Posts Tagged: Gulf Fritillary
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)
The Gulf Frit is definitely back.
Back in September of 2009, butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, excitedly announced the re-appearance of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanilla) in the Sacramento metropolitan area after a four-decade absence, and in the Davis area after a 30-year absence.
It's a tropical and subtropical butterfly with a range that extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina.
The Gulf Frit is a beautiful butterfly with bright orange-red wings, spangled iridescent silver on the underside, and a four-inch wingspan.
The larvae or caterpillars of the Agraulis vanilla feed on the leaves of the passion flower vine; they eat "many but not all species of the genus Passiflora," Shaprio says. "There are no native members of this genus in the state of California, but several are widely cultivated in gardens."
No one knows exactly when the first Gulf Frit first arrived in California, but "it was already in the San Diego area by about 1875, Shapiro says, and it was first recorded in the San Francisco Bay Area around 1908.
The showy butterfly colonized both South Sacramento and the Winding Way/Auburn Boulevard area in the 1960s but by 1971 "apparently became extinct or nearly so," recalled Shapiro, who moved to the Davis area in 1971.
The butterfly can breed where there is a "critical mass" of these plants in a town or neighborhood," he told us back in 2009.
Well, there's a thriving passion flower vine behind a west Vacaville residence that makes one think: "Critical mass!"
On one recent sunny afternoon, we spotted about 10 to 12 Gulf Frits breeding on the vine. Squadrons of brightly colored orange and black caterpillars munched on the leaves.
Yes, the Gulf Frit is alive and well.
Very alive and very well.
So if you have a passion for the Gulf Frit, plant Passiflora.
Plant it and they may come.
Gulf Fritillary butterfly on passion flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Frits breeding on passion flower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Hungry caterpillar munching passion flower leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A "squadron" of caterpillars on a passion flower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)