Posts Tagged: Gulf Fritillary butterfly
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)
At last! From an egg to a caterpillar to a chrysalis to a butterfly.
And it's a girl!
For several days we've been protecting a Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) chryalis on our passionflower vine (Passiflora) from predators.
It works like this: Adult female butterflies lay their eggs on the plant, and predators prey upon the eggs, caterpillars and chrysalides. Result: eggs gone, caterpillars gone, and chrysalides smashed open and the contents (our future butterflies) removed.
So we clipped a white cotton dishtowel around the chrysalis to prevent predation from jumping spiders, orb weavers, ants, praying mantids, European paper wasps and assorted scrub jays.
Sunday morning it happened.
A female butterfly emerged from a chrysalis. She remained close to the chrysalis before moving outside the apiary wire (the wire is stapled to a fence to support the clingy passionflower vine).
Not two minutes later, as "our girl" was drying her wings, getting ready for her first flight, a suitor approached her.
The rest, as they say, is history.
And more Gulf Fritillary butterflies.
Female Gulf Fritillary butterfly dries her wings after emerging from her chrysalis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Newly emerged Gulf Fritillary butterfly hangs on the fence. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A suitor approaches the female. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Almost engaged. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Mating Gulf Fritillary butterflies. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The female is doing a post-coital stretch, according to butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis. "She's a tad oddly marked, too." (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
For months, I've been waiting ah, so patiently (well, not always s-o-o-o patiently) for the gulf fritillary butterfly to touch down on our Mexican sunflower, Tithonia.
A perfect match, I figured. The showy reddish-orange butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) sipping nectar from the equally orange and showy Mexican sunflower.
No such luck. Every time I'd check the yard for the special butterfly-blossom scenario, it was always landing on something else: multi-colored lantana, lavender lantana, and the passion flower vine (genus Passiflora).
And occasionally, a pomegranate tree or tomato plant.
Oh, sure, it did visit the Tithonia, but it would vanish before I could grab the camera.
However, on Sunday, following the San Francisco Giants' game, I was thinking orange. Bright orange. Baseball orange. I stepped outside, and voila!
Touchdown! The perfect match!
The butterfly lingered long enough for me to capture its image, a side view of its silver-spangled wings, as well as a bird's eye view (Please, scrub jays, don't eat my butterfly.) It then fluttered off to the passion flower vine.
The gulf flit was once prevalent in the Sacramento area in the 1960s, but "it seems to have died out by the early 1970s," according to butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis.
It's been making a comeback in the Sacramento area since 2009.
Sunday was a perfect comeback day. And a perfect touchdown day!
Gulf fritillary butterfly. Agraulis vanillae, lands on Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf fritillary butterfly spreads its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A perfect match: gulf fritillary on Mexican sunflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse...
--Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863)
In our house, nothing is stirring, thanks be to the cat. Xena the Warrior Princess does not like anything stirring. Even the dog annoys here.
But in the yard, quite a few insects were stirring on the Passiflora (passion flower vine) this afternoon. We planted it last summer to attract Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae). Passiflora is their host plant. In the late summer, we saw the adults mating and an occasional female laying eggs. Then the caterpillars appeared and began munching on the leaves.
Today we spotted about eight Gulf Fritillary caterpillars soaking up what was left of the sun. Also on board was a Gulf Fritillary chrysalis, but it was not stirring.
An overwintering Harlequin bug wandered around looking lost--but we're sure it was up to something. Last summer its ancestors were enjoying our lemon cucumbers, planted nearby.
As butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis says about the Harlequin bugs: "They prefer Crucifers (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, etc.) but are not limited to 'em!"
Harlequin bug wandering around on passion flower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf fritillary caterpillar--soon to become a chrysalis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Another gulf fritillary caterpillar--soon to become a chrysalis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf fritillary chrysalis attached to wire behind passion flower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)