Callipe Fritillary

Speyeria callipe comstocki

Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae

Santa Ana Mountains, 4480', 7/20/88

© Peter J. Bryant.

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Characteristics: Dorsal wing dull orange with black markings. Region of dorsal wings nearest the body brown with little if any orange tint. Silver spots present on ventral wing. Forewing length: 26-30 mm.

Similar Species: Speyeria coronis semiramis is similar in form and markings, but the dorsal wing of semiramis is a bright orange and distinctly orange at the base of the dorsal wing.  the Semiramis Fritillary is also usually larger than Comstock' s Fritillary.

Habitats, Behavior: Adults are fast flyers, but are readily attracted to thistle blossoms in the Santa Ana Mountains and elsewhere. Males are often found 'hilltopping".

Distribution: This beautiful butterfly formerly inhabited both the foothills and higher mountains of Orange County. The drier climate and development of many foothill areas has pushed callippe out of most of the old low-elevation localities. James Mori, however, reports that they were common in the San Joaquin Hills in about 1962 during a particularly a rainy year. Comstock's Fritillary may still occur in these coastal foothills, but today is common only in the Santa Ana Mountains.  Sandra Huwe reported hundreds on Elsinore Peak 5/20/00, and the illustrated specimen is from that population.

Flight Period: One brood, flying in May at lowland elevations and usually from mid-June to mid-July in the Santa Ana Mountains. The butterfly emerged exceptionally early in 1974 as it was observed in Riverside County near Highway 74 on May 8 by Norman Nakanishi and on May 11 at Santiago Peak by Gary Felton. Males generally begin emerging before females.

Larval Foodplants: Viola pedunculata (Johnny Jump-Up) is recorded and another violet species (Viola quercetorum) is also suspected as a larval foodplant. Both of these violet species and a third (Viola purpurea) are of occasional occurrence in moist places in the foothills and mountains of Orange County (Boughey, 1968). I most often encounter violets in the Santa Ana Mountains on sheltered, rocky, outcroppings. A good stand of Viola pedunculata occurs along the southern edge of Yaeger Mesa, although I have never been to the area at the appropriate time of year to see if Comstock's Fritillary flies there. I suspect that pedunculata is utilized by low-elevation populations, while purpurea, and perhaps quercetorum is utilized by populations in the higher elevations of the Santa Ana Mountains.

Other Remarks: Erich Walter used to find this fritillary with some frequency during the latter part of May in the low hills near the intersection of Amapola Street and Santiago Boulevard in Orange. He reported in 1974 that some of the larval foodplant (Viola pedunculata) still occurred at this low elevation (600 feet), although the fritillary now appears to be absent. Gordon Marsh and the author searched the Laguna Lakes vicinity without turning up the larval foodplant. Housing developments are presently encroaching on this beautiful spot, and the violet colonies may have already been destroyed. The August, 1917 record is probably either mislabeled or represents a record for Speyeria coronis semiramis. The present-day location of that specimen, if it even still exists, is unknown.

Violets are extremely dependent on moisture and rainfall, and thus fritillary populations also tend to fluctuate in numbers. The drying trend which was evident in southern California during ~1950-1980 had a severe effect on many southern California fritillary populations.

Fritillaries survive through the late summer, fall, and winter, not as an egg or pupa (the common aestivating stages in many butterfly species), but as a first-stage larva. The selective advantage of this is still a mystery to lepidopterists, since one would expect the larva to be less resistant to environmental extremes than the egg or perhaps the adult.

Text from Orsak, L. J. (1977). The Butterflies of Orange County, California. Center for Pathobiology Miscellaneous Publication #3. University of California Press, New York. 349pp.  Updated by Peter Bryant.

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