Posts Tagged: Gulf Fritillary butterfly
Nobody really bats an eye when a chicken lays an egg. That's what we expect them to do.
But when a butterfly lays an egg, that's a different story--especially in December.
Gulf Fritillary butterflies or passion butterflies (Agraulis vanillae) head for the nearest Passiflora, their host plant, and lay their eggs, tiny little yellow eggs about the size of a sesame seed.
It's done so quietly and so effortlessly--and it's such a miracle--that you expect to hear Vivaldi's Spring or the sound of trumpets or loud applause or a standing ovation. Something.
But no, the female butterfly goes about her business of laying eggs, deftly avoiding mate-seeking males that attempt to draw her attention.
The egg will hatch into a larva or caterpillar, and the caterpillar will morph into a munching machine, devouring every leaf in sight. Then comes the chrysalis, and an adult butterfly emerges.
That itself, in the dead of winter, warrants Vivaldi's Spring!
A Gulf Fritillary laying an egg in the dead of winter on a passionflower leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A female Gulf Fritillary, after laying an egg, soaks up some sunshine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
What a perfect match when a Gulf Fritillary butterfly touches down on a blanket flower.
They're both reddish-orange and showy.
Last weekend we spotted a Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) land momentarily on a blanket flower (Gaillardia), in our bee garden.
The butterfly warmed itself, stretched its wings, and then fluttered off.
Thankfully, the Gulf Fritillary, thought to be extinct in the Sacramento-Davis area in the 1970s, is making a gigantic comeback, according to butterfly expert Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. If you want it in your yard, plant passion flower (Passiflora), its host plant.
Then blanket a corner of your bee garden with the blanket flower (sunflower family, Asteraceae). The flower was probably named for the colorful patterned blankets made by native Americans.
Then the next time you see a Gulf Frit cuddle up with a blanket flower, grab your camera.
Gulf Fritillary touches down on a blanket flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Getting ready for takeoff. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
And away it goes! (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Mother Nature isn't, either.
For several weeks, we've been rearing Gulf Fritilliary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae). We purchased a butterfly habitat from the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, salvaged some caterpillars from our passionflower vines (Passiflora), and watched the transformation from caterpillars to chrysalids to butterflies.
One butterfly, however, emerged last weekend with crippled wings.
You may have seen crippled butterflies, too.
A reader who lives in Rancho Cordova said she's nurtured passion flower vines (the larval host plant of the Gulf Frits) for the past seven years and has "spotted or or two butterflies a year in the yard."
"In the past two weeks we suddenly have dozens and dozens of chrsalids," she wrote, adding "I'm not sure what their odds of survival are but I have picked up about 15 off the ground who were never able to fly. I tried giving them some sugar water on a q-tip and about four regained strength and were able to fly away but the others have died."
"Do you have any tips on helping our friends?" she asked. She also wanted to know the life span of a butterfly.
We asked noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of entomology and evolution at UC Davis, to answer the questions.
"It's highly abnormal that any significant proportion of Gulf Frits would be unable to fly," Shapiro said."If the pupae are not disturbed they hang vertically. The butterfly pops out and hangs on the bottom of the cast pupal skin, letting gravity pull down the wings so they elongate fully. If the bug is knocked down while the wings are soft and cannot immediately climb up a vertical surface, it will end up a cripple. The pupae should never be removed from their substrate and laid horizontally in a container. That virtually guarantees crippling. If there was no disturbance and all those animals fell down spontaneously, they are infected with some microorganism that has significantly weakened them."
"Any butterfly that is unable to fly is a lost cause and there is really no reason to try to save them since they won't reproduce. If a crippled female was mated by a flying male, which is possible, she wouldn't be able to lay her normal complement of eggs on the host plant anyway."
Shapiro, who monitors the butterfly population in the Central Valley of California and posts information on his website, says that "adult Gulf Frits, which are pretty unpalatable to predators--they have chemical defenses-- are quite long-lived. In warm weather they can live 4-6 weeks. In cold weather they can live 2-3 months, but are killed outright at 21-22F."
"For the record, butterflies have sugar receptors on their feet. When their feet contact sugar, the proboscis uncoils automatically for feeding. If it's necessary to feed a butterfly, place watered-down honey--not much--or Pepsi or Coke right out of the container--on a fairly non-absorbent surface--I use a strip of foam rubber--and, using forceps to hold the wings over the back, lower the feet to the liquid. Bingo! Allow to feed ad lib."
As for the crippled butterfly we reared, we released it in our backyard. It encountered a possible mate, which checked it out and took off.
Then we placed it on an orange zinnia where it clung tightly to the blossom. A short life, true, but at least a taste of nectar and a little sunshine.
Mother Nature isn't perfect, and neither are we.
A crippled Gulf Fritillary butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A possible mate checks out the crippled butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
We placed the crippled Gulf Fritillary on a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Call it serendipity.
Call it a prize from the sky.
Frankly, it's not every day that a newly emerged Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae, lands at your feet. It crawled from its chrysalis, hinged to a eight-foot high tree limb near our passionflower vines (Passiflora), and fell, quite unceremoniously, on a bed of wood chips.
Right where I was standing.
At first I thought a scrub jay or an European paper wasp (which keep an attentive eye on the Gulf Frit population in our yard) had nailed it.
No. This was newly emerged. It looked like a plop of red, orange and silver paint, its body limp, its antennae crumbled, its wings still damp.
I lifted it gingerly and placed it on a Passiflora to dry off. Did it fly off in five minutes? Ten minutes? Half an hour? No, it stayed for two hours. When scores of male adult butterflies ventured down to check its gender and then left, I figured it to be the same gender.
A boy butterfly.
If it were female, a male would have mated with her in minutes as one did several weeks ago when a female emerged from a chrysalis. (That, however, is not the only way you can tell gender! There are abdominal differences and males are more brightly colored, a deeper reddish-orange, than the females.)
Boy Butterfly leaned his head back, opened and stretched his wings, and finally, he took off, touching me on the shoulder as he floated by.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis who monitors the butterfly population in the Central Valley, is glad to see the Gulf Frits making a comeback in this area. He writes on his website:
"this dazzling bit of the New World Tropics was introduced into southern California in the 19th Century--we don't know how--and was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908, though it seems to have become established there only in the 1950s. It can be quite common in the East and South Bay--particularly in Berkeley--and has been found breeding spontaneously as far inland as Fairfield where, however, it is not established. There are scattered records in the Central Valley and even up to Folsom, perhaps resulting from people breeding the species for amusement or to release at social occasions. According to Hal Michael, who grew up in South Sacramento, this species bred there in abundance on garden Passiflora in the early 1960s. It seems to have died out by the early 1970s, however. Intolerant of hard freezes, it still managed to survive the record cold snap of 1990 that largely exterminated the Buckeye regionally!"
As for Boy Butterfly, a loudly buzzing female Valley carpenter bee attempting to forage on a flower near his head, prompted his rather abrupt departure.
Newly emerged Gulf Fritillary butterfly, fresh from its chrysalis, lands on a bed of wood chips. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary starts to stir. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary drying off on a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary slightly opens its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
First opening of the wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Another butterfly comes down to investigate. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
One last spread of the wings, and it's off. It's a male.(Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Complete metamorphosis. Complete awe.
In our yard, the Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae) are laying eggs on our passionflower vine (Passiflora). They deposit the eggs on top of the leaves, beneath the leaves, or on the tendrils.
An egg hatches, and a caterpillar--a very hungry caterpillar--emerges. It eats as if there is no tomorrow, and for some, there IS no tomorrow. Predators, including birds, spiders, praying mantids and European paper wasps, await them.
Humans also kill them with pesticides because the caterpillars do what they're supposed to do--eat the leaves. Skeletonized plants in the garden? Horrors, what would our neighbors say?
But, if all goes well, and the caterpillars thrive, the next stage is the chrysalis.
Finally, the adult butterfly emerges from the chrysalis to start the life cycle all over again.
Sometimes when you look at the tiny yellow Gulf Frit egg, it's difficult to imagine that one day it will become a reddish-orange butterfly fluttering around the garden, sipping nectar from lantana (genus Lantana), Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) and other plants.
Interested in butterflies? When you get a chance, you should explore Art Shapiro's Butterfly World. Shapiro, a distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, monitors the butterfly population in the Central Valley. He's also written a book, Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions.
And those amazing Gulf Frits? They're making a comeback in the Sacramento area.
And none too soon.
Tiny Gulf Fritillary butterfly egg at end of a tendril on a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A very hungry caterpillar. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A chrysalis: soon a butterfly will emerge. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An adult Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)