Posts Tagged: Agraulis vanillae
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)
We probably won't see the Gulf Fritilliary (Agraulis vanillae) laying eggs any more this year on our passion flower vine.
Cool weather has set in, the rains are coming, and the butterfly season is ending.
But just for a little while, the Gulf Frit obliged us with its shadow. It fluttered over our passion flower vine and then soared over a fence, just ahead of its shadow.
Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says the Gulf Frit was introduced into southern California in the 19th century, and was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908. Sacramento area residents saw a lot of it in the 1960s, but not in the 1970s, '80s and '90s. It disappeared.
But, since 2009, it's been making a comeback.
And leaving behind its shadow...
Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, casts a shadow. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If you're passionate about Passiflora (passion flower vine), you're probably passionate about those Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae).
It's November with temperatures in the unseasonal mid-80s, and the butterflies are laying eggs like there's no tomorrow.
From eggs to larvae to chrysalises to adults--what a sight to see.
We watched a caterpillar munch leaves as an ant scooted down to investigate. Then a magnificent adult, its wings fresh and showing no visible signs of predatory bites, fluttered down right in front of us.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, calls these butterflies a "dazzling bit of the New World Tropics."
Indeed they are. Orange never looked so good.
Ant investigates a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, spreads its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Whew! That was close!
When you see a butterfly with a gaping hole in its wingspan, you wonder what predator tried to grab it. A praying mantis? A bird? A crab spider or jumping spider? A playful cat or dog?
Whatever tried to grab it, it missed.
That brings to mind the proverbial saying, "A miss is as good as a mile," dating back to the 18th century. It first appeared in The American Museum, Volume 3, 1788.
The author wasn't talking about a Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) missing a chunk of its wing, but the meaning is the same: a miss, whether as narrow as a strand of hair or as wide as the AT&T ballpark (where the San Francisco Giants clinched their National League championship tonight!), is still a miss.
This particular Gulf Fritillary landed on its host plant, a passion flower vine (Passiflora) last Sunday and then fluttered off, only to be replaced by scores of others. They were laying eggs on the plant.
One Gulf Frit touched down on the bright red blossom of the triangular-leafed Passiflora manicata, variety Linda Escobar. Its wingspan? Perfect.
It may not be tomorrow, though.
Gulf Fritillary butterfly showing signs of a predatory miss. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary on the blossom of a passion flower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The showy reddish-orange butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) is making a comeback in the Sacramento-Davis area. In the early 1970s, it was considered extinct in that area.
“It first appeared in the vicinity of San Diego in the 1870s,” says noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, and a member of the UC Davis Center for Population Biology. “It spread through Southern California in urban settings and was first recorded in the Bay Area about 1908. It became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since.”
Shapiro says it “apparently bred in the Sacramento area and possibly in Davis in the 1960s, becoming extinct in the early 1970s, then recolonizing again throughout the area since 2000.”
Shapiro describes the Gulf Fritillary as “one of the most widespread weedy butterflies in the Americas." However, he points out, it has no “native host plant in California."
Those who want to attract the Gulf Frit can do so by planting its host plant, passion flower vine (tropical genus Passiflora). The butterflies lay their eggs on the plant and voila! Leaf-munching caterpillars. Shapiro points out that the Gulf Frit caterpillars "will not eat all of the Passiflora in cultivation in California." They can be particular.
One of the Gulf Frit's favorite nectar sources is lantana (genus Lantana, family Verbenaceae.)
The Gulf Frit "has no diapause and is subject to killing out by hard freezes; in my experience, 22F is completely lethal to all stages," Shapiro says. "It has been bred for release at weddings, garden parties and the like, but there is no direct evidence linking its return in this region to such activities. If gardeners find it a pest on their Passifloras it is easily controlled by hand-picking or BT (Dipel), but it seems, to judge by my email, that most people are thrilled and delighted to have it in the garden."
Shapiro and two co-authors recently published a paper in the Journal of Biogeography (J. Biogeog.39: 382-396, 2012) on the pylogeography (geography of molecular-genetic variation) of widespread Western Hemisphere human-associated butterflies. The reearch is the work of Erik Runquist, UC Davs Department of Evolution and Ecology; Matthew Forister of the Department of Biology, University of Nevada; and Shapiro.
"We had suspected the Gulf Frit might be introduced in the United States but the genetics show not only that it is not, but that it is apparently two species--one entirely South American and one North American--but we have made no move to name anything!"
It's interesting that another host specialist butterfly, Cacyreus marshallili, a native of South Africa, is becoming a pest of garden geraniums (Pelargonium) in Europe, where "there are no native Pelargoniums," Shapiro says. "The butterfly (known as the Geranium Bronze) is becoming a real threat to the tradition of having geraniums in window boxes. Some European butterfly folks like its presence--unless they grow geraniums."
The silver-spangled underside of the Gulf Fritillary, shown here nectaring lantana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary shows its familiar colors. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary spreading its wings on lantana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)