Welcome Back, Gulf Frit Caterpillars
But they're doing it too well.
The gulf frittillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae) are mating and depositing their eggs on our passion flower vines--as we want them to do--but complete metamorphosis always seems to be incomplete. It's supposed to be egg, larva (caterpillar), chrysalis, adult.
But it's really egg, caterpillar, scrub jay food.
The ever-present scrub jays nest in our trees and swoop down periodically to feast on the caterpillars. Now that they have many mouths to feed, they seem to be even more vigilant.
But today, as luck would have it, we noticed several caterpillars tucked beneath the leaves.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, monitors the Central Valley butterfly population, including the gulf frits. In the early 1970s, scientists considered the reddish-orange showy butterfly extinct in the Sacramento/Yolo area. However, since 2000, it's been making a comeback.
Like many butterfly/plant enthusiasts, we planted the passion flower fine (tropical genus Passiflora) to attract them. We watch the gulf frits nectar on the nearby lantana and lay their tiny golden eggs on the passion flower vine.
Sadly, we're not the only ones watching them.
Gulf fritillary caterpillar munching away on passion flower leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf fritillary caterpillar crawls along a stem. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two stages of caterpillars. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)