Posts Tagged: Gulf Fritillary
If you have a passionflower vine (Passiflora), check to see what insects or stages of insects are making this plant their home.
A frost-bitten passionflower vine on a front porch near downtown Vacaville, Solano County, last weekend still contained a number of Gulf Fritillary caterpillars, some viable chrysalids, and some empty paper-thin chrysalids fluttering in the wind. The passionflower vine is the host plant of the Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae. These colorful reddish-orange butterflies lay their eggs on this plant, and the resulting larvae or caterpillars skeletonize the leaves.
But wait! What's that on that dangling seed pod?
Could it be? It was. A leaffooted bug or coreid (family Coreidae, suborder Heteroptera).
The bug is so named because of its leaf-like tibia or hind legs. Leaffooted bugs seem to prefer developing fruit, such as tomatoes and peaches, as well as seeds. They also are pests in almond and pistachio orchards. Folks in the Deep South see them on the seeds of black-eyed peas.
"They feed by piercing plant parts with their elongate beaks and sucking out the juices," wrote authors/entomologists Jerry Powell and Charles Hogue in their book, California Insects (University of California Press).
This one was draped on a seed pod, not moving much. That would come later.
A Gulf Fritillary caterpillar crawling on a stem. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An empty chrysalis: a Gulf Fritillary butterfly had earlier emerged. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A leaffooted bug on the seed pod of a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's what I've always wanted to see on Christmas Day.
On Dec. 25, we rarely see any insects--probably because we aren't looking for them. But a butterfly? And a butterfly laying an egg?
I took an image of a Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) laying an egg in west Vacaville (Solano County) on Christmas Day. She fluttered around a frost-bitten, caterpillar-eaten passionflower vine (Passiflora) as the temperature held steady at 65 degrees.
Then the butterfly dropped down, extended her abdomen, and laid an egg. A tiny yellowish egg, right in the middle of dozens of caterpillars and chrysalids. Somehow or another, these immature stages managed to survive our extended frost, when the mercury dipped to 22 degrees.
I told butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, about the egg-laying butterfly. Not so coincidentally, he was searching for adult butterflies in Vacaville today (temperature, 70 degrees), but didn't see any.
Shapiro, who monitors the butterflies of Central California and posts information on his website, sounded the alarm about the comeback of these spectacular orange-red butterflies several ago. It was in September 2009 that he excitedly announced the re-appearance of the Gulf Frit after its four-decade absence in the Sacramento metropolitan area, and its three-decade absence in the Davis area.
The larvae or caterpillars of the Agraulis vanillae feed on the leaves of the passion flower vine; they eat "many but not all species of the genus Passiflora," Shapiro says. "There are no native members of this genus in the state of California, but several are widely cultivated in gardens."
It's a tropical and subtropical butterfly with a range that extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina. 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 said. 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 it "apparently became extinct or nearly so," recalled Shapiro, a Davis resident since 1971.
Now we know that at least some Gulf Frits survived the freezing temperatures--just when a setback threatened the comeback.
Gulf Fritillary butterfly laying an egg on Christmas Day in west Vacaville. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary spreading her wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
That's the line that came to me Saturday when I released a week-old Gulf Fritillary butterfly I'd reared in our home.
Kris Kristofferson penned that line in his hit song, "Me and Bobby McGee," popularized by Janis Joplin. Kristofferson most definitely was NOT thinking of Agraulis vanillae when he wrote that. According to performingsongwriter.com, he was thinking of a time-tested movie plot. You know, boy loves girl, boy leaves girl, boy cannot forget girl.
Calling freedom a "two-edged sword," Kristofferson explained that the boy "was free when he left the girl, but it destroyed him. That’s where the line ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose’ came from."
Fact is, my little ol' December butterfly picked a terrible time to emerge in the habitat I purchased last summer at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis. With outside temperatures dipping to 22 degrees, I didn't have the heart to make this a nothing-left-to-lose day. Not yet. So I fed it sugar water and waited for a better-chance-to-make-it day.
When the temperature hit 55, I released it on a passionflower vine in our yard. My boy butterfly quickly fluttered away, on the wings of freedom, only to return a few minutes later and touch down on a clump of pampas grass.
I'm sure it never found a mate. In fact, between hungry predators and the just-chillin' weather, it probably ended up as a one-day butterfly.
However, there's always the promise of more butterflies. A quick peek beneath the burlap-covered passionflower vine revealed several caterpillars and chrysalids.
A newly emerged Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary returns to the site where it was released. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This Gulf Fritillary caterpillar survived the frost. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
University of Minnesota honey bee researcher Marla Spivak, in her TED talk on honey bee health, referred to bees as "flower feeders."
That they are. Flower feeders.
As are other pollinators from butterflies to beetles to bats.
But it's a special treat to see butterflies, honey bees and carpenter bees sharing blossoms of the same plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora).
Several years ago a UC Davis professor planted a fenceline of passionflower vines at her residence off east Covell Boulevard, Davis. This year she is reaping her reward: Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae), honey bees and Valley carpenter bees are all over it. Why Gulf Frits? The passionflower vine is their host plant. You can see the entire life cycle from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult in her yard.
The Valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta) are frequent foragers, too. The females frighten many people because of their size and loud buzz. They're a solid black, in sharp contrast to the males, which are golden with green eyes.
We didn't see one predator Thursday in her Davis yard.
In our yard, we have scores of predators on our passionflower vines: scrub jays, European paper wasps, jumping spiders, ladybugs, assassin bugs and an occasional praying mantis. Although the jays pick off the caterpillars from our passionflower vines, they don't seem to go for the adults.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, points to research published in a 2007 edition of the Journal of Chemical Ecology that indicates that the Gulf Fritillary adults are poisonous to birds. A team of scientists from Maryland, Virginia and Georgia wrote in the abstract of their article, “Novel Chemistry of Abdominal Defensive Glands of Nymphalid Butterfly (Agraulis vanillae): “Abdominal defensive glands of both sexes of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly, emit a pronounced odor when disturbed…we suggest that the constituents in the glands may play a defensive role against potential avian predators.”
The article relates that Linnaeus (1758) first described the tropical butterfly and noted that its brilliant coloration of the reddish-orange butterfly makes it conspicuous.
A Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae, sharing a passion flower with honey bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A Valley carpenter bee and a honey bees working the passion flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two Valley carpenter bees on a passion flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Valley carpenter bees are passionate about passionflower vines (Passiflora).
You see these black bees foraging on the blossoms. Tiny grains of golden pollen, looking like gold dust, dot the thorax.
Their loud buzz frightens many a person, but wait, they're pollinators.
Valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta) are found in the Central Valley and southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and southward through Mexico, according to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
These carpenter bees are large (about the size of a queen bumble bee). The females are solid black, while the males are golden/buff-colored with green eyes.
We receive scores of calls about "golden bumble bees." They're the male Valley carpenter bees, sometimes nicknamed "Teddy bears."
The females are the only ones we've seen in the passionflower vines, though.
The males? They must be cruising somewhere else, patrolling for females.
Most of the time we see female Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae) laying their eggs on the leaves, and male Gulf Frits searching for females.
A female Valley carpenter bee is covered with yellow pollen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Female Valley carpenter bee on a passionflower blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)