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Regal Fritillary Photographed at Chesney Prairie Natural Area

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Until this month, the regal fritillary butterfly (Speyeria idalia) was thought to be extirpated from Arkansas. The species was last documented in the state in the 1970s, but that changed on July 8, when Joe Neal photographed one at Chesney Prairie Natural Area (NA) in Benton County. Neal, a retired wildlife biologist and co-author of Arkansas Birds: Their Distribution and Abundance, is considered one of the state’s best (and most active) naturalists.

A large, orange butterfly, the regal fritillary is known to occur in a variety of grassland habitats, especially tallgrass prairie remnants. The larvae eat violets, but the adults feed on a variety of nectar-producing prairie plants like milkweed, coneflower, blazing star, and more.

“I was watching butterflies and bumblebees in the main patch of blazing stars,” Neal said. “Just past the patch, I spotted a large butterfly, mostly orange, but with black markings and striking silver spangles. It never perched up for a perfect view, but it did stop a few times in grass. When I saw all those spangles on the hind wing, I felt it had to be a regal fritillary. I took photos that confirm that impression.”

In the family Nymphalidae (brushfooted butterflies), regal fritillaries have bright red-orange forewings and velvety black hindwings with blue iridescence. Females have two rows of cream-colored spots on the hindwing and males have an outer row of orangey spots. They have a wingspan of 2 5/8 to 4 1/8 inches.

In 2015, Neal was credited with another butterfly record at Chesney Prairie NA. He spotted and photographed a queen (Danaus gilippus) butterfly at the natural area, which was confirmed as a record for the first sighting of this species in Benton County. Similar in appearance to the famous monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterfly, queen butterflies are rarely seen as far north as Arkansas.

Chesney Prairie NA is one of very few tallgrass prairie remnants left on the Arkansas portion of the Springfield Plateau. Much of its flora and fauna is representative of the once extensive upland prairies and savannas of the western Ozark Mountains.

Photos:

Top -- regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia) at Chesney Prairie Natural Area, photo by Joe Neal

Bottom -- queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus) at Chesney Prairie Natural Area in 2015, photo by Joe Neal



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