Butterflies of New Mexico: The Brushfoots III: Fritillaries and Longwings (Nymphalidae: Heliconiinae)

by Steven J. Cary

The Brushfoots (Nymphalidae). This family is our second richest in terms of number of species and perhaps the most variable in terms of sizes, colors, patterns and behaviors. Despite the obvious differences in wing morphology, members all share a unifying structural character: on adults, the forelegs are reduced to tiny, brush-like structures, leaving only four functional legs. Many of our most familiar butterflies are members of this family. Pursuant to Pelham’s (2019) catalog, we have ~100 species in ten subfamilies.

Fritillaries and Longwings (Nymphalidae: Heliconiinae). This group of 17 butterflies includes some large, colorful fritillaries of our montane regions. They range in size from wingspans of 1.5 inches for the lesser fritillaries up to 3.5 inches for the greater fritillaries. Their larvae often favor violets (Violaceae). This subfamily also includes equally striking tropical or subtropical longwing species which are usually seen in New Mexico only as rare or infrequent strays. Their bright colors and wingspans up to 3.5 inches make them memorable sights. Larvae of several species eat passion vine (Passifloraceae). My photographic coverage of the longwings in particular is mediocre at best. Better images are hereby invited for our review and inclusion, with credit, of course.


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Dryas iulia (Fabricius 1775)                                Julia Heliconian (updated November 18, 2021)

Of all our Longwings, brilliant orange Julia has the longest, narrowest wings. Males are brilliant orange above; females have a black line on the forewing to blunt the gleam. Ventral surfaces are tan, with red at the base. This butterfly is neotropical, straying north to the US border. It has become fairly routine in Texas and Florida, where it may have escaped butterfly house captivity and become naturalized. It remains a very rare stray elsewhere. Larvae eat passion vines (Passifloraceae) in Mexico. Julia was seen at Ramon (county: Li) in May 2001 by the falcon-eyed Christopher Rustay. This record was replicated two decades later when one was spotted in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights on Sept. 14, 2021, and reported to iNaturalist. Accidental escapes of this species may occur from the Albuquerque BioPark (D. Ferguson, pers. com. 2009), and this may be one. Wild strays to New Mexico are likely to be subspecies Dryas iulia moderata (N. Riley 1926). Plant nurseries sell a fair amount of passionvine in southern New Mexico and it will survive there to support rare accidental releases or rare wild strays of this species.

Julia male (Dryas iulia) La Estanzuela, Nuevo Leon, Mexico; Oct. 22, 2002 (photo by Steve Cary).

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Dryadula phaetusa (Linnaeus 1758) Banded Orange Heliconian (updated October 9, 2021)

This tropical creature has only once graced our state. Dan Leifheit visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park (Eddy County) on April 18, 2017. Next to the shade structure near the natural entrance used by the bats, he found an odd butterfly nectaring at Apache Plume. He submitted two photos of this butterfly to the BAMONA website. His photos were taken from a distance but that was good enough. It was unmistakably the Banded Orange Heliconian (https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/sighting_details/1114865 ). The BAMONA reviewer for New Mexico noted as follows: “WOW! this is the first time that species has been seen in New Mexico.” Dryadula phaetusa is seen in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of south Texas and a rare stray made it all the way to Kansas, but its native range is well south of there. Larvae eat Passifloraceae, but do not expect any breeding by lost vagrants who reach New Mexico.

Banded Orange Heliconian (Dryadula phaetusa) Cocle Province, Panama; August 16, 2017 (photo by Joe Schelling).

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Eueides isabella (Stoll 1781)                Isabella’s Heliconian (updated November 16, 2021)

In addition to the elongated forewing, Isabella is orange with black stripes and yellow at the forewing apex. Neotropical in its origins, Isabella occurs in the US chiefly as a rare stray in to Arizona, Kansas and New Mexico. Temporary breeding colonies may establish briefly in south Texas, using Passifloraceae as hosts. Our one, undated specimen is from the Rio Peñasco on the east slope of the Sacramento Mountains near Dunken (Chaves County), in the collection of Ed Peyton.

We need a good photo of this species. The image I had posted previously was found to be misidentified.


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Heliconius charithonia (Linnaeus 1767)          Zebra Heliconian (updated October 9, 2021)

Distinctive Zebra is black with narrow yellow stripes running from wing bases toward the margins. Elongated forewings and the color pattern make it unmistakable in New Mexico. The posterior hindwing stripe is a collection of small yellow spots. Zebra is common in Central and South America; it breeds as far north as coastal Mexico and south Florida. Though they do not appear to be sturdy flyers, adults occasionally penetrate into the central US. Their infrequent visits to New Mexico (counties: Be,Ch,Ed,Gr,Hi,Ot,Ro,Si) were recorded at low elevations in the south or along major watercourses. Passifloraceae (passion vines) are the only larval hosts. New Mexico records are concentrated in the period between July 19 and October 13, during and after the monsoon, but a spring brood is evident in southeast Arizona (Bailowitz and Brock 1991). Adults nectar and patrol canyons. Dr. Dale Zimmerman reported our first Heliconius charithonia, from Silver City (Gr), on 23 August 1973. Our Zebras belong to the Mexican subspecies Heliconius charthonia vazquezae W. Comstock & F. Brown 1950.

Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charithonia) Hidalgo Co., TX; November 15, 2013 (photo by Joe Schelling).
Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charithonia) Hidalgo Co., TX; November 17, 2013 (photo by Joe Schelling).

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Dione vanillae (Linnaeus 1758)             Gulf Fritillary (updated April 1, 2022)

Description. Gulf Fritillary’s elongated forewings are day-glo orange above with black maculations. The hindwing below is gold-brown with large silver spots. The orange ventral forewing has black-ringed silvery spots. Range and Habitat. This subtropical flyer breeds from Florida to coastal Mexico. An able wanderer, it strays nearly to Canada and is a regular tourist in southern New Mexico (counties: Be,Ch,Co,Cu,DB,DA,Ed,Gr,Gu,Ha,Hi,Le,Li,Lu,Mo,Ot,Qu,Ro,SM,SF,Si,Ta,Un,Va), usually below 6000′. One found its way up to 10,500′ elevation on Bull-of-the-Woods Mountain (Ta) on 3 July 1966 (M. Toliver). Life History. Larval hosts are passionflowers (Passifloraceae). Larvae devour Passiflora in Alamogordo (Ot) and may complete a generation or two each summer, but Gulf Coast Fritillaries cannot survive our harsh winters. Flight. Gulf Coast Fritillaries visit most frequently in summer, often frequenting riparian situations. Our records fall between March 31 and December 4, peaking in July. They are never common and are not seen every year. Comments. Recent DNA studies suggest that North American Gulf Fritillaries (Dione vanillae incarnata N. Riley 1926) may be a distinct species from the Caribbean race, Dione vanillae nigrior (Michener 1942).

Gulf Fritillary female (Dione vanillae incarnata) Socorro Co., NM; July 31, 2017 (photo by Joe Schelling).
Gulf Fritillary male (Dione vanillae incarnata) Las Cruces, Dona Ana Co., NM; March 31, 2022 (photo by Marta Reece).
Gulf Fritillary male (Dione vanillae incarnata) Las Cruces, Dona Ana Co., NM; August 2, 2021 (photo by Marta Reece).
Gulf Fritillary female (Dione vanillae incarnata) near Portales, Roosevelt Co., NM; September 9, 2015 (photo by James Lofton).
Gulf Fritillary larva (Dione vanillae incarnata) Las Cruces, Dona Ana Co., NM; August 2, 2021 (photo by Marta Reece).
Gulf Fritillary larva (Dione vanillae incarnata) on host Passiflora sp.; Las Cruces, Dona Ana Co., NM; August 2, 2021 (photo by Marta Reece).

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Dione moneta Hübner [1825]                     Mexican Silverspot (updated October 9, 2021)

Mexican Silverspots look like Gulf Fritillaries and distinguishing them can be challenging. It has brown wing bases dorsally, and the median area of the forewing below has a brown ground color with orange spots. It has been said that the Mexican Silverspot resembles a Gulf Fritillary on steroids. Dione moneta is more tropical, less subtropical than Dione vanillae. It therefore is a much rarer visitor to the southwest US. There are only two New Mexico records (counties: Ot,Ro) from April and May. Bailowitz and Brock (1991) did not report it from southeast Arizona. Many species of Passifloraceae are larval hosts in its tropical home. The record from Sunspot (Ot) is dated 28 April 1981 (J. McCaffrey). This observation may be linked to a local, seasonal breeding colony on ornamental passion flowers, but adults do not survive our winters. Christopher Rustay also reported it from the Melrose migrant trap (Ro).  

Mexican Silverspot (Dione moneta) Finca Alejandria, Colombia; July 27, 2019 (photo by Elaine Halbedel).
Mexican Silverspot (Dione moneta) Finca Alejandria, Colombia; July 27, 2019 (photo by Elaine Halbedel).

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Euptoieta claudia (Cramer 1775)         Variegated Fritillary (updated October 4, 2022)

Description. The Variegated Frit is dull orange above with abundant and regular black markings. Below, it is mottled brown and orange, grizzled with white. Range and Habitat. This butterfly breeds in South America, Central America and in southern North America. It strays broadly across much of the US in good years. In our state it is ubiquitous (all counties) and one of our most familiar butterflies. It is more common at lower elevations, where it may reproduce year-round. Life History. Variegated Fritillaries thrive because they use widespread hosts. Native flaxes (Linaceae), some of which are common in grassland habitats or common roadside wildflowers, seem to be the primary hosts in New Mexico. James A. Scott found a larva on Linum australe near Arroyo del Agua (RA). Ellery Worthen reared a larva on Linum sp. (probably rigidum) in Albuquerque (Be). James Lofton photographed oviposition on Linum lewisii near Portales (Ro). Larvae eat pansies (Violaceae) in Santa Fe (SF). Flight. Euptoieta claudia has several broods per year, as weather permits. Our records span February 28 to December 23, peaking in mid-summer. Subdued colors and low, cautious flight distinguish it from the true fritillaries. Hira Walker reported the following courtship activity on July 20, 2021: “The female stood on the ground while a male vibrated its wings, hopped a circle around her, hopped over her, and then repeated this.” Comments. Over time, Euptoieta claudia becomes easy to recognize in the field because it is seen so often. Unfortunately, many observers become so accustomed to seeing the widespread Variegated Fritillaries that they expect to see it, and they may overlook similar species that may be quite uncommon, like the next one.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) Los Alamos, Los Alamos Co., NM; July 26, 2021 (photo by Selvi Viswanathan).
Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) Cerrillos Hills State Park, Santa Fe Co., NM; May 20, 2007 (photo by Steve Cary).
Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) Guadalupe Mountains, Lincoln National Forest, Eddy Co., NM; August 28, 1983 (photo by Steve Cary).
Variegated Fritillary larva (Euptoieta claudia) northeast of Aztec, San Juan Co., NM; May 20, 2001 (photo by Steve Cary).
Variegated Fritillary larva (Euptoieta claudia) Las Cruces, Dona Ana Co., NM; October 1, 2022 (photo by Gordon Berman)

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Euptoieta hegesia (Cramer 1779)                Mexican Fritillary (updated December 12, 2022)

Description. Mexican Fritillary has a hindwing upperside that is unmarked orange in median and postmedian areas. With fewer dark marks, this species has a much brighter look than its close relative, Variegated Fritillary. Range and Habitat. This tropical butterfly breeds north to coastal Mexico and strays to the southwest US, rarely to New Mexico. There are very few authentic New Mexico reports along our Mexico border (counties: DA,Hi,Lu?), but this species can be easy to overlook and it could be more frequently here than our sparse records suggest. Life History. Hosts are Passifloraceae, Convolvulaceae, and Turneraceae. Passiflora sp. is a reported host in Arizona. Passiflora (passionflower) hosts Gulf Fritillary in Las Cruces neighborhoods and those might be good places to look for Mexican Fritillary as well. Flight. Our scant reports span late August to December 10, consistent with monsoon-related dispersal and possible post-monsoon reproduction. Adults fly near the ground in open fields and pastures, often stopping to nectar. Comments.

Mexican Fritillary (Euptoieta hegesia) Dona Ana Co., NM; December 10, 2022 (photo by Marta Reece)
Mexican Fritillary (Euptoieta hegesia) Dona Ana Co., NM; December 10, 2022 (photo by Marta Reece)
Mexican Fritillary (Euptoieta hegesia) El Chipinque, Nuevo Leon, Mexico; October 21, 2002 (photo by Steve Cary).

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Boloria freija (Thunberg 1791)                             Freija Fritillary (updated October 2021)

Description. Lesser fritillaries in the genus Boloria are smaller than all the greater fritillaries (Argynnis spp.), but they, too, are bright orange with fine black maculations. Freija has a diagnostic white triangular spot in the middle of the hindwing below, pointing toward the margin. This spot is not part of a band of similar spots. Range and Habitat. Holarctic, Freija lives from Alaska east across nearly all of Canada to Newfoundland. Pleistocene relict colonies remain in Hudsonian Zone marshes in the central Rockies, the southernmost of which is in northern New Mexico near Hopewell Lake (RA), at 10,000’. Life History. The most likely larval host for this butterfly in our area is Vaccinium caespitosum (Ericaceae). Larvae overwinter. Flight. Univoltine adults are on the wing in mid-summer. Our only documented report (from Jams A. Scott) is from 21 June 1978. Adults fly near their marshy homes, basking and nectaring. Comments. Subspecies Boloria freija browni (Higgins 1953) inhabits the southern Rockies. Poor access to New Mexico high country limits our knowledge of relict arctic species such as this one. The genus Clossiana Reuss is used for this species by taxonomists who believe that our New World taxa are distinct from the Old World taxa at the genus level.

Freija fritillary (Boloria freija) trail to Halfmoon Lakes, Lake Co., CO; July 15, 2019 (photo by Steve Cary).
Freija Fritillary male (Boloria freija) North Fork of Lake Creek, Lake Co., CO; July 17, 2019 (photo by Steve Cary).
Freija Fritillary female (Boloria freija) North Fork of Lake Creek, Lake Co., CO; July 17, 2019 (photo by Steve Cary).

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Boloria chariclea (Schneider 1794)               Arctic Fritillary (updated October 9, 2021)

Description. The Arctic Fritillary can be differentiated from its congeners by the maroonish ventral hindwing with a band of angular white or rusty-white spots in the median area. Range and Habitat. Boloria chariclea is the most widespread member of this genus in the Holarctic region and in North America. It occupies nearly all of Canada, Greenland and Baffin Islands. Arctic Fritillaries reach down the Cordilleran spine as far as northern New Mexico, where it is our most common lesser fritillary (counties: Co,LA,Mo,RA,Sv,SM,SF,Ta). It inhabits Canadian and Hudsonian Zone meadows between 8500 and 12,500′ elevation. Life History. A variety of larval hostplants are reported, including members of the Salicaceae, Ericaceae, Rosaceae, Polygonaceae and Violaceae. Within the Rocky Mountain region, Scott (1992) reported oviposition on Vaccinium scoparium, V. myrtillus, and V. caespitosum (Ericaceae). He also reported use of Polygonum bistortoides, P. viviparum (Polygonaceae), and Salix nivalis (Salicaceae). Flight. The Arctic Fritillary is univoltine, or possibly biennial, with adults in flight during the brief high-altitude warm season. June 5 and September 1 encompass the flight period here, with greatest numbers observed in July. Adults are common tourists in flowery meadows where they fly near the ground, bask, perch and nectar. Comments. The central Rocky Mountains race, which includes New Mexico populations, is subspecies Boloria chariclea helena (W. H. Edwards 1871). T. D. A. Cockerell made New Mexico’s first report of this butterfly, finding it at 11,500′ near Spring Mountain (SM), on 1-4 August 1900. In recent decades this insect has gone under other names including Boloria montinus, Boloria titania and Boloria helena.

Arctic Fritillaries in copula, female to left (Boloria chariclea) Truchas Peaks, Pecos Wilderness, Rio Arriba Co., NM; June 28, 2014 (photo by Steve Cary).
Arctic Fritillary male (Boloria chariclea) Lake Katherine, Pecos Wilderness, Santa Fe Co., NM; July 17, 2018 (photo by Steve Cary).
Arctic Fritillary female (Boloria chariclea) Puerto Nambe, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe Co., NM; July 2, 2020 (photo by Steve Cary).

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Boloria selene ([Denis & Schiffermüller] 1775) Silver-Bordered Fritillary (updated January 9, 2021)

Description. Compared to its congeners, Silver-Bordered Fritillary has a diagnostic row of silver marginal spots on the hindwing underside. On the upperside, wing submargins have inward-pointing triangles. Range and Habitat. This butterfly is Holarctic in distribution, occurring in high prairie, boreal and subarctic habitats. In North America, colonies are known south in the Rocky Mountains to a few northern New Mexico (counties: Co,RA,Sv) where, at the southern limit of its range, it strongly prefers wet meadow habitats, 8700 to 10,500′. Life History. Larvae eat violets (Violaceae) including Viola papilionacea (Ferris and Brown 1980), V. nephrophylla and V. glabella (Scott 1986). Half-grown larvae overwinter. Flight. New Mexico records for this univoltine butterfly fall between June 21 and August 12. Boloria selene flies low, seeking nectar in its wet meadow homes. In 2002, Paula Kleintjes found a colony in the Valles Caldera National Preserve (Sv). In 2020, Steve Cary found a colony it at Eagle Nest Lake State Park (Co). Comments. Our colonies are grouped with subspecies Boloria selene tollandensis (W. Barnes & Benjamin 1925), the typical Rocky Mountain race.

Silver-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene tollandensis) Cruces Basin Wilderness, Carson National Forest, Rio Arriba Co., NM; July 11, 2020 (photo by Steve Cary).
Silver-bordered Fritillary male (Boloria selene tollandensis) Rio Cebolla, Jemez Mountains, Sandoval Co., NM; July 7, 2001 (photo by Steve Cary).
Silver-bordered Fritillary female (Boloria selene tollandensis) Hopewell Lake, Rio Arriba Co., NM; July 28, 2007 (photo by Steve Cary).

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Argynnis nokomis W. H. Edwards 1862     Nokomis Fritillary, Great Basin Silverspot (updated October 9, 2021)

Description. The sexual dimorphism of this large butterfly, Nokomis, is amazing. Males resemble other Argynnis (Speyeria) species in size and maculation, although the dorsal ground color may be redder and the ventral ground color yellower. Females, in contrast, are blue-black dorsally, with whitish in the wide postmedian area. Below, females have a brown discal region and a pale greenish submargin. Eyes are brown. Range and Habitat. Also called Great Basin Silverspot, this butterfly occurs discontinuously in the Great Basin and surrounding uplands, south into northern Mexico. It inhabits wet meadows with the larval host. This habitat is scarce in the semi-arid west and southwest; colonies often are small, disjunct and vulnerable to degradation by human activities. Beaver activity once kept riverside habitats in good shape for Nokomis, but they have been eliminated from most of their former habitats. In New Mexico, the few remaining colonies of Argynnis nokomis are in the marshiest valleys in our wettest mountains (counties: Ca,Ci,Gr,Mo,Ot,SJ,SM,Ta), from 7000 to 9500′ elevation. Life History. The only known host is kidney-leaf violet (Viola nephrophylla; Violaceae), which thrives in emergent aquatic (up to ankle-deep) marsh habitats. Larvae hatch in autumn, overwinter, and begin feeding in spring. Flight. Argynnis nokomis has one late summer brood; New Mexico adults fly from July 13 to September 29, principally August. They go to nectar, but rarely stray far from their wet-meadow homes. Comments. This beautiful, hard-to-find insect has long been prized by collectors, some of whom keep colony locations secret. Sapello Canyon (SM) was the type locality of Argynnis nokomis nigrocaerulea W. Cockerell and T. Cockerell 1900 and aberration “rufescens” (Cockerell 1909). These were later synonymized with the nominate subspecies, to which northern New Mexico colonies are assigned based on recent DNA analyses. Western New Mexico colonies (Ca,Ci,Gr) belong to Mogollon Rim subspecies Argynnis nokomis nitocris (W. H. Edwards 1874). Validity and identity of Nokomis colonies in the Sacramento Mountains (Ot), now probably extirpated, has long been a topic of heated debate among the personal, private, passionate, even the published world of Nokomis lovers. Arizona collector Kilian Roever may have made the only collections of actual specimens from there, ever. Unfortunately, all that seems to remain of those specimens is a single photograph, which suggests it may belong with the Mexican subspecies, Argynnis nokomis coerulescens (W. Holland 1900). Richard Holland found specimens in the Carnegie Museum that were labeled from the Sacramentos (Holland 2010) and he named it ssp. tularosa, but DNA analysis showed the type was from the Sangre de Cristos as predicted by Scott & Fisher (2014). One cannot do DNA analysis on a photo, so unless Nokomis is rediscovered in the Sacramentos, that may be the final word on what, if anything, once was there.

Nokomis Fritillary male (Argynnis nokomis nokomis) near Taos, Taos Co., NM; September 4, 1994 (photo by Steve Cary).
Nokomis Fritillary female (Argynnis nokomis nokomis) near Taos, Taos Co., NM; September 4, 1994 (photo by Steve Cary).
Nokomis Fritillary female (Argynnis nokomis nokomis) near Taos, Taos Co., NM; September 4, 1994 (photo by Steve Cary).
‘Mogollon Mountains’ Nokomis Fritillary male (Argynnis nokomis nitocris) Meadow Creek, Pinos Altos Mountains, Grant Co., NM; August 15, 2012 (photo by Elaine Halbedel).
‘Mogollon Mountains’ Nokomis Fritillary male (Argynnis nokomis nitocris) Meadow Creek, Pinos Altos Mountains, Grant Co., NM; August 15, 2012 (photo by Elaine Halbedel).
‘Mogollon Mountains’ Nokomis Fritillaries in copula (Argynnis nokomis nitocris) Meadow Creek, Pinos Altos Mountains, Grant Co., NM; August 21, 2013 (photo by Elaine Halbedel).
‘Mogollon Mountains’ Nokomis Fritillaries female (Argynnis nokomis nitocris) Torriette Lakes, Catron Co., NM; Sept. 20, 2008 (photo by Steve Cary).

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Argynnis cybele (Fabricius 1775)     Great Spangled Fritillary (updated December 3, 2022)

Description. Argynnis cybele is quite large and majestic in the eastern US, but here it is no larger than most other fritillaries. The upperside has dark basal suffusion. Below, the hindwing discal region is red-brown, with a distinctively broad blonde band distally, very different from Aphrodite. The underside submarginal and postmedian bands of silver spots are small and well-separated. Eyes are brown. Range and Habitat. Great Spangled Fritillaries are well-known inhabitants of open fields and woodlands in eastern North America. They also occur across the western cordillera to the Pacific Northwest and extend south into northern New Mexico (counties: Co,LA,Mo,RA,Sv,SM,SF,Ta). Here they are insects of Transition and Canadian Zone damp meadows and sunny stream corridors within coniferous woodlands. Our records records span 7800 to 11,000′ elevation. Life History. Larval hosts are violets (Violaceae), a characteristic of this entire genus. Reported host plants for this butterfly include Viola adunca, V. palustris, V. papilionacea, V. canadensis and V. rotundifolia. Young larvae pass the winter. Flight. In our area, Great Spangled Fritillaries have one generation per year, with adults in flight between July 7 and September 10. They like to nectar at flowers such as thistles (Cirsium spp.), spiked gayfeather (Liatris spicata), dogbane (Apocynum sp.), and cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata). Comments. Southern Rocky Mountain populations are assigned to subspecies Argynnis cybele carpenterii W. H. Edwards 1876, which was described from specimens collected by Lieut. W. C. Carpenter of the Wheeler Expedition, purportedly near Taos. Genomic analyses reported by Zhang et al. (2022) prompted those authors to conclude that the type specimen for ssp. carpenteri was collected somewhere in the eastern US. Specimens of A. cybele from the Jemez Mountains showed DNA that made them a distinct subspecies, which they proposed be named A. cybele neomexicana Grishin. Questions remain on this matter, however, and we recommend sequencing of additional specimens from elsewhere in northern New Mexico.

‘Carpenter’s’ Great Spangled Fritillary male (Argynnis cybele carpenteri) Gallinas Canyon, San Miguel Co., NM; July 14, 2010 (photo by Steve Cary).
‘Carpenter’s’ Great Spangled Fritillary male (Argynnis cybele carpenteri) near Battleship Rock, Jemez Mountains, Sandoval Co., NM; July 12, 2021 (photo by Joe Schelling).
‘Carpenter’s’ Great Spangled Fritillary male (Argynnis cybele carpenteri) Pacheco Canyon, Santa Fe Co., NM; July 27, 2017 (photo by Steve Cary).
‘Carpenter’s’ Great Spangled Fritillary female (Argynnis cybele carpenteri) Humphries Wildlife Management Area, Rio Ariba Co., NM; July 11, 2001 (photo by Steve Cary).
‘Carpenter’s’ Great Spangled Fritillary female (Argynnis cybele carpenteri) Sipapu, Taos Co., NM; August 9, 2009 (photo by Steve Cary).
‘Carpenter’s’ Great Spangled Fritillary female (Argynnis cybele carpenteri) above Santa Barbara campground, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Rio Arriba Co. NM; August 30, 2013 (photo by Steve Cary).

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Argynnis aphrodite (Fabricius 1787) Aphrodite Fritillary (updated January 10, 2021)

Description. Aphrodite has the basic Argynnis features, including a silver-spotted ventral hindwing. Rusty scales of the ventral hindwing discal area extend beyond the postmedian band of silver spots. On the upperside, it is distinguished by radiant orange above in males, reduced dark basal scaling, reduced black scaling on veins toward the back of the forewing, and little or no black on hindwing veins. Females are less bright and more darkly marked. Eyes are brown. Range and Habitat. Like Argynnis cybele, this species is a familiar sight in the eastern US. Its greater distribution includes the Great Plains, the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains from British Columbia to New Mexico, and an isolated colony in the Mogollon Rim country of central Arizona. In our state it lives in Transition Zone grasslands and pine savannas (counties: Co,LA,Mo,RA,Sv,SJ?,SM,Ta,Un), typically between 6500 and 8200′ elevation. Life History. Larval hosts are violets (Violaceae). Hostplant species listed by Scott for Colorado (1986, 1992) include V. nuttalli, V. adunca and V. nephrophylla. There is no hostplant information specifically reported from our state, but the above reports probably hold true for northern New Mexico as well. Flight. Argynnis aphrodite has one generation per year. Adults fly in mid-summer between May 23 and September 17, with maximum numbers in July. This butterfly is passionately fond of nectar (e.g., Cirsium spp., Monarda fistulosa, and Asclepias tuberosa) and also visits wet soil, sometimes in numbers. Bright Aphrodite is reliably found on and near the Raton Mesa volcanic complex (Co,Un). At Sugarite Canyon State Park on July 15, 2010, Aphrodite adults siphoned nectar from Monarda, while Raton Mesa Fritillaries preferred Rudbeckia laciniata. Comments. Populations in northeast New Mexico (Co,Un) are most logically grouped with the Front Range race, Argynnis aphrodite ethne (Hemming 1933). Individuals from the Chama area and the Jemez Mountains (RA,SV) show some signs of intergrading with the darker Arizona subspecies, Argynnis aphrodite byblis (W. Barnes & Benjamin 1926).

‘Front Range’ Aphrodite Fritillary male (Argynnis aphrodite ethne) Sugarite Canyon State Park, Colfax Co., NM; June 26, 2010 (photo by Steve Cary).
‘Front Range’ Aphrodite Fritillary male (Argynnis aphrodite ethne) Cherry Creek, Union Co., NM; June 9, 1996 (photo by Steve Cary).
‘Front Range’ Aphrodite Fritillary female (Argynnis aphrodite ethne) Sugarite Canyon State Park, Colfax Co., NM; July 15, 2010 (photo by Steve Cary).
‘Arizona’ Aphrodite Fritillary (Argynnis aphrodite near byblis) Valles Caldera National Preserve, Jemez Mountains, Sandoval Co., NM; July 1, 2020 (photo by Marc Bailey).
‘Arizona’ Aphrodite Fritillary female (Argynnis aphrodite near byblis) Humphreys Wildlife Management Area, Rio Arriba Co., NM; July 23, 2008 (photo by Steve Cary).

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Argynnis hesperis W. H. Edwards 1864 Northwestern Fritillary (updated October 9, 2021)

Description. Northwestern Fritillary is smaller than Nokomis, Aphrodite and Great Spangled. It is bright orange above with bold black marks and slightly thickened, black veins on the forewing from costa to the back margin. Females have paler margins above. Compared to sister species, dorsal median and basal areas are only slightly smudged with dark scales. On the hindwing below, the pale arc in the postmedian area is narrow compared to Great Spangled. Range and Habitat. Argynnis hesperis occupies Canadian Zone meadows and open woodlands from Alaska to Newfoundland and south in the Rocky Mountains into extreme northeast New Mexico, generally 7,500 to 9,500′ altitude. New Mexico’s only race, Argynnis (Speyeria) hesperis ratonensis J. A. Scott, was described from the Raton Mesa complex of Colorado and New Mexico (counties: Co,Un), where it maintains its very restricted distribution. There, it can be confused only with Aphrodite, which has amber/tan eyes compared to gray/blue eyes of the Raton Mesa Fritillary. Life History. Larvae eat violets (Violaceae), particularly Viola canadensis v. scopulorum on Raton Mesa (Co) (Scott 1992). Flight. Adults fly in one mid-summer generation, generally from June into September, peaking in July. They feed at flowers and wet sand. Comment.  Zhang et al. (2020, Tax. Rep. Int. Lepid. Surv. 8(7): 17-19) , fig. 11, elevated nausicaa to species level., but Pelham (2021) chose not to adopt their treatment. The discussion below does follow Zhang et al. (2020).

Male ‘Raton Mesa’ Northwestern Fritillary [Argynnis hesperis ratonensis (J. Scott 1981)] Sugarite Canyon State Park, Colfax Co., NM; July 15, 2010 (photo by Steve Cary).
Male ‘Raton Mesa’ Northwestern Fritillary; Sugarite Canyon State Park, Colfax Co., NM; June 22, 2001 (photo by Steve Cary).
Female ‘Raton Mesa’ Northwestern Fritillary; Sugarite Canyon State Park, Colfax Co., NM; August 1, 2017 (photo by Steve Cary).
‘Raton Mesa’ Northwestern Fritillary female [Argynnis hesperis ratonensis (J. Scott 1981)] Trinchera Pass, Colfax Co., NM; June 30, 2014 (photo by Andy Warren).

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Argynnis nausicaa W. H. Edwards 1874 Southwestern Fritillary (October July 9, 2021)

Description. Southwestern Fritillary is of medium size. Dorsally males are bright orange with black lines, spots and chevrons; females are less bright. Underneath, the hindwing is red-brown in the discal region with a narrow post-discal blond band, all decorated by silvered white spots. Compared to Northwestern Fritillary, black markings are heavier on the upperside, particularly along DFW veins. Populations in north-central mountains have gray-blue eyes, unlike sympatric Aphrodite or Great Spangled. Populations south of I-40 have amber-tan eyes. Both eye color morphs may occur in some areas. The ID challenge is simplified in southern populations where nausicaa is the only Argynnis species. Range and Habitat. Southwestern Fritillary inhabits the Intermountain West from Idaho and eastern Washington east to the Dakotas and south to Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. Here, it is the most widespread of our silver-spotted fritillaries, occupying mesic Transition and Canadian Zone conifer forests between 7,500’ and 10,000 feet elevation where violets thrive. As a consequence of New Mexico’s physiography, suitable habitats are isolated from each other by broad, unsuitable lowlands. As a result of isolation, multiple local regional populations have differentiated and are recognized as distinct subspecies. Life History. Larvae eat violets (Violaceae) such as Viola adunca, V. canadensis, V. purpurea, and V. nuttallii (e.g., Scott 1986). Oviposition on V. nephrophylla was observed in the Chuska Mountains (SJ) (Scott 1992). Flight. Adults are on the wing in one mid-summer generation, usually from June into September, peaking in July and early August. They feed greedily at flowers and wet sand. Comment 1. Recent elevation of Argynnis nausicaa to full species status by Zhang et al. (2020) seems to have fulfilled Jeff Glassberg’s prediction that this group, “when better studied . . . may prove to be a separate species” (Glassberg, 2017, p. 170). The moniker ‘Southwestern Fritillary’ is a placeholder English name until something better comes along, but I think it captures the essence of the beast. Comment 2: Individual subspecies are presented below . . .

Arizona’s White Mountains and Mogollon Rim along with the Gila/Mogollon high high country of west-central New Mexico have the nominate subspecies, Argynnis (nausicaa nausicaa (W. H. Edwards 1874). This organism has a distinctive reddish cast on the upper side. The rust-colored discal region below is considerably invaded by blond scales. Adults have amber eyes. This variety also occurs in the Black Range and San Mateo Mountains (counties: Ca,Gr,Si,So), intergrading with Argynnis nausicaa dorothea in the Magdalena Mountains (So).

Southwestern Fritillary male (Argynnis nausicaa nausicaa) Gooseberry Canyon, Datil Mountains, Catron Co., NM; July 16, 1999 (photo by Steve Cary).
Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa nausicaa) Beartrap Camp, San Mateo Mountains, Socorro Co. NM; July 4, 2000 (photo by Steve Cary).
Southwestern Fritillary males (Argynnis nausicaa nausicaa) Railroad Canyon, Black Range, Grant Co., NM; June 15, 2011 (photo by Elaine Halbedel).
Southwestern Fritillary female (Argynnis nausicaa nausicaa) Meadow Creek, Pinos Altos Mountains, Grant Co., NM; August 16, 2019 (photo by Elaine Halbedel).

Subspecies Argynnis nausicaa dorothea (Moeck 1947) was described from collections on Sandia Peak in 1947. Darker than most other subspecies, Dorothea’s Frit inhabits the Sandia, Manzano, Mt. Taylor, Zuni (?) and Chuska ranges in central and northwestern New Mexico (counties: Be,Ci,MK?,Sv,SJ,SF,To). Intermediates with nominate A. n. nausicaa are found in the Magdalena Mountains and San Mateo Mountains (So). Mysteriously, adults in the Sandias and Manzanos have amber eyes, while adults in the Chuskas and Mt. Taylor have grey-blue eyes. Amber-eyed Dorothea’s are occasionally observed in Santa Fe County, suggesting possible dispersal from the Sandias.

Male amber-eyed ‘Dorothea’s’ Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa dorothea) Sandia Mountains, Bernalillo Co., NM; June 25, 2012 (photo by Joe Schelling).
Female amber-eyed ‘Dorothea’s’ Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa dorothea) Mt. Taylor, Cibola Co., NM; July 7, 2011 (photo by Steve Cary).
Grey/blue-eyed ‘Dorothea’s’ Southwestern fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa dorothea) Chuska Mountains, San Juan Co., NM; July 20, 2007 (photo by Steve Cary).
Female amber-eyed ‘Dorothea’s’ Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa dorothea) Sandia Mountains, Bernalillo Co., NM; July 2, 2012 (photo by Steve Cary).

The Capitan, Sierra Blanca and Sacramento Mountains (counties: Li,Ot) of south-central New Mexico host Argynnis nausicaa capitanensis (R. Holland 1988). This is our darkest race on the upper side, darker even than A. n. dorothea. It also has tan/amber eyes.

‘Capitan’ Southwestern Fritillary male (Argynnis nausicaa capitanensis) west of Alto, Sierra Blanca, Lincoln Co., NM; June 26, 2001 (photo by Steve Cary).
‘Capitan’ Southwestern Fritillary female (Argynnis nausicaa capitanensis) Spring Canyon, Sacramento Mountains, Otero Co., NM; July 30, 2004 (photo by Steve Cary).
‘Capitan’ Southwestern Fritillary male (Argynnis nausicaa capitanensis) near Cloudcroft, Sacramento Mountains, Otero Co., NM; July 2, 2010 (photo by Steve Cary).

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains (counties: Co,Mo,RA,SM,SF,Ta) have subspecies Argynnis nausicaa electa W. H. Edwards 1878. For many years, the Jemez and Tusas Mountains (counties: LA,RA,Sv) were considered to have their own subspecies, Argynnis nausicaa nikias (Ehrmann 1917) was described from Jemez Springs (Sv) based on specimens collected by John Woodgate in the Jemez Mountains. Nowadays, Southwestern Fritillaries observed in the Jemez and Tusas Mountains are generally lumped with electa. Its ventral hindwing white spots are almost always silvered, but an occasional individual with unsilvered white spots has turned up near Raton. Our records span June 5 to September 10. Adults have grey-blue eyes.

Male ‘Electa’ Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa electa) Latir Peaks, Taos Co., NM; July 11, 2010 (photo by Steve Cary).
Male ‘Electa’ Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa electa) below Ski Santa Fe, Santa Fe Co., NM; July 1, 2017 (photo by Steve Cary).
Female ‘Electa’ Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa electa) Santa Fe Ski area, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe Co., NM; July 12, 2018 (photo by Joe Schelling).
Female ‘Electa’ Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa electa) Santa Fe Ski area, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe Co., NM; July 12, 2018 (photo by Joe Schelling).
Female ‘Electa’ Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa electa) Rio en Medio Trail below Ski Santa Fe, Santa Fe Co., NM; July 31, 2020 (photo by Steve Cary).

One image below shows a very melanic (dark) aberration. Such oddities occur from time to time in any genetically well-mixed population.

Male ‘Electa’ Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa electa) near Hopewell Lake, Carson National Forest, Rio Arriba Co., NM; July 17, 2020 Photo by Steve Cary).
Female ‘Electa’ Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa electa) north of Seven Springs Fish Hatchery, Jemez Mountains, Sandoval Co., NM; July 21, 2018 (photo by Ken Kertell).
‘Electa’ Southwestern Fritillary in copula, female to left (Argynnis nausicaa electa) Pajarito Ski Area, Los Alamos Co., NM; July 31, 1984 (photo by Steve Cary).
‘Electa’ Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa electa) Rito de Los Indios, Valles Caldera National Preserve, Jemez Mountains, Sandoval Co., NM; July 23, 2004 (photo by Steve Cary).
‘Electa’ Southwestern Fritillary melanic aberration (Argynnis nausicaa electa) Pipeline Road, Jemez Mountains, Los Alamos Co., NM; July 18, 2010 (photo by Charles “Chick” Keller).

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Argynnis edwardsii Reakirt 1866   Edwards’ Fritillary (updated October 9, 2021)

Description. One of our most distinctive fritillaries, Argynnis edwardsii is large and bright with an elongated forewing. The greenish ventral hindwing has elongated silver spots that appear to be squeezed onto the wing. Eyes are grey-blue. Range and Habitat. Edwards’ is an inhabitant of the central Rocky Mountains and adjacent high plains from northern New Mexico to Alberta. It is a denizen of high prairies and savannas. Here, it occupies our north-central mountains and adjacent high mesas (counties: Co,RA,Sv,SJ,Ta,Un), 6500 to 10,000′ elevation. Life History. Viola nuttallii and V. adunca (Violaceae) are hosts elsewhere (Scott 1986). Newly eclosed larvae overwinter without feeding. Flight. This is our earliest-flying fritillary. Its long, single summer brood is on the wing between May 17 and August 22. Males patrol hilltops; flight is fast, furious and overhead, but hungry adults will come to earth for nectar. Comments. The oldest substantiated New Mexico record is credited to Moke Toliver, who observed it north of Folsom (Un) on 6 June 1971.

Edwards’ Fritillary male (Argynnis edwardsii) Bartlett Mesa, Las Animas Co., CO; May 18, 2020 (photo by Steve Cary).
Edwards’ Fritillary female (Argynnis edwardsii) near Fishers Peak, Las Animas Co., CO; June 7, 2020 (photo by Steve Cary).
Edwards’ Fritillary (Argynnis edwardsii) Dorothey Lake, Las Animas Co., CO; June 26, 2010 (photo by Steve Cary).

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Argynnis mormonia Boisduval 1869        Mormon Fritillary (updated October 9, 2021)

Description. Argynnis mormonia is the smallest of our six ‘greater’ fritillaries, almost as small as the various Boloria species. Its dorsal black marks are clear and distinct, not heavy like those of Argynnis hesperis, with which it sometimes flies. Its pale greenish ventral hindwing is diagnostic and contributes to its, small, light, bright appearance. Range and Habitat. This butterfly occurs north along the Cordilleran spine into Alaska and south in the Sierra Nevada to California. In New Mexico it occupies boreal habitats straddling treeline in our higher northern mountains (counties: Co,LA,Mo,RA,Sv,SM,SF,Ta), generally 8900 to 12,500′ elevation. Life History. Larvae eat violets (Violaceae). Use of Viola adunca, V. palustris, V. nephrophylla and V. nuttallii was reported by Scott (1986). Flight. Mormon Fritillary is univoltine with adults about only during the brief summer warm season. New Mexico records fall between June 23 and September 12, peaking in July. Adults nectar at flowers and bask continually; they are immobilized when a cloud covers the sun. Comments. Our colonies belong to Rocky Mountain subspecies Argynnis mormonia eurynome (W. H. Edwards 1872). The earliest NM observations were made near Spring Mountain (SM) by a party associated with Prof. F. H. Snow in 1881. There is one report of Argynnis mormonia from Sandia Crest (Be), but the documentation is vague and verification is needed before it can be accepted. Similarly, an old specimens sent east from Fort Wingate (MK) probably was not collected there.

Mormon Fritillary female (Argynnis mormonia eurynome) Pecos Wilderness, Santa Fe Co., NM; August 20, 2018 (photo by Steve Cary).
Mormon Fritillary male (Argynnis mormonia eurynome) Hopewell Lake, Carson National Forest, Rio Arriba Co, NM; July 17, 2020 (photo by Steve Cary).
Mormon Fritillary (Argynnis mormonia eurynome) Pajarito Ski Area, Los Alamos Co., NM; July 10, 2020 (photo by Marc Bailey).

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