Posts Tagged: Gulf Fritillary
If you have Mexican sunflowers (genus Tithonia) in your garden, you can expect a diversity of insects--and not just honey bees.
Lately we've been photographing all the insects that visit the Tithonia in our bee garden.
They include butterflies (including monarchs, Gulf Fritillaries, skippers and cabbage whites) bumble bees (Bombus vosnesenskii and Bombus fervides, formerly known as Bombus californicus), sweat bees, leafcutter bees, long-horned bees, praying mantids, honey bees, carpenter bees, and yes, flies (green bottle fly).
The Mexican sunflower, an annual in the sunflower family, Asteraceae, originates from Mexico and Central America. What's good about the Tithonia--besides its sizzling color and its ability to attract a diversity of insects--is that it's drought-tolerant. That's especially important as we thirsty Californians endure our worst-ever drought.
We grew our Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) from seed, and it should bloom all summer. Already it's reaching NBA basketball-stature--topping seven feet in height.
We may have to set up a orchard ladder in our bee garden on our next photo shoot!
A longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis, dive-bombs a bumble bee, Bombus fervides. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, takes flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) foraging on the Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A skipper takes a liking to the Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This fly is a pollinator, too! (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
There's a good reason why lepidopterists call the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) "showy."
Its bright orange-red wings, spangled iridescent silver on the underside, and a four-inch wingspan all point to "showy."
The Gulf Frit is a tropical and subtropical butterfly with a range that extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina. Back in September of 2009, butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, excitedly announced the re-appearance of the Gulf Frit the Sacramento metropolitan area after a four-decade absence, and in the Davis area after a 30-year absence.
Yes, the Gulf Frits are back. Thankfully, they've returned to creating a nursery of sorts on our passionflower vine and their host plant (Passiflora). The eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids and adults are a delight to see.
However, the cycle of life is in full force in our bee garden. The hawks are eating the scrub jays; the scrub jays are eating the bees; and the bees are just trying to mind their own "bee business" by collecting pollen and nectar for their colonies. Always opportunists, the jays nesting in our trees are also targeting the butterflies and caterpillars. (So, too, are such predators as spiders and praying mantids.)
Today we captured several images of a Gulf Frit in flight. If you look closely, you'll see that part of her wing is missing.
That was a close one!
Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) in flight over a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary checking out a place to lay her eggs. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary warming her wings on a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Indeed, some bees seem to possess Superman's extraordinary power of "faster than a speeding bullet." They're just lacking a blue costume, a red cape and an "S" on their thorax.
The butterfly doing the fluttering in our garden is the Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, a showy reddish-orange Lepitopderan that lays its eggs on our passionflower vine (Passiflora).
The bee doing the speeding-bullet routine is the male longhorned digger bee, Melissodes agilis. They are so territorial that they claim ALL members of the sunflower family in our garden: the blanket flowers (Gallardia), the Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) and the purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).
They relentlessly patrol the garden and dive-bomb assorted bumble bees, carpenter bees, honey bees, sweat bees, wasps, syrphid flies, butterflies and even stray leaves that land on "their" flowers. (Their eyesight is not as good as Superman's.)
Why? They're trying to save the pollen and nectar resources for the Melissodes agilis females. And trying to entice and engage the girls.
Last Sunday we watched a Gulf Frit touch down on the Tithonia. Just as it was gathering some nectar, a speeding bullet approached.
If it were a horse, it would have been Secretariat.
If it were a track star, it would have been "Lightning Bolt" Usian St. Leo Bolt.
If it were a car, it would have been a Hennessey Venom GT.
If it were a plane, it would have been a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.
Swoosh! As the longhorned digger bee rifled by, the startled Gulf Frit shot straight up. Straight up.
Frankly, the Gulf Frit could have "leaped a tall building in a single bound."
A Gulf Fritillary sips nectar from a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), unaware of what will soon occur. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A speeding bullet, a male longhorned digger bee, targets the unsuspecting Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Startled by the digger bee, the Gulf Fritillary shoots straight up. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's back to normal. The Gulf Fritillary finds another blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
First the lantana, and then the passion flower vine.
The Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae) flutter daily around our backyard. They stop for a little nectar from lantana (family Verbenaceae), and then head over to the passion flower vines (genus Passiflora) to breed or lay their eggs.
You can't miss them. The Gulf Frit is a showy, reddish-orange butterfly. Its underside absolutely sparkles in a spangled iridescent silver.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, and who maintains the website, Art's Butterfly World, says the Gulf Frit was introduced into southern California in the 19th century and first recorded in the Bay Area "before 1908."
It was once prevalent in the Sacramento area in the 1960s, but seemed to have died out by the early 1970s.
Then in 2009, it began making a comeback in the Sacramento area.
It's definitely making a comeback. A beautiful comeback.
Gulf Fritillary butterfly on lantana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Another view of the Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Side view (underside) of Gulf Fritillary about to lay an egg on a passion flower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It was a perfect St. Patrick's Day--not just for the wearing of the green, but for the wearing of the orange.
The Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) arrived in our yard Sunday afternoon, March 16 and deposited an egg, just like E. Bunny will do soon.
The Gulf Frit's host plant is the Passiflora or passion flower vine. Last winter Jack Frost nipped at the leaves and nearly killed one of our two plants but they're both springing back.
The butterfly first touched down on an Amaryllis (Amaryllis belladonna) before she located the two passion flower vines. Her battle-scarred wings related the story of a close encounter with a bird or other predator.
Once quite common in the Sacramento area in the 1950s and 1960s, the Gulf Fritillary vanished for about 40 years and is now making a comeback. It's a brightly colored orange butterfly with black markings and silvery spangled hindwings.
It's good to see it again!
Gulf Fritillary butterfly touches down on the leaves of an Amaryllis, aka naked lady. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary checks out the leaves of a passion flower plant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Egg of a Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)