A Crazy Place for Fritillaries

By Peter Hall, Scientific and administrative advisor to e-Butterfly

One of the most difficult groups of butterflies to identify, particularly in western North America, is that of the greater fritillaries. On a recent camping trip to Alberta and Montana, the butterflies in this large group were high among the list of butterfly target species I had set for myself. Many would be lifers – if I could find and identify them.  

Before the trip, I had studied a large scale map of Montana and noticed there were quite a number of small mountain ranges scattered to the east of the front range of the Rocky Mountains. These were known to hold the right mix of habitats for greater fritillaries. In the middle of them was a small range called the Crazy Mountains.  How could I resist?

In the first week and a half of our trip I, and my wife Judy, travelled through southern Alberta and then into Montana. By the time we reached the Crazies, as they are called locally, I had seen five greater fritillary species – Aphrodite, Callippe, Mormon, Northwestern (Atlantis) and Edwards’ – three of them lifers. Not bad, but there were at least three more lifers and I had my fingers crossed for the Crazies.

At the somewhat remote Halfmoon Campground (on the end of a very bad dirt and rock road in our trusty camper truck), we found a lovely campsite with mountains all around and I began my search. A day and a half later, never straying from the flower-laden meadows, trails and roads within and near the campground, I had found and photographed 20 butterfly species and six of them were greater fritillaries in good numbers! The Crazy Mountains had delivered. These fritillaries were Edwards’, Mormon, Hydaspe, Coronis, Zerene and Callippe.

I must admit that I did not identify all of them while in the field, but on my return to Ottawa, Ontario, I sent some photos to Norbert Kondla in Alberta, a known expert on this group. Norbert kindly completed my IDs.

As a bonus, there was a number of the central Rockies endemic butterfly, Hayden’s Ringlet, which was high on my target list. I missed one other endemic species which had previously been reported from the Crazies – the Relict Fritillary – a member of the lesser fritillaries. I guess I’ll just have to go back for it.

All observations are now on eButterfly with photos.