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)
If you have a passionflower vine (Passiflora), check to see what insects or stages of insects are making this plant their home.
A frost-bitten passionflower vine on a front porch near downtown Vacaville, Solano County, last weekend still contained a number of Gulf Fritillary caterpillars, some viable chrysalids, and some empty paper-thin chrysalids fluttering in the wind. The passionflower vine is the host plant of the Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae. These colorful reddish-orange butterflies lay their eggs on this plant, and the resulting larvae or caterpillars skeletonize the leaves.
But wait! What's that on that dangling seed pod?
Could it be? It was. A leaffooted bug or coreid (family Coreidae, suborder Heteroptera).
The bug is so named because of its leaf-like tibia or hind legs. Leaffooted bugs seem to prefer developing fruit, such as tomatoes and peaches, as well as seeds. They also are pests in almond and pistachio orchards. Folks in the Deep South see them on the seeds of black-eyed peas.
"They feed by piercing plant parts with their elongate beaks and sucking out the juices," wrote authors/entomologists Jerry Powell and Charles Hogue in their book, California Insects (University of California Press).
This one was draped on a seed pod, not moving much. That would come later.
A Gulf Fritillary caterpillar crawling on a stem. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An empty chrysalis: a Gulf Fritillary butterfly had earlier emerged. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A leaffooted bug on the seed pod of a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's what I've always wanted to see on Christmas Day.
On Dec. 25, we rarely see any insects--probably because we aren't looking for them. But a butterfly? And a butterfly laying an egg?
I took an image of a Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) laying an egg in west Vacaville (Solano County) on Christmas Day. She fluttered around a frost-bitten, caterpillar-eaten passionflower vine (Passiflora) as the temperature held steady at 65 degrees.
Then the butterfly dropped down, extended her abdomen, and laid an egg. A tiny yellowish egg, right in the middle of dozens of caterpillars and chrysalids. Somehow or another, these immature stages managed to survive our extended frost, when the mercury dipped to 22 degrees.
I told butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, about the egg-laying butterfly. Not so coincidentally, he was searching for adult butterflies in Vacaville today (temperature, 70 degrees), but didn't see any.
Shapiro, who monitors the butterflies of Central California and posts information on his website, sounded the alarm about the comeback of these spectacular orange-red butterflies several ago. It was in September 2009 that he excitedly announced the re-appearance of the Gulf Frit after its four-decade absence in the Sacramento metropolitan area, and its three-decade absence in the Davis area.
The larvae or caterpillars of the Agraulis vanillae feed on the leaves of the passion flower vine; they eat "many but not all species of the genus Passiflora," Shapiro says. "There are no native members of this genus in the state of California, but several are widely cultivated in gardens."
It's a tropical and subtropical butterfly with a range that extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina. No one knows exactly when the first Gulf Frit first arrived in California, but "it was already in the San Diego area by about 1875," Shapiro said. It was first recorded in the San Francisco Bay Area around 1908.
The showy butterfly colonized both south Sacramento and the Winding Way/Auburn Boulevard area in the 1960s but by 1971 it "apparently became extinct or nearly so," recalled Shapiro, a Davis resident since 1971.
Now we know that at least some Gulf Frits survived the freezing temperatures--just when a setback threatened the comeback.
Gulf Fritillary butterfly laying an egg on Christmas Day in west Vacaville. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary spreading her wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)