By: Sierra Crumbaker
(Colorado Natural Heritage Program)
If you Google the etymology of “fritillary,” you’ll find that it originates from the Latin fritillus, meaning “dice box” or relating to a checkerboard pattern. Take one look at the Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia) and you’ll understand why it has earned the name: its large orange wings are covered in a black and white checkered pattern.
According to John Sovell, an invertebrate zoologist and ecologist at CNHP, the Regal Fritillary is considered one of the most spectacular butterfly species due to its distinct color, patterning, and large wingspan (2.9 to 4 inches; the average butterfly wingspan is about one inch).
Despite its good looks and exceptional pollinating skills, this majestic species is quickly losing ground. Tracked by CNHP, Speyeria idalia is rated a G3 S1 species, meaning it is globally vulnerable but critically imperiled in the state of Colorado.
This is mainly due to the butterfly’s loss of habitat. As a narrow specialist, the Regal Fritillary depends on undisturbed tallgrass prairie with wet and marshy meadows, but a decline in this ecosystem has led to a 99% decrease in the butterfly’s population. Colorado only represents the western edge of this species’ distribution, but it has substantially deteriorated from its former populations in the east as well. Past large colonies of the butterfly are now spread in smaller groups across the prairie. Sovell believes that the Regal Fritillary used to be as characteristic of tallgrass prairie as the bison once were, and much more abundant.
While there have been numerous individual sightings of Speyeria idalia, there is only one known breeding population within Colorado. Despite a career’s worth of summers in the field, Sovell has never seen one. Regal Fritillaries can easily be mistaken for the more common monarch butterfly, meaning it’s possible that people have spotted the Fritillary and not realized it. There are also thirteen other species of Speyeria that can be confused with one another.
If you’re wandering out in Colorado’s beautiful eastern prairie and you stumble across what looks like a monarch, you might want to do a double-take. Who knows? It could be the Regal Fritillary flitting through the tall grass.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Regal Fritillary, or Fritillaries in general, these are some great places to start:
This article is part of mini series about five species/things in our logo that embodies the ecology, botany and zoology work CNHP is committed to.
- CNHP’s Logo Part 1: Bat an Eyelash, Blue Grama
- CNHP’s Logo Part 2: Nature’s Little Serial Killer, the Loggerhead Shrike
- CNHP’s Logo Part 3: Payson Lupine and Silvery Lupine
- CNHP’s Logo Part 4: Royalty in Decline, the Regal Fritillary
- CNHP’s Logo Part 5: Pinnacle of Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak