The family Nymphalidae is the largest butterfly family and includes about 6,000 species
which are further divided up into 12 subfamilies. The common name for the family
is the Brushfoots or Brushfooted Butterflies. This strange name is because the first
pair of legs are significantly reduced, sometimes to mere stubs, and look like little
brushes. Some of the most common and well known species are in this group such as
the Monarch, Red Admiral, Blue Morpho and Painted Lady. Some of the longest lived
butterflies are in this family with some species living over 10 months as adults.
The Brushfoots are distributed worldwide, with the highest diversity found in the
tropics. With this variety, there is also quite a difference in behavior, adult
food choices and habitat preference from species to species.
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Speyeria idalia, near Welda Preserve, Anderson County, Kansas, 15 June 2009
Speyeria idalia belongs to the subfamily Heliconiinae. This vanishing species is
found in tall-grass prairie remnants in Montana and North Dakota south to Colorado,
Nebraska, and Oklahoma. It is rare or absent from former range east of the Appalachians.
Its preferred habitat includes tall-grass prairie and other open sites including
damp meadows, marshes, wet fields and mountain pastures.
The larval food source includes many species of violets, Viola sp. Males patrol
for females with a low, steady flight. Females walk through vegetation to lay single
eggs on various plants, even if the host violets are not present. Most eggs are
laid in August. The caterpillars hatch and overwinter unfed and in the spring they
eat the leaves of host violets.