Posts Tagged: Agraulis vanillae
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)
When you're trying to rear Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae), expect the expected: predators.
It doesn't take long for European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) to find the butterfly's host plant, the passionflower vine (Passsiflora) and prey. We've seen the wasps, with their long hind legs dangling, follow the butterflies as they flit from tendrils to leaves to lay their eggs. The wasps grab the tiny yellow eggs and squirming caterpillars and rip into chrysalids.
They'll attack adult butterflies, too, especially the crippled ones.
Then off they fly with bits of food--protein--for their colony. Wasps are carnivores (unlike their cousins, the honey bees, which are vegetarians).
The European paper wasp, so named because of its European origin, is relatively new to the United States. Scientists tell us that the P. dominula was not recorded in North America until 1981. P. dominula was first discovered in the United States in the late 1970s near Boston, Mass. This invasive species has since spread rapidly across the country. Entomologists worry that it is displacing the native species of Polistes wasps.
Have you ever seen these wasps attack other insects? Butterflies?
Last Sunday we were watching a crippled butterfly (no doubt crippled by a predator such as a bird or praying mantis) clinging to a Passiflora leaf as males tried unsuccessfully to mate with her. Eventually, the males all fluttered away and a European paper wasp patrolling the area zeroed in for the attack.
Like a hungry lion singling out a crippled gazelle from a stampeding herd, the European paper wasp knew just what to do.
European paper wasp targets a crippled Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A European paper wasp attacks a crippled Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The injured abdomen of the Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatle Garvey)
European paper wasp grips the Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
"Wow! Oh, wow!"
That's what people usually say when they encounter dozens of reddish-orange butterflies at a home on the 1500 block of Claremont Drive in Davis, Calif. The home is behind the Nugget Market on East Covell Boulevard, but the real gold mine, the mother lode, is that Claremont Drive fenceline of passionflower vines.
The passionflower vine (Passiflora) is the host plant for the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) of the family Nymphalidae and subfamily Heliconiinae. Homeowner Christina Cogdell, professor of architectural and design history in the UC Davis Department of Design, planted the vine several years ago.
Today it's a butterfly fandango.
You'll see butterflies mating. You'll see females laying tiny yellow eggs on the tendrils and leaves. You'll see caterpillars munching on the leaves. You'll see chrysalids dangling from the thin green stems. And then--voila!--newly emerged adults ready to start the life cycle all over again.
Cogdell generously donated some of her caterpillars for a Bohart Museum of Entomology open house last year. The 'cats were a big hit.
Noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis who monitors the butterfly populations of Central California and posts the information on his website, has long admired the established population on Claremont Drive, as has naturalist Greg Kareofelas, a volunteer at the Bohart Museum and an avid butterfly aficionado.
Shapiro will tell you that the Gulf Frits first appeared in California in the 1870s in the vicinity of San Diego. In the early 1970s, they were considered extinct in the Sacramento-Davis area, but began making a comeback in 2000. The showy butterfly “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.”
Yes, recolonizing and doing well.
Today Cogdell pointed out a newly emerged Gulf Frit hanging onto its empty chrysalid. Female? Probably. We watched the Grand Little Lady unfold her wings and greet a number of ruggedly handsome males (and some raggedly handsome males, the work of predators). Then she took off, trailed by a fluttering line of males.
Christina Cogdell's Claremont home (note the alliteration!) will soon be for sale (for inquiring minds or lepitopterists who want to know, she's listed it with Claire Black-Slotton, First Street Realty). The professor's home is unique in that it's an architecturally unique urban "farm" home but it's also unique in that it comes complete with a treasure trove of butterflies. A veritable lepidopterist landmark.
If holidays ads can say "Batteries not included," maybe this home listing should say "Butterflies included."
We thought of that today as 50 butterflies gracefully fluttered around us.
Wow! Oh, wow!
A newly emerged Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bohart Museum volunteer Greg Kareofelas cradles the newly emerged Gulf Frit. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Newly emerged Gulf Frit flashing its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A suitor (left) arrives on the scene. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two's company, three's a crowd? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)