Sometimes the number of brush-footed butterfly genera is so large that the average individual lumps all orange butterflies into the same category. The Heliconiinae subfamily demonstrates the diversity of butterfly species with orange wings.
Both fritillaries and the longwings belong to the subfamily. Fritillaries, the dominant group, sometimes go by the name silverspots, a term that describes the pattern on the underside of the wing. The majority of species belonging to either the Speyeria (greater Fritillaries) or Boloria (lesser Fritillaries) genera. The picture at the top of the page shows a Western Meadow Fritillary (Boloria epithore), a fairly common species that lives in forested wetlands from coast to coast.
Fritillary species vary in their ease of identification. Between genera differences are often easy to recognize. Within genus differences can cause identification difficulties in instances where common looking species share overlapping territory.
Greater Fritillaries: Speyeria
In some areas of the country, Speyeria fritillary identification can be challenging.
The Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele) inhabits northern North America, with some discussion of splitting the group into Eastern and Western species. They are also the most common Fritillary species in the eastern United States.
Most of the approximately fifteen different species have a wing pattern similar to the species in the picture. Regional differences in the same species add to identification problems. Because they are primarily northern species, the greater Fritillaries fly throughout the summer, and can be abundant in mountain meadows.
Other Fritillaries (Heliconiinae)
North American Heliconiinae typically divide between the southern Longwings and the wider ranging fritillaries. The Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) bucks the northern fritillary distribution trend, inhabiting the warm climates of the Gulf Coast and Southwest.
It’s the only genus Agraulis fritillary species in North America.
The orange caterpillar is covered with dark spikes of hair protruding from the body. It feeds on plants in the Passiflora genus, better known as passion vines.
Two Eutoieta fritillaries grace gardens across the south. The Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia), the most wide spread of the two, flies from early spring through late fall in most of North America.
The caterpillars feed on a plants from a variety of families, including violets.
The Mexican Fritillary (Eutoieta hegesia ranges from Southern California to Central Mexico. The hindwing has less pattern than the varigated.
A subtropical species, the Julia Longwing or Julia Heliconian butterfly (Dryas Julia) inhabits areas of South Texas and South Florida.
Picture three shows a female with thin, orange wings that are surrounded by a dark border and wing patten. The caterpillars feed on passionflowers.
The Zebra Longwing or Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charithonius), a striking butterfly found regularly in South Texas and South Florida, sometimes stray north to the Midwest and Southeast.
The long, think, black and yellow striped wings make them very easy to identify.
Zebra Heliconian are popular butterflies, shown at many butterfly exhibits around the United States. They are also the state butterfly of Florida.