Posts Tagged: gulf fritillaries
As we near the end of celebrating National Pollinator Week, June 16-22, look around and see all the insects foraging on reddish-orange flowers. And occasionally, you might see a reddish-orange insect like the showy Gulf Fritillary butterfly.
Orange, a color commonly associated with autumn, Halloween and Thanksgiving, is also a color that brightens many of our seasons and draws attention to special occasions, including Pollinator Week.
The reddish-orange Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) spreads its wings on a purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). A honey bee (Apis mellifera) and a sunflower bee (Melissodes agilis) forage on a blanket flower (Gallardia). Another bee, the leafcutting bee, Megachile fidelis, and a green bottle fly take a liking to a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia).
Pollinators come in all sizes, shapes, colors and species, from bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles, to flies.
Many folks throughout the country observe National Pollinator Week once a year, but some organizations, such as the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, protect our pollinators and promote pollinator conservation every day.
On their website:
"Pollinators are essential to our environment. The ecological service they provide is necessary for the reproduction of over 85 percent of the world's flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of the world's crop species. The United States alone grows more than one hundred crops that either need or benefit from pollinators, and the economic value of these native pollinators is estimated at $3 billion per year in the U.S. Beyond agriculture, pollinators are keystone species in most terrestrial ecosystems. Fruits and seeds derived from insect pollination are a major part of the diet of approximately 25 percent of all birds, and of mammals ranging from red-backed voles to grizzly bears. In many places, the essential service of pollination is at risk from habitat loss, pesticide use, and introduced disease."
Indeed, pollinators pack a punch.
Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) spreads its wings on a purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A sunflower bee (Melissodes agilis) forages on a blanket flower (Gallardia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A green bottle fly rests on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee (Apis mellifera) on a blanket flower (Gallardia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A leafcutting bee, Megachile fidelis, on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
But they're doing it too well.
The gulf frittillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae) are mating and depositing their eggs on our passion flower vines--as we want them to do--but complete metamorphosis always seems to be incomplete. It's supposed to be egg, larva (caterpillar), chrysalis, adult.
But it's really egg, caterpillar, scrub jay food.
The ever-present scrub jays nest in our trees and swoop down periodically to feast on the caterpillars. Now that they have many mouths to feed, they seem to be even more vigilant.
But today, as luck would have it, we noticed several caterpillars tucked beneath the leaves.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, monitors the Central Valley butterfly population, including the gulf frits. In the early 1970s, scientists considered the reddish-orange showy butterfly extinct in the Sacramento/Yolo area. However, since 2000, it's been making a comeback.
Like many butterfly/plant enthusiasts, we planted the passion flower fine (tropical genus Passiflora) to attract them. We watch the gulf frits nectar on the nearby lantana and lay their tiny golden eggs on the passion flower vine.
Sadly, we're not the only ones watching them.
Gulf fritillary caterpillar munching away on passion flower leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf fritillary caterpillar crawls along a stem. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two stages of caterpillars. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If you're trying to rear some Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on your passion flower vine, but the caterpillars seem to be doing a disappearing act, check the leaves.
You might find some assassin bug nymphs.
They look like little cartoon characters as they prowl the leaves, looking for prey.
That prey includes caterpillars.
These assassin bug nymphs, as identified by Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, are memorable. The nymphs (family Reduviidae and genus Zelus) on our Passiflora have beady eyes, narrow necks, needlelike beaks, long legs, and I swear, a perennial quizzical look. They're beneficial insects when they eat leafhoppers, aphids and other pests. They're good to have in your garden.
They're not so beneficial when they eat other beneficial insects like lacewings.
Or, when they eat the larvae stages of Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae)--if you're trying to rear a few of these beautiful reddish-orange butterflies.
We've seen adult assassin bugs grab spotted cucumber beetles, inject a lethal saliva, and then suck their bodily fluids with their long feeding tube (rostrum).
We haven't seen one actually prey on a Gulf Frit caterpillar, though.
Assassin bug nymph on the prowl. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Assassin bug nymphs crowd a leaf of a passion flower vine. Note the yellow Gulf Fritillary eggs on the leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is the prey they're seeking. This is a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
In the bug world, we're all grateful for the people who study insects, monitor them, and share information to impart scientific data and help save declining species.
Take butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of ecology and evolution at the University of California, Davis (of Art's Butterfly World).
How he does it, we'll never know, but he has monitored butterflies in the area for more than three decades and knows when a population is declining or increasing.
On a trip to Vacaville on Nov. 12, Shapiro discovered six gulf fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) in gardens on Buck Avenue, and one at the base of Gates Canyon (that's only the second he's seen; the first he saw in May of 1984).
That's great news!
"I suspect the colony has expanded into the upscale hillside neighborhood off Foothill but had no time to go looking," Shapiro commented.
Meanwhile, he says, there are fewer gulf frits in Sacramento this year than in the last two years.
The gulf frit is one of the showiest butterflies in California. The bright orange-red butterfly, with a wingspan that can reach four inches, was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908. Shapiro says it became established there only in the 1950s.
The last time we saw gulf frits in Vacaville was a couple of months ago, on Sept. 14. They were all over a passionflower vine (Passiflora)--the adults, the pupae, the larvae and the eggs--in a Buck Avenue garden. Later we saw several nectaring lantana.
Now they appear to be expanding their territory in Vacaville.
We all ought to be attracting them! The larval hosts include passionflower vines, such as the maypop (Passiflora incarnata), blue passionflower (P. caerulea), and corky-stemmed passionflower (P. suberosa). As an adult, the gulf frit nectars on such plants as lantana (Lantana camara), tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), pentas (Pentas lanceolata), drummond phlox (Phlox drummondi) and something called "tread softly" (Cnidosculous stimulosus).
Gulf fritillary nectaring a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Mating gulf frits. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf frit caterpillar munching on passionflower leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)