NC State Extension Publications

Description and Biology

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The larvae of the variegated fritillary, Euptoieta claudia, are small, orange to red, spiny caterpillars appropriately called pansyworms because they are most frequently reported from pansy. The caterpillars also feed on a variety of wild flowers and even plantain. Pansyworms are the immature stage of one of a group of four-footed butterflies called fritillaries. Pansyworms overwinter as caterpillars that feed on pansy, violet, alyssum, Johnny-jump-up and other plants in that family. Their butterflies are also reported to overwinter further south. Here variegated fritillaries are in flight from early spring to late fall. In spring the caterpillars molt into a chrysalis (pupa) and from that stage emerges a new generation of orange butterflies with checkered or spotted wings called variegated fritillaries. The pansyworm chrysalis is unusual: it has tubercles that appear to have been plated with pure gold! The males “patrol” for females. After mating, females lay cream to pale green eggs on the host plant. The larvae eat leaves, flowers, and even stems. We have two or three generations per year in North Carolina.

The variegated fritillary is one of the brush-footed butterflies

The variegated fritillary is one of the brush-footed butterflies.

Pansyworms feed on leaves, flowers, and stems.

Pansyworms feed on leaves, flowers, and stems.

Pansyworms are most frequently noticed on pansy.

Pansyworms are most frequently noticed on pansy.

The pansyworm chrysalis has gold knobs.

The pansyworm chrysalis has gold knobs.

A variegated fritillary visiting a flowering plant in a commeric

A variegated fritillary visiting a flowering plant in a commericial nursery.

Host Plants

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Pansyworms are most frequently reported from pansy although the caterpillars feed on a variety of wild flowers and even plantain. The caterpillars feed the leaves, flowers, and even stems of pansy, violet, alyssum, Johnny-jump-up and other plants in the violet family.

Residential Recommendation

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These butterflies are not particularly rare, and they range all over the United States except the Pacific Northwest so it shouldn't be a great shock to find them feeding on pansies here. Because they also feed on a wide range of wild flowers and other forbes, they are not resistant to pesticides. Pyrethroids, Sevin or some other properly labeled insecticide should give adequate control.

References

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For assistance with a specific problem, contact your local Cooperative Extension Center.

This Factsheet has not been peer reviewed.

Author

Professor Emeritus
Entomology and Plant Pathology

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Publication date: May 7, 2013
Revised: Oct. 9, 2019

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