Posts Tagged: Agraulis vanillae
Two's company. Three's a crowd?
Sometimes we wish it were half a dozen.
Last July we were admiring two newly emerged Gulf Fritillary butterflies on Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) when a Western Tiger Swallowtail fluttered down, seemingly out of nowhere, to occupy the same sunflower as one Gulf Frit.
The Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) and the Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) eyed each other for a few seconds. Then in the way of the West ("This town isn't big enough for the both of us") the tiger spread its wings and took off.
A Western Tiger Swallowtail readies for a landing on the same flower occupied by a Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two's company. Three's a crowd? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Nobody really bats an eye when a chicken lays an egg. That's what we expect them to do.
But when a butterfly lays an egg, that's a different story--especially in December.
Gulf Fritillary butterflies or passion butterflies (Agraulis vanillae) head for the nearest Passiflora, their host plant, and lay their eggs, tiny little yellow eggs about the size of a sesame seed.
It's done so quietly and so effortlessly--and it's such a miracle--that you expect to hear Vivaldi's Spring or the sound of trumpets or loud applause or a standing ovation. Something.
But no, the female butterfly goes about her business of laying eggs, deftly avoiding mate-seeking males that attempt to draw her attention.
The egg will hatch into a larva or caterpillar, and the caterpillar will morph into a munching machine, devouring every leaf in sight. Then comes the chrysalis, and an adult butterfly emerges.
That itself, in the dead of winter, warrants Vivaldi's Spring!
A Gulf Fritillary laying an egg in the dead of winter on a passionflower leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A female Gulf Fritillary, after laying an egg, soaks up some sunshine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
How can you hate a caterpillar and love a butterfly?
Some gardeners so love their passionflower vine (Passiflora) that they squirm at the thought of a caterpillar munching it down to nothing.
But that's what caterpillars do. The Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) lays its eggs on its host plant, the passionflower vine, the eggs develop into larvae or caterpillars, and the caterpillars into Gulf Frits.
Our passionflower vine--which we planted specifically for the Gulf Frits--is now a skeleton. The caterpillars ate all the leaves, the flowers and the stems. What was once a flourishing green plant looks like a criss-cross of brown sticks.
Comedian George Carlin supposedly said "The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity."
And architect-author-designer-inventor Richard Buckminster Fuller observed: "There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly."
And someone named John Grey offered this poetic comment:
"And what's a butterfly? At best,
He's but a caterpillar, at rest."
So, it is. Take a look at the Gulf Frit caterpillar and then check out the Gulf Frit butterfly.
Yes, a hungry caterpillar turned into a magnificent butterfly.
How can you hate a caterpillar?
A very hungry Gulf Fritillary caterpillar working over the Passiflora. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
From a very hungry caterpillar to a magnificent butterfly. This Gulf Fritillary is nectaring on cosmos. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A lady beetle, aka ladybug, sharing stories with Gulf Fritillary caterpillars?
Well, not likely.
The lady beetle (family Coccinellidae) preys mainly on aphids--it can eat about 50 aphids a day or some 5000 aphids in its lifetime. But it will devour other soft-bodied insects, including mites, scales, mealybugs, leafhoppers, and butterfly eggs and larvae (caterpillars). Butterfly caterpillars move quite slowly; they are not Indy 500 speedsters.
We spotted a lady beetle early this morning on one of our passionflower (Passiflora) seed pods, surrounded by hungry Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) caterpillars. It was somewhat like a two-peas-in-a-pod scene, but without the peas. Here were two insect species ON a pod, and both sharing the same warning color: red.
The Gulf Fritillary caterpillars are hungry. Very hungry. They've stripped the passionflower vine of all its leaves and are now eating the stems and seed pods. Actually, we planted the passionflower vine for them. But are they THAT hungry? They are. They're famished. And there are literally hundreds of them.
Sometimes we think that all of the Gulf Frit butterflies west of Mississippi are gravitating toward the plant to lay their eggs. The vine cannot support that many hungry caterpillars, despite predation by scrub jays and European paper wasps.
The lady beetle, we assume is not only eating the tiny yellow eggs of the Gulf Frit, but the tiniest of the tiny larvae. It's an exquisite buffet of tasty treats with high nutritional value.
And easy pickings.
Lady beetle, aka ladybug, with its new "friends"--Gulf Fritillary caterpillars. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary caterpillars move around the lady beetle, aka ladybug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A touching moment. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary caterpillars will grow up to look like this. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
We have strippers.
Not anything to do with that thriving business known as "The Strip Club" in Las Vegas.
The strippers we have are Gulf Fritillary caterpillars, which can skeletonize their host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora) faster than you can sing "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (Mary Poppins movie) forward and backwards ("Dociousaliexpilisticfragicalirupes").
Seems as if one minute the plant is bursting with shoots, tendrils, leaves, flowers and stems, and the next minute, nothing but lots of little larvae.
But we like it that way. The tiny reddish orange caterpillars will turn into glorious reddish orange butterflies, Agraulis vanillae. It's a tropical and subtropical butterfly with a range that extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina, according to butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, who has monitored scores of butterfly species in the Central Valley for more than four decades. (See his website.)
You probably remember the story. Back in September of 2009, the professor excitedly announced the re-appearance of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly in the Sacramento metropolitan area after a four-decade absence, and in the Davis area after a 30-year absence.
The showy butterfly colonized both south Sacramento and the Winding Way/Auburn Boulevard area in the 1960s but by 1971 "apparently became extinct or nearly so," recalled Shapiro, who moved to the Davis area in 1971.
True, some gardeners don't like to see their plants reduced to a skeleton, something they think should appear only on Halloween night.
But to us--and many others--passionflower vines are just food for the caterpillars. To be a butterfly, you first must be a caterpillar.
Two Gulf Fritillary caterpillars meet on a stem after having munched all the leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A trio of hungry Gulf Frit caterpillars. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Frit catepillar does an end run. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two Gulf Fritillaries ready to mate. Note the decimated leaves around them. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)