In my humble opinion, I feel it is the Regal Fritillary which is the pride of N.A. Speyeria. The rich brown coloration of the forewings in combination with the blackish or blackish/ blue sheen of the hind wings is simply without equal. It looks for all the world (superficially) like 2 different butterflies having been spliced togather ! Nokomis males on the other hand look striking similar to the Aphrodite fritillary which is not anything too special. The Nokomis female does look unique however, and I'm sure it varies somewhat but, if you put it alongside an idalia female it's still lacking. Where Diana can be found it is usually the males which are mostly encountered and they can be as common as rats. I've collected those males in numbers before. Ah, but it is the Diana females which tend to be found in far fewer numbers which elicit high regards among collectors. They are large butterflies and their blue coloration does vary in shades (with some being blue-green). But, the thing is when you do see a Diana female on the wing all you really notice is a large black butterfly going by or on a flower at a distance. When you see an Idalia female going by your heart will just about "skip a beat" as those rich colors really "pop" in the sunlight. They are all noble species in their own right but, some species simply have no equal....
I agree completely. In my opinion: idalia has a stunning recto and verso combination. nokomis has the most stunning verso, but the males look much like many other frits. I do like the sexual dimorphism of the diana and I prefer the recto of a diana female to a nokomis female.
Really, I can see how someone could pick any of these as their favorite
I wonder why it is that these three species are so different than the others? None of the others seem very unique (except maybe S. Cybele ssp. like letona).
I might add that the undersides of Argynnis aglaja and adippe are pretty special too.
Yes they are, here is a freshly emerged female of Argynnis aglaja that I found back in July on Salisbury Plain. The underside is really exquisite. My favourite here are the Argynnis paphia f. valesina, they are real beauties, coming in different colour shades, some have a striking bluish sheen. Such a female photographed in Wilts.
I have had the pleasure of seeing quite a few valesina in the wild and when freshly emerged they are stunning. I have a female Cybele that is absolutely huge, I got her in an exchange for some British stuff, lovely butterfly.
Apropos' to declining numbers of Speyerias: I've lived in good S. diana (and cybele and aphrodite) habitat since 1975, and have always paid attention to the apparent numbers of these butterflies on the wing. It appears to me that S. diana is forever in some part of a boom-and-bust cycle. It's often very scarce, so that I only see a few odd males in a season... but then a year or two later, it's common, and I find 6 or 8 females and untold males in a single milkweed patch. They never seem to even out at a stable population level... it's either high or low. The same goes for cybele and aphrodite, but perhaps not quite so markedly. It's always several bad years, then a glut for a year or two.
I suspect that an awful lot of butterfly populations work this way... and the cycles don't seem to correlate with summer or winter weather, either. Probably some complex function of weather, preadator population levels, disease levels, etc etc etc...
I should add that S. idalia is a whole other matter. I grew up in a town in southwest Virginia where I could find idalia most summers on a relative's farm near town. I went away to college and when I came back, it was gone, never to be seen again. Same land, same land use, same apparent vegetation (to this day, I might add), but no more idalias. I collected them in another part of SW VA in the late '70's, but by 1995 they appeared to be gone from that area too. Certainly no loss of tall-grass prairie around that part of Virginia - Virginia had nothing like that to start with! They were in open fields near forests in mountainous farmland.
I have to wonder - were the years when I found them in VA the tag end of a big "boom" period in idalia population, and now they've withdrawn back to their long-term traditional habitat? Seems possible to me. Perhaps there are really long cycles in population for some species. We don't have enough long term population data for enough locations to say, I believe.
Certainly the female of Speyeria nokomis for beauty beats any of the British fritillaries hands down. Interesting to note that it is not only us, across the pond that have seen a decline in some of our fritillary butterflies.
Yes, idalia in particular has declined considerably. I know here in Indiana it is now only found in one location in Newton County which is now protected. It used to span the entire northern part of the state. I am lucky that my specimens of idalia are from Indiana (legally). I don't know for sure but I haven't heard that the other two species are declining.
Here's a paper we published recent that has some good news about idalia.
Nice piece of work, John! That's indeed an encouraging paper regarding S. idalia. Looks like you definitely got a "boom" in idalia after the V. bicolor spread in the area.
It's interesting how different the idalia habitat is (was) in the eastern US compared to its traditional midwestern strongholds such as your paper describes. In VA it was always in cow pastures or creek-bottom fields, fairly wet areas near woods.
Another interesting Speyeria fact: The type locality of S. diana is near Jamestown, in coastal tidewater Virginia. It's hard to imagine a more different eastern US habitat compared to the mountain coves in the Appalachians where it thrives now. I rekon the last coastal VA diana was seen sometime around the early 1950's. Did the species originally fly all over the place? Or did it happen to have a big range expansion around the time it was named, and was only on the coast for a few years or decades? No way to know! jh
I grew up with the bug as an alfalfa field butterfly in SE Ohio. Then something changed. I always wondered if some cultural change in farming (like herbicide use versus plowing for weed control), caused it to crash.... There was nothing special about it's habitats back then.
By the way, we grow a few thousand more conservative Viola sagitatta and plant them out as plugs every year in the restoration. Viola bicolor is a weed, and once the restoration heals, it will get squeezed out. I want it to be replaced with prairie violet as time passes.