you a great opportunity to photograph and observe them. You can occasionally see Cybele flying in residential neighborhoods, but they are primarily meadow and field butterflies. This is because their caterpillars eat various violet plants which tend to grow in undisturbed fields. The antennae of the adult Fritillary butterflies have “flattened disks” at the ends instead if the normal “club” shape. The caterpillars are usually brown with spike-studded knobs on each body segment. The most unusual adaptation of the Fritillary caterpillar is that they overwinter as juvenile caterpillars. In the spring when the snow melts, they resume their eating and develop normally.
We used to see a lot more Fritillary butterflies than we do now. The Kane County Forest Preserves used to be full of them. At their peak in late July, you could easily see 100 in a day. Now unfortunately, the Forest Preserve management has decided to repeatedly burn the fields and meadows. These habitats have become a sterile wasteland as far as Fritillary butterflies are concerned. The several burns that have taken place each year for the last several years have pretty much eradicated these beautiful butterflies. Nowadays, you see a few here and there, but it’s a drastically diminished number from the years prior to the burning. And even though Cybele is a common butterfly that thrives in undisturbed meadows, it is impossible for it to be reintroduced into the Kane County Forest Preserves unless the wild violet food plants are established again first. This just won’t happen until the burning stops. Luckily you can still enjoy these beautiful butterflies in other counties where the forest preserves are left natural.
We can also show you these beautiful butterflies in our Wonders Of Nature department. We have a number of them, beautifully framed and matted as always. And because they are a local species the prices are very reasonable, usually starting at less than $50.00 framed!!! They’d make a great gift for the young Entomologist in your family or for a colorful addition to your own collection. See you on the trail!
And don’t forget to visit the Friday Flyers archive on our website. You can now refer to all of the past editions complete with all the photos, in a stable and permanent format. We hope you’ll visit our website and check it out at:
We hope you enjoyed this week’s edition of Friday Flyers. We love sharing our interest in butterflies and insects with you. Please enjoy the photos we have posted with this week’s edition, and be sure to see all the previous pictures in our Friday Flyers album. Remember to “like” our Wonders Of Nature page, and be sure to pass it along to all your Facebook Friends. We hope you’ll visit our Wonders Of Nature department soon, and we look forward to seeing you.