Posts Tagged: Gulf Fritillary butterflies
A lady beetle, aka ladybug, sharing stories with Gulf Fritillary caterpillars?
Well, not likely.
The lady beetle (family Coccinellidae) preys mainly on aphids--it can eat about 50 aphids a day or some 5000 aphids in its lifetime. But it will devour other soft-bodied insects, including mites, scales, mealybugs, leafhoppers, and butterfly eggs and larvae (caterpillars). Butterfly caterpillars move quite slowly; they are not Indy 500 speedsters.
We spotted a lady beetle early this morning on one of our passionflower (Passiflora) seed pods, surrounded by hungry Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) caterpillars. It was somewhat like a two-peas-in-a-pod scene, but without the peas. Here were two insect species ON a pod, and both sharing the same warning color: red.
The Gulf Fritillary caterpillars are hungry. Very hungry. They've stripped the passionflower vine of all its leaves and are now eating the stems and seed pods. Actually, we planted the passionflower vine for them. But are they THAT hungry? They are. They're famished. And there are literally hundreds of them.
Sometimes we think that all of the Gulf Frit butterflies west of Mississippi are gravitating toward the plant to lay their eggs. The vine cannot support that many hungry caterpillars, despite predation by scrub jays and European paper wasps.
The lady beetle, we assume is not only eating the tiny yellow eggs of the Gulf Frit, but the tiniest of the tiny larvae. It's an exquisite buffet of tasty treats with high nutritional value.
And easy pickings.
Lady beetle, aka ladybug, with its new "friends"--Gulf Fritillary caterpillars. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary caterpillars move around the lady beetle, aka ladybug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A touching moment. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary caterpillars will grow up to look like this. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
We have strippers.
Not anything to do with that thriving business known as "The Strip Club" in Las Vegas.
The strippers we have are Gulf Fritillary caterpillars, which can skeletonize their host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora) faster than you can sing "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (Mary Poppins movie) forward and backwards ("Dociousaliexpilisticfragicalirupes").
Seems as if one minute the plant is bursting with shoots, tendrils, leaves, flowers and stems, and the next minute, nothing but lots of little larvae.
But we like it that way. The tiny reddish orange caterpillars will turn into glorious reddish orange butterflies, Agraulis vanillae. It's a tropical and subtropical butterfly with a range that extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina, according to butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, who has monitored scores of butterfly species in the Central Valley for more than four decades. (See his website.)
You probably remember the story. Back in September of 2009, the professor excitedly announced the re-appearance of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly in the Sacramento metropolitan area after a four-decade absence, and in the Davis area after a 30-year absence.
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.
True, some gardeners don't like to see their plants reduced to a skeleton, something they think should appear only on Halloween night.
But to us--and many others--passionflower vines are just food for the caterpillars. To be a butterfly, you first must be a caterpillar.
Two Gulf Fritillary caterpillars meet on a stem after having munched all the leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A trio of hungry Gulf Frit caterpillars. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Frit catepillar does an end run. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two Gulf Fritillaries ready to mate. Note the decimated leaves around them. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's sort of like watching the grass grow, or the paint dry, but there's much more drama.
These, as children's book author Eric Carle writes in the children's book, "The Very Hungry Caterpillars," are very hungry caterpillars.
They're famished. They're ravenous. They could eat a horse (except they don't eat horses). And that's a good thing, as Martha Stewart would say.
If they're allowed to, these caterpillars will decimate the leaves, spin cocoons and eventually turn into spectacular reddish-orange butterflies (Agraulis vanillae).
So, you're sitting there watching the caterpillars eat. And out of the shadows, something else appears.
You think you're the only ones watching them eat? Think again.
A Gulf Fritillary caterpillar ready to eat the leaves of a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This Gulf Fritillary caterpillar is really chowing down. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A praying mantis watches a ravenous caterpillar. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)