Posts Tagged: Agraulis vanillae
Let's talk butterfly eggs. Have you ever seen a Gulf Fritillary butterfly laying an egg in the wild?
The Gulf Frit (Agraulis vanillae), one of the showiest of all butterflies, is a flash of orange-red as it flutters toward its host plant (genus Passiflora) to lay its eggs. If you're lucky--that is, if you're in the right spot at the right time--you may actually see it laying an egg.
Our story began two months ago when we planted a passion flower vine in our yard to attract Gulf Frits. The vine, about two feet tall, was a thin, scraggly little thing yet to bloom. It still hasn't.
Well, about two weeks ago, the Gulf Frit butterflies discovered it and began laying eggs on the leaves. Soon, bristly-looking red, orange and black caterpillars appeared.
That's exactly what we wanted. Caterpillars. Lots of 'em. However, these little critters were not only hungry, they were famished! In a matter of a day or so, they denuded it.
The result: a pathetic-looking Passiflora that reminded us of Charlie Brown's scraggly little Christmas tree, a tree that nobody wanted and everyone ridiculed. In fact, when I showed a cell-phone photo of the sticklike plant to scientists at the UC Davis Department of Entomology, they laughed. Uproariously.
"THAT is a plant?"
What to do? Find another passion flower vine. A quick trip last Saturday morning to a Sacramento nursery yielded a five-gallon Passiflora manicata, variety Linda Escobar, hailing from Ecuador.
We temporarily placed Linda Escobar right next to Charlie Brown. That very day, both the caterpillars and adults gravitated toward Linda. Sorry, Charlie.
On Sunday I captured several images of a Gulf Frit laying a egg on Linda.
What does an egg look like? It's about the size of a pin head and emerges the color of pure gold (it will darken later).
Does life get any better than this?
Not in the butterfly world.
A Gulf Fritillary butterfly in the process of laying an egg on a passion flower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A tiny golden egg, the size of a pin head, begins to emerge. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The egg emerges. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of the tiny egg. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Ah, the Gulf Fritillary...
We spotted this orange-reddish butterfly nectaring lantana last Saturday near downtown Vacaville. In fact, the patch of lantana (family Verbenaceae) drew assorted butterflies, including buckeyes, alfalfa, monarchs, and painted ladies. A few honey bees and native bees tried to get their share.
Lantana and Gulf Frits. These multi-colored blossoms and the multi-colored butterfly, both found in the tropics and subtropics, are a study in brilliance.
On his website, butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says the Gulf Frit (Agraulis vanillae) was introduced into southern California in the 19th century, and was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908. Once prevalent in the Sacramento area in the 1960s, it "seems to have died out by the early 1970s," he said.
Then in 2009, it began making a comeback in the Sacramento area.
Now it appears to be thriving in some areas, at least where its adopted host plant, the passion flower vine (genus Passiflora), grows. If you have a passion flower vine in your yard, you may very well see the spiny orange-and-black caterpillars feeding on the leaves. And if you have lantana or Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in your yard, don't be surprised if a few adults drop by for a sip of nectar.
No wonder that commercial companies mass-rear these exotic-looking butterflies for release at weddings, garden parties and other social events.
Gulf Fritillary on lantana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Gulf Fritillary is one of the showiest butterflies in California, according to butterfly expert Art Shapiro of UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
On its underside, the Gulf Fritillary is spangled in iridescent silver. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
In the bug world, we're all grateful for the people who study insects, monitor them, and share information to impart scientific data and help save declining species.
Take butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of ecology and evolution at the University of California, Davis (of Art's Butterfly World).
How he does it, we'll never know, but he has monitored butterflies in the area for more than three decades and knows when a population is declining or increasing.
On a trip to Vacaville on Nov. 12, Shapiro discovered six gulf fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) in gardens on Buck Avenue, and one at the base of Gates Canyon (that's only the second he's seen; the first he saw in May of 1984).
That's great news!
"I suspect the colony has expanded into the upscale hillside neighborhood off Foothill but had no time to go looking," Shapiro commented.
Meanwhile, he says, there are fewer gulf frits in Sacramento this year than in the last two years.
The gulf frit is one of the showiest butterflies in California. The bright orange-red butterfly, with a wingspan that can reach four inches, was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908. Shapiro says it became established there only in the 1950s.
The last time we saw gulf frits in Vacaville was a couple of months ago, on Sept. 14. They were all over a passionflower vine (Passiflora)--the adults, the pupae, the larvae and the eggs--in a Buck Avenue garden. Later we saw several nectaring lantana.
Now they appear to be expanding their territory in Vacaville.
We all ought to be attracting them! The larval hosts include passionflower vines, such as the maypop (Passiflora incarnata), blue passionflower (P. caerulea), and corky-stemmed passionflower (P. suberosa). As an adult, the gulf frit nectars on such plants as lantana (Lantana camara), tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), pentas (Pentas lanceolata), drummond phlox (Phlox drummondi) and something called "tread softly" (Cnidosculous stimulosus).
Gulf fritillary nectaring a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Mating gulf frits. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf frit caterpillar munching on passionflower leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)