Gulf Fritillary – Agraulis vanillae
Gulf Fritillary butterflies are orange with black spots. The underside of their wings are covered with orange scales with large patches of silver scales.
Gulf Fritillary butterflies are found in the lower half of the United States.
The host plant for this species is passionvine; Passiflora species. Not all passionvine species are edible for Gulf Fritillary caterpillars. Some species are poisonous, especially the bright red Passiflora manicata. The burgundy flowering Lady Margaret passionvine is a host plant.
Eggs are laid singly on or off the plant. Upon hatching, the caterpillar eats its egg shell and turns to eat (or find and eat) passionvine. Eggs are yellow when freshly laid and turn a rusty color before they hatch.
Caterpillars are orange with black spikes. Sometimes they will have gray stripes down their sides. The spikes cannot harm anything. Other caterpillars that resemble Gulf Fritillary caterpillars are the Variegated Fritillary which also hosts upon passionvine. Where Gulf Fritillary caterpillars are all orange with possible gray long stripes, Variegated Fritillary caterpillars have white patches on their bodies. Polka-dot Moth caterpillars closely resemble Gulf Fritillary caterpillars. Polka-dot Moth caterpillars have longer, softer ‘hair’, growing in clusters. They host primarily on oleander plants and never host on passionvine.
Caterpillars molt (crawl out of their old cuticle/skin) four times before they J to pupate. Because a caterpillars’ cuticle doesn’t grow, it can only stretch to a certain point before it is essential for the caterpillar to shed/molt its old cuticle. After molting, its new spikes are blond until they dry black. It is not unusual for a caterpillar to crawl off its host plant to molt.
When the caterpillar is ready to pupate, it makes a silk mat and in the silk mat, makes a little silk button. They attach their anal prolegs to the silk button and drop into a J shape. The next day, the caterpillar pupates into a chrysalis.
Adult butterflies emerge from the chrysalis, in the middle of the summer, about 9 days after pupating.
Males have brighter orange colored wings than females. Female wings are a duller orange color than male wings.
Male adult butterflies actively court females by flying over and around them. If a female does not wish to pair/mate, she often lands and leans her wings toward the male, which lands beside her to pair, preventing him from pairing with her.