Spangled Fritillary


Great spangled fritillaries are the cheetahs of the butterfly world~orange streaks of energy flashing past as you walk along. As you can see here, they do stop to fuel up at monarda blossoms, and that gave me my chance for a photograph.

Twenty years ago, if you drove for any distance in Illinois your radiator and windshield would be fairly covered with, I’m sorry to say, dead bugs. Today, you’ll have almost none. I’m seeing very few butterflies of any species when I go for walks now. They re still there, thankfully, just in reduced numbers. They could come back, if we have the will to change. What will we choose to do? Will we stand up to Monsanto in time? Do we need a new book, this time about Roundup and the chemical soup we create when we apply pesticides? Yes, it is farms. But it is municipal agencies doing mosquito abatement. It is homeowners, spraying for grubs and dandelions. You can’t see chemicals, so it is easy to forget they are there. But they, or their break-down residues, linger far longer than the companies want you to know.  And they combine with other chemicals to create ever more toxic brews in our soils and water. It would be one thing if it even worked but guess what-it doesn’t! We still have dandelions and mosquitoes. But we are losing so much else.

What do you choose?

Published by melissabluefineart

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44 thoughts on “Spangled Fritillary

      1. That is exactly why I do what I do, Maria, and sometimes I feel my message is getting lost. Thank you so much for making me feel heard! You have given me a real boost with your kindness.

      2. I was thinking that I might write a post about that since I am beginning to teach my course in medical botany in the fall. I really try to get my students outside. I could post a link to your blog. They would love your work.

  1. What a sweet, gorgeous image of this wonderful flutter-by! I’ve been looking for butterfly friendly plants for the house we’re working on, though I have seen Viceroys and Swallowtails there. I think they like the wild blackberry bushes.

      1. Hmmm… I’d love to get some pussy willows started down by the creek. I wonder if they could possibly compete with the invasive blackberries.

  2. I’ve seen the Gulf fritillary, but (as far as I know) not this one. I finally figured out that it does roam Texas, so I’ll be more careful about not assuming everything I see is a Gulf fritillary. Since you’ve mentioned that the spangled feed on monarda, I have some places to look. Those flowers are fading, but there still are some around.

    I’ve been amazed by the clouds of butterflies I’ve seen over the past two weeks. I’ve seen a few swallowtails, and a few tiny yellow somethings, but there have been white ones galore. I probably look like an idiot, running around trying to get butterfly photos, but I do like this one. What fun it must be for you to work from your photos, and bring the butterflies back to life in a different form.

    1. Oh, that is a nice one! I’d love to see a Gulf fritillary some time. All of the fritillaries are beautiful, though. You and Steve are both seeing lots of butterflies, so that is good news. Here the diminished numbers has been noted across the state, even in dedicated nature preserves.

  3. This “cheetah” was a good and colorful find for you. I see from the article at

    that it’s “the most common fritillary throughout most of the eastern United States.” Too bad it has only the slightest presence in Texas. In Austin we get the variegated fritillary

    and the gulf fritillary

    I’m sorry you’re seeing so few butterflies in northern Illinois. Down here I still see plenty, so I don’t know why there’s a discrepancy between our two regions, both of which have undergone and continue to undergo development.

    With the current Zika virus scare, I’m afraid insecticide spraying will only increase.

  4. This is a true, but sad article! I have only seen a few butterflies this year. I have been a beekeeper in the Puget Sound for a few years and had to stop, because I cannot keep them alive. They fly out over their 10+ mile radius only to bring back pesticides from another person’s homestead and it slowly kills off my whole hive. But without raising hives myself, I see not one honeybee! I don’t know what people are afraid of – I use not one pesticide ever and my homestead is beautiful – No, it’s not perfectly green everywhere, but it is perfectly natural and healthy for all who live on it. I pray that the honeybees and butterflies will return again one day 🙂

    1. I am so sad to hear that. The more I talk with people, the more my hunch that insects are disappearing is confirmed. Do you have native bees on your homestead? I still do, even if not in the numbers I’ve seen in the past. In my case it may be due to all the trees I have growing now. Too much shade for flowers.

  5. We get a few spanglers in our gardens, or we did. This drought has affected everything so numbers are way down. That makes seeing your lovely painting even more enjoyable since we haven’t been seeing the real thing lately.
    I am not at all fond of lawns in general and especially not about highly maintained monocultures that require repeated applications of fertilizer and pest controls.

  6. It is truly saddening to see the decline of so many of our wonderful little folk. One of the few television programs that we watch regularly is The Backyard Farmer, broadcast by our local (University of Nebraska/Lincoln) extension program. Viewers frequently send photos of diseased plants, and a common diagnosis is airborne pesticides from neighbors’ careless herbicide application. The same is very likely traceable to insect decimation due to indiscriminate use of pesticides. Count me among those on your bandwagon!

    1. I have been reading “Collapse”, by Jared Diamond. In it he discusses a couple of civilizations that did not collapse, because they recognized in time the practices that were undermining their chances to survive. Imagine~a whole population changing its behavior. Do you think our bandwagon could get big enough?

  7. I relate to your experience. When I was a child butterflies were so plentiful. Now if I see one it is so rare as to be remarkable. I consciously choose not to use chemicals in my garden but I fear it’s the large scale agriculture that needs to change. I enjoyed wandering among your butterfly posts and paintings. Thank you for visiting my blog.

    1. Hi Robyn,
      Thank you so much for visiting my blog.
      I’m sorry to hear that you are also seeing few butterflies. I do hope we can all persuade big agriculture to give up its toxic ways in time to save our bugs. Perhaps if we all demand chemical-free food we will prevail.

      I enjoy your blog very much and am looking forward to reading it more, now I’ve found you 🙂

      1. Thank you Melissa! I love your paintings – such diverse butterfly varieties portrayed so beautifully. I have faith that growing awareness of what is at stake will encourage people to force change by the power of their purchases. Buying and growing organic must help. Research is revealing the short sightedness of this chemical journey.

      2. It is… although I get frustrated because we already knew this from the DDT experiment so why did we need to go down this chemical road again? But I have faith also that sane purchasing power can steer us back onto a sustainable path.

  8. You bring up an interesting, sad and frustrating topic. I read Silent Spring a while back and Rachel Carson explained that pesticide use is usually only a temporary fix, so it needs to be reapplied and the damaging effects accumulate and the problem never gets fixed but instead gets accompanied by other problems. Often, there are other solutions which work better in the long run but unfortunately don’t allow the chemical companies to make lots of money. Her work and that of other scientists and activists in the mid 20th century helped end the use of DDT in North America. (Is it still used in other parts of the world?) But as you are saying, we still use lots of other pesticides and herbicides. I know some are quite harmful beyond their intended target, but are some mostly helpful? Like killing mosquitoes. No one ever defends mosquitoes. Could we just get rid of them? And herbicides that are used on invasive plants? For this, I’ve heard of other options like pure people-power or planting other plants or using goats… but sometimes herbicides are seen as a better option… I don’t know why. Because humans can create all kinds of things and make all kinds of choices, our choices come down to knowledge and ethics. And now I feel like I need to read more and watch more enlightening documentaries…

    Your butterfly and flower are lovely. I only saw a handful or two of fritillaries this summer. Cheetahs :-)! I like your metaphor. And I looked up the flower, so now I know why Wild Bergamot is named like that. I’ll have to smell the leaves next summer. I saw many light purple Monardas this year.

  9. Thank you Myriam!
    It really is a sad and frustrating topic. Unfortunately, no, it isn’t possible to eliminate mosquitoes but it is possible to seriously harm several other species in the process of trying. DDT is still produced in the US and shipped to other countries where its use is still permitted. I’ve been involved with natural areas restoration for 30 years (!) and I can tell you, herbicides do NOT work. And now I’ve learned that they leave behind metabolites in the soil that work their way down to the water table where they mix with all the other lovely things humans spray, dump, spill, to create a toxic brew that even chemists can’t identify or control.
    Actually, invasive plant species are an interesting problem that would make a promising project for someone to study. I truly believe we should forget the chemicals. But hand-pulling doesn’t work, either. A year or two after intense work, the invaders are right back again. Goats are great but they will, of course, eat everything in their path so can’t be used in high-quality areas. Here we use fire. That works well because the native plants are fire-adapted while the exotics are killed. However, we have many more acres of land than people who can burn it responsibly. Introducing insects from their native lands to eat them is a whole other Pandora’s Box. But we’ll find the solutions, I know we will. First we have to stop freaking out about it. I’m sure the answer lies in working WITH nature, rather than trying to control her.
    Education, you would think, would help. Yet my neighbor, who boasts the she has a master’s degree in natural environments management, will still reach for the spray bottle rather than inform herself of the specifics in her yard. It is startling to me to see just how well the chemical (and plastics) industries have us trained!

    1. I suppose managing plants and animals with pesticides and herbicides is natural environment management, just not the most earth-friendly paradigm. I think more people are realizing that it doesn’t work, but the process is really slow. Partly because of the belief that chemistry and human ingenuity are awesome, therefore plant control with chemicals must be awesome. And I think the chemicals industry and associated politicians want most people to keep thinking that way. I used to think that most chemicals were awesome except for the ones that were clearly shown to be very harmful and got big media coverage. But I didn’t realize that so many more chemicals cause harm. Like the face wash with plastic microbeads I used to use. It felt so nice! But it never occurred to me that those little beads got into the ocean and killed other living things. In retrospect, the negative impact of these beads seems obvious.

      Thanks for sharing your personal knowledge of what works in your area for controlling invasive plants. It is interesting that native species can recover from fires while invasives can’t. I guess the invasives did not evolve in an environment with periodic fires.

      I was thinking of what you wrote yesterday and remembered a book I read on Chinese Medicine a few years ago called The Web That Has No Weaver. It seems to me that using fire to combat invasives is working within the network that the living systems have created in their many years of co-evolution. Humans are controlling nature by setting prescribed fires, but they are working within nature’s framework. Chemicals, on the other hand, destroy the web of a particular ecosystem because they are too harsh and too much outside what would naturally occur. And like you mentioned, they accumulate. Environments eventually recover from one destructive event. But if the “killer” remains or gets stronger, then I don’t think recovery is possible. Luckily, there are people like you who are working to fix that and also to make others aware of the issues.

      1. Thank you so much for saying that! It feels dangerous to speak out against chemical use here~well, probably everywhere. It amazes me how stubborn my fellow restorationists are in their use of herbicides. The refuse to even consider using the biology of an invasive plant against it. Incidentally, oddly enough today WordPress let me open the window to read your comment. I wonder why it wouldn’t the other day? The odd mysteries of the internet at work, I guess.
        I think you are absolutely right, that if we use tools such as fire we are working within the natural system and that brings life, rather than death.

      2. WordPress mysteries! Glad my comment magically became available.

        Sounds like a lot of people are pro-herbicides in the world. I did notice that a few parks here got sprayed this summer. I took photos of the notices to look up the chemicals later. I still haven’t gotten around to it, but I will some day, and I will do a bit of research to see what strategies people use to manage invasives here.

      3. I’ll be interested in what you find out. I came across a couple of interesting books on the subject this summer. One was called, “Beyond Invasives”. I don’t remember the author. The other was “Second Nature”. I wouldn’t say I agree with everything the authors said, but I was happy to see that people are beginning to question the party line.

  10. You have an abundance of talent and your pictures are treat. Your vison also and care for the environment shines from the canvas and your words. I have been busy in th garden in the hope of attracting more butterflies and bees … and with lots of wlldflowers.

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