Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Gulf Frittilary and the Cycle of Life

Gulf Frittilary Butterfly on Lantana--the underwing markings shine like mother-of-pearl.
This summer brought more Gulf Frittilary butterflies than we've ever seen in our Texas Hill Country yard.  The conditions were right--a cool summer, 90's instead of 110, and our host-plant native passion vines were hardy from spring rains.

The vines have been ragged all summer as Gulf Frittilary caterpillars feasted.
The caterpillar's spiny projections may provide protection from being eaten by birds.

The caterpillars grow fast, moulting several times before achieving full growth.  Then they attach to a structure (preferably in a shady spot), curl upward into a J position, and harden into a pupa.  

Pupa in process of formation. 

Gulf Frittilary pupas look a bit like a cross between a dead leaf and a bird dropping--a good disguise from hungry birds.

In two weeks, the butterfly will emerge from the hardened shell and the cycle will spin again.

 Gulf Frittilary Butterfly on Pride of Barbados.
If you'd like to see Gulf Frittilaries in your yard, plant a native passionvine like the Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) and wait.  They'll find you.
Copyright 2009-2012 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.


  1. Beautiful pictures! I planted this vine during the drought and had no butterflies the first year. This year has definitely made up for it. We have about 20 chrysalis around the vine. I'm now addicted to passionflower vines:)

  2. I've had Gulf Fritillaries by the score in my garden this summer. It's been wonderful. Great pictures!

  3. Wonderful photos Kathleen. We've had lots of Gulf Fritillaries here this year, but no caterpillars. I see I'm going to have to add passion flower vine to the garden :-)

  4. Hi Kathleen,
    Absolutely stunning pictures!
    Take care, and have a good one,

  5. I don't know about the birds but I've always found those caterpillars pretty dadgummed daunting to observe. Such a fierce looking starting point for the delicately floating butterflies they are to become. I'm convinced there are lessons in there somewhere.

    As fun as the frittilaries are to watch in action, I'm quite captivated by your wonderful photos so I can simply sit and drink my own fill, visually. Thanks for these!


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