GULF FRITILLARY BUTTERFLY

butterfly on coneflower1-1722

 

The Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) ranges in the Southern United States, into Mexico, Central America, the West Indies, and South America. It can be seen year-round in every county of Florida.

 

BEHAVIOR

By observation, I noticed that they tend to run in packs of two or three butterflies. It is unique in that it collects pollen in its proboscis which is absorbed through the walls of the proboscis.

 

APPEARANCE

A medium-sized butterfly with elongated forewings, generally 2.5 to 3.2 inches in size. It is orange with black streaks. The forewing has several black-ringed white spots near the upper edge. The hindwing has black chaining along the bottom edge. The undersides of the wings are orange and brown with long silvery-white spots. The female is larger, her coloring more subdued, and marked with more black streaks than the male.

 

Gulf Fritillary butterfly

 

Gulf fritillary butterfly

 

LIFE CYCLE

Small, round, yellow eggs are laid one-at-a-time on the host plant or nearby.

The bright orange caterpillar with black spines eats the egg casing after hatching and stays in the larval stage for 2 to 3 weeks.

Gulf Fritillary caterpillar
Photo by Cee

 

The chrysalis resembles a curled, dead leaf for 5 to 10 days.

The adult butterfly lives for 4 to 6 weeks if the weather is warm.

Oddly, they do not always choose plants as a larval host. I saw them, on two different occasions, lay eggs on my wooden porch posts on the side facing out into the sun.

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly eggs-1202

 

WHAT TO PLANT FOR THE GULF FRITILLARY

Host plants — various passionflower vines including Maypop (P. incarnate), Yellow Passionflower (P. lutea), Corky-stemmed passionflower (P. suberosa), Blue Passionflower (P. caerulea), and Many-flowered Passionflower (P. multiflora). The passionflowers are amazingly very different – whites, reds, purples, etc. – in the 500 species of the family Passifloraceae.

 

Close-up of Maypop Purple Passionflower.
Close-up of Maypop Purple Passionflower
Photo by Cee

Nectar plants – Aster (Asteraceae), Butterfly Bush (Buddleja), Lantana (Verbenaceae), Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia), Passionflower vines (Passiflora), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Thistle (Verbenaceae), Verbena (Verbenaceae) and Zinnia (Zinnia Elegans).

 

ZEBRA LONGWING BUTTERFLY

Zebra Longwing butterfly on firebush2-1710

The Zebra Longwing (Zebra Helaconian) butterfly ranges through North, Central and South America. In the U.S., they range through the southeastern states and as far west as Texas. In central and southern Florida, they can be seen all year.

At the Southern Rural Route, 2013 was the Year of the Zebra Longwing. It is the official butterfly of the State of Florida (1996) but I have no recollection of seeing them on our property in recent years, if ever. I think they came this year because I had everything they needed: both host and nectar plants.
The host plants were two different passion flower vines given to me by Susan at the Mandarin Garden Club which I had planted in partial shade. I have two of their favorite nectar plants – Firebush and Firespike but neither is blooming at this time. Attracted to red flowers, the Zebras seem delighted with an orange Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia) I am growing for the first time. The seeds came from my friend, Karen, another beekeeper. I have four separate plants, two each at the corners of two of the garages. The two nearest my front door are in full sun and healthier than the two that are more shaded (the leaves of these two whither and turn dark). The plants don’t seem to need staking and, at 6 feet tall, are well on their way to Jack and the Beanstalk status. I have seen as many as 6 Zebra Longwings on them at one time.
Two Zebra Longwing at top of Mexican Sunflower bush
Two Zebra Longwing at top of Mexican Sunflower bush

 

HABITAT

They choose warm, damp tropical areas, often in hammocks and thickets.

At night, groups of Zebras roost on tree limbs. They have a social order when roosting; the oldest butterflies get first choice of the best spots. They always return to the same roosting spots.

 

APPEARANCE

The Zebra Longwing has long, narrow wings, black and marked with pale yellow-white zebra-like stripes and a long, black antennae. The wing span is from 2-3/4 to 4 inches.

 

 

LIFE CYCLE

The adult female lays 5 to 15 round, white eggs, the size of a pin head, on leaves of the passionflower vine.

Their caterpillar is white with black polka dots and black spikes. It feeds on the passionflower to acquire toxins to make itself distasteful to predators. The branching black spikes of the caterpillar also make it difficult for predators to swallow them but are harmless to humans.

Zebra Longwing caterpillar
Photo by Cee

 

The chrysalis attaches itself to a leaf or branch with a silken string. It looks like many other chrysalis – like a brown, curled, dead leaf. The chrysalis becomes almost transparent when it is about to split open and the butterfly can be seen inside. This stage lasts from 10 to 14 days.

As the adult butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, it hangs upside down and pumps blood into its four wings, inflating them. Then it waits for its wings to dry.

A zebra longwing butterfly is slow and calm in flight. When alarmed, they wiggle their bodies to make a creaking sound.

They are the only butterflies known to eat pollen and they have a long lifespan of about six months. If denied pollen, they live a more typical lifespan of a month.

 

WHAT TO PLANT FOR THE ZEBRA LONGWING

Host Plants – Corkystem passionflower, (Passiflora suberosa, Purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), Yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea) as well as several other passionflower vines.

Nectar Plants – Butterfly bush (Buddleja), Lantana (Lantana camera), Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia), Milkweed (Asclepias), Passionflower (Passiflora), Salvia (Salvia officinalis), Shepherd’s or Spanish needle (Bidens Pilosa) a perennial wildflower also favored by honey bees, and Tall Verbena (Verbena bonariensis).

 

MONARCH BUTTERFLY

 

Butterfly monarch closeup-1006

 

The Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterfly really gets around. Its range includes North and South America, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, the oceanic islands of the Pacific, and Western Europe. The milkweed they eat makes them poisonous and their orange coloring is a warning to predators that they are poisonous.

In 2012, I started working towards acquiring plants that appeal to butterflies rather than just me. Most of them like butterfly bush, cosmos, and lantana. My most successful acquisition, from my good friend, Cecelia, was a handful of small, common milkweed plants. Milkweeds are both host and nectar plants for monarchs.

I planted all of them in the same hole right under my bedroom window and watched it grow up to my waist. It was in full sun and attracted dozens of Monarch butterflies who laid their eggs under the leaves. The eggs became caterpillars but I never saw what happened to the adult caterpillars. I never saw the chrysalis. I had LOTS of Monarch butterflies and for me, it became the Year of the Monarch.

This year, I really messed up. I didn’t like the idea of weeding in the flower bed with my various body parts next to caterpillars. Let’s face it, a worm is a worm regardless of what kind of beautiful butterfly it may become. So I moved the plant to the front of the property. It promptly died. I then planted seeds I had saved. They never grew more than a foot in height. It was just too shady along the fence.

In 2014, I will plant them in full sun but, again, not in one of my flower beds where I work. On the subject of butterfly bush, I can’t get them to live more than one season. Any suggestions?

 

HABITAT

Open fields and meadows where milkweed is found.

 

APPEARANCE

The Monarch is bright orange with black borders, black veins and white spots in the black borders. The female has thicker black veins which makes her appear darker; the male has a swollen pouch on both hind wings. Wing span is 3 to almost 5 inches.

 

Photo by Cee.

LIFE CYCLE

Mating is a spring time affair before they begin their migration from where they overwintered. After migration, the female will lay one egg at a time on milkweed  plants over a two to five-week period for a total of 300-500 eggs for the season.

Female Monarch laying eggs.
Female Monarch laying eggs.

 

White Monarch eggs on back of milkweed leaf
White Monarch eggs on back of milkweed leaf
Photo by Cee

After four days, the eggs hatch and the monarch caterpillar eats the milkweed for two weeks. It goes through five developmental phases during which the caterpillar’s appearance changes slightly. It molts after each phase.

 

Baby Monarch caterpillar
Baby Monarch caterpillar

 

Mature Monarch Caterpillar
Mature Monarch Caterpillar

 

In the chrysalis stage, the caterpillar spins a silk pad on the back of a leaf or on a stem. It resembles a “J.”

 

Monarch caterpillars in J formation (inside a habitat)
Monarch caterpillars in J formation (inside a habitat)

 

Chrysalis with gold details beginning to darken
Chrysalis with gold details beginning to darken

 

Chrysalis continues to darken.
Chrysalis continues to darken.

 

Chrysalis that will hatch soon
Chrysalis that will hatch soon
Photo by Cee

 

Monarch next to chrysalis from which it hatched. It must wait 2 or more hours before it can fly. At this stage, it is very vulnerable.
Monarch next to chrysalis from which it hatched. It must wait 2 or more hours before it can fly. At this stage, it is very vulnerable.
Photo by Meta.

 

The adult butterfly lives for 2 to 6 weeks. The last generation of adult butterflies that is born in September and October, however, does not die. It migrates to Mexico or California where it will live for 6 to 8 months until the process starts all over.

 

WHAT TO PLANT FOR THE MONARCH BUTTERFLY

Host Plants – Milkweed (Asclepias).

Nectar Plants — Agastache ‘Ava,’ Bottlebrush (Callistemon spp.), Butterfly Bush (Buddleja), Brazilian Verbena (Verbena brasiliensis), Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia), Milkweed (Asclepias), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and Zinnia (Zinnia Elegans).

 

CONSERVATION STATUS

Monarchs are considered threatened. Grow milkweed!

DRAGONFLIES

The following two dragonflies posed long enough for me to capture their beauty.

 

dragonfly blue side-1746

 

dragonfly blue front-1743

 

green dragonfly - Erythemis simplicicollis
Erythemis simplicicollis

 

Erythemis simplicicollis
Erythemis simplicicollis

COME GET MY CATERPILLARS

Monarch Caterpillar

The downside to writing a blog is that your circle of people – the local ones – end up knowing things about you that, later on, you really wish they didn’t know.  My quest to build a butterfly habitat became one of those innocent subjects the locals knew about that got me in a world of trouble.

One of my people sent me this email: “Do you have enough milkweed that you could take some of the small caterpillars from here, that are out of plant food, to your plants? They need to find food today, I would think.”

I’m fairly certain that I mentioned in my milkweed post that while I was watching over my monarch caterpillars, I was not, in any way, touching them because they are worms. Did she miss that part of the post? Should I have written it in all capital letters? I DON’T DO WORMS.

Needless to say, my eyeballs were bouncing off my computer monitor as I read that she wanted me to come get her caterpillars and transport them home in my car. Things happen to me. Her email is proof positive that I can’t even stay home, minding my own business, and stay out of trouble. So, obviously, I know better than to put a container of caterpillars in my car and then head home at 45 miles per hour. There is no question in my mind that the little butter tub of caterpillars would fall victim to spontaneous combustion and blow the lid off sending caterpillars flying through the air. I’d wind up with worms crawling all over my body. Worms that have black horns at both ends of their body. It was all I could do to suppress a heart-stopping scream just thinking about it.

Right behind that thought was the question “Did her caterpillars already eat her milkweed to the ground? Can that happen?” I have less than a handful of caterpillars at any given time. They eat all the aphids and the tops out of the milkweed but I still have a four-foot bush with leaves. If her caterpillars have gnawed her milkweed to the ground, then she must have a serious infestation. Granted, the infestation will one day be monarch butterflies, but, in the meantime, they are worms. Again, I shuddered at the thought of sitting in the driver’s seat with hundreds of worms all over my body.

Right behind that thought was the notion that I had to deal with this today because she believed her caterpillars were on the verge of imminent starvation.

Emails flew back and forth. I could tell she was fixated on finding food for her caterpillars. Shot down by my worm aversion, she turned to the telephone to find a nursery who still had milkweed this late in the season.

Meanwhile, thunder rolled through the skies, lightning bolted toward the ground and heavy rain was on its way. I did not want her out on the roads as an accident-waiting-to-happen so I called. “This is why we go to Bible studies, Sunday school and church. To remind us to turn our concerns over to God. Now give those caterpillars to God and let Him worry about them.”

I can almost promise you that she ignored my suggestion. I can also promise you that when you do something slightly crazy, downright crazy, or eye-poppingly crazy and you involve me in it or tell me about it, I’m going to write about you. You have been warned.