Happy Labor Day!
And what an appropriate time to post an image of a Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, depositing an egg!
The females lay their eggs on the tendrils and leaves of the butterfly's host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora) but we've seen them depositing eggs on nearby fences where the vines climb.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, says the Gulf Frit was introduced into southern California in the 19th century, in the vicinity of San Diego in the 1870s. It was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908. "It became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since." Once prevalent in the Sacramento area in the 1960s, it "seems to have died out by the early 1970s," he said. Then in 2009, it began making a comeback in the Sacramento area."
It is a dazzling butterfly, what with its brilliant orange wings and spectacular silver-spangled underwings.
The Gulf Frit, also called the "passion butterfly," is usually quite skittish--except this one wasn't. We captured this image on Labor Day weekend in Vacaville, Calif., with a short macro lens--60mm--mounted on a Nikon D500.
She didn't seem to mind.
It's Thursday afternoon, Aug. 20, and it seems like a good time to run a photo of a Gulf Fritilliary.
Because it just is.
It is a joy to see, especially when joy seems elusive as out-of-control wildfires ravage California.
As butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis says about Agraulis vanillae on his website:
"This dazzling bit of the New World Tropics was introduced into southern California in the 19th Century--we don't know how-- and was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908, though it seems to have become established there only in the 1950s. It can be quite common in the East and South Bay --particularly in Berkeley-- and has been found breeding spontaneously as far inland as Fairfield where, however, it is not established. There are scattered records in the Central Valley and even up to Folsom, perhaps resulting from people breeding the species for amusement or to release at social occasions. According to Hal Michael, who grew up in South Sacramento, this species bred there in abundance on garden Passiflora in the early 1960s. It seems to have died out by the early 1970s, however. Intolerant of hard freezes, it still managed to survive the record cold snap of 1990 that largely exterminated the Buckeye regionally!"
Its host plant: genus Passiflora or passion flower vine.
"In the Bay Area this species can be seen flying any day of the year, if it is warm and sunny enough," says Shapiro, who has been monitoring the butterfly populations of Central California since 1972 and posts the information on his website.
And if it's "warm and sunny enough," and you're growing Mexican sunflower (genus Tithonia rotundifolia), be sure to capture an image of a dazzling Gulf Fritillary nectaring on that equally dazzling blossom.
Both are a joy to see.
Fifty shades of orange—with a touch of silver.
The bridal couple on the pomegranate tree wore orange and silver to celebrate their honeymoon.
The bride may have blushed. I don't know. Did she? Don't all brides blush?
The groom, in true form, looked quite dapper and dashing.
So there they were. The two of them. The blushing bride and the quite dapper-and-dashing groom.
They didn't invite me to their wedding. I was an uninvited guest, the only guest. So I felt obliged to crash their wedding and capture some images.
Just happened to have a camera with a zoom macro lens slung on my shoulder.
Who can resist insect wedding photography? That's about the only wedding photography happening during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This couple? Gulf Fritillaries: Agraulis vanillae. (See UC Davis distinguished professor Art Shapiro's website to learn more about them).
We usually see Gulf Frits on their host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora), where the females lay their eggs. and the cycle of eggs-to-caterpillars-to-chrysalids-to-adults continues.
But something startled this pair and off they fluttered from the passionflower vine to the nearby pomegranate tree.
Ever seen the amazing macro photography of Alex Wild, curator of entomology at the University of Texas, Austin? He holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, where he studied ant taxonomy and evolution with major professor Phil Ward. Wild also writes the incredible blog, Myrmecos: Little Things Matter, and teaches photography with colleagues at BugShot courses. He shoots Canon with an MPE-65mm lens.
On July 5, Alex Wild pinned this tweet:
"I'm pretty sure you didn't ask for this, but here's a gallery of insects having sex."
I'm pretty sure Alex Wild does not mince words.
Meanwhile, check out his "insect wedding photography" images!
Our compact car gathers no reindeer antlers, no Rudoph nose, no Santa hat. Zero, zip, zilch, nada.
Our HOUSE exudes “Merry Christmas!” but our CAR does not.
It chortles “Merry Chrysalis!”
“Merry Chrysalis?” Yes, thanks to an escapee, a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar, that is either Indiana Jones or Indiana Joan.
Our saga begins at high noon, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. We are transporting a pop-up butterfly habitat containing three life stages of Gulf Fritillary butterflies, Agraulis vanillae, to the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology open house themed “Arthropod Husbandry: Raising Insects for Research and Fun.”
Our family rears butterflies, including Gulf Frits, in our pollinator garden in Vacaville. We happily agree to share with the Bohart Museum. Our “roll call” that day: two dozen Gulf Frit ‘cats, one adult that had just eclosed, and one chrysalis hanging on for dear life on the rim of the habitat.
The Bohart open house goes well. The ‘cats feast on the leaves of their host plant, passionflower vine. Visitors hold and photograph the caterpillars and the chrysalis, admire the reddish-orange Gulf Frit butterfly with its silver spangled wings, and ask questions of the presenter, entomology student Andrew Goffinet. He fields questions on butterflies and how to raise them, drawing in visitors ranging from pre-school to senior citizens.
Toward the end of the open house, a parent asks me if I could "possibly" donate the caterpillars and the habitat to an elementary school classroom.
“Sure," I say. "You can have them--the caterpillars and the habitat. One thing though, the net has a tiny hole on the side. You can just tape it over with duct tape and it will be fine.”
We head home, sans Gulf Frits. We have plenty more.
Days crawl by. End of November. Beginning of December. Now it's Christmas Week. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Yesterday Jack Frost gifts us with ice on the car windows. We head out to the car to defrost the windows, in preparation for our dog's daily trip to the park. We open the back door. As we adjust the disheveled dog blanket on the seat, we happen to look up.
Wait, what's that on the top of the rear window? It's beginning to look a lot like….chrysalis?
Yes, a chrysalis. A Gulf Fritillary chrysalis.
Apparently, on the drive from Vacaville to Davis on Nov. 16, an adventuresome ‘cat had squirmed out of the tiny hole, eventually crawled up the back seat, and wriggled up to the window.
Now what? Big mistake. There's no food here! Nothing to munch, nothing to crunch. No passionflower vine. Maybe I'll just hang out.
The ‘cat forms a chrysalis, a very sickly looking chrysalis, the Tiny Tim of all chrysalids.
All I want for chrysalis is…
We'll see what happens.
Meanwhile, have a very merry Christmas--or if you happen to have a chrysalis hanging out on the rear window of your car this holiday season, have a very, merry chrysalis.
It's commonly called a "passion butterfly," but we call it a Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillaea) or Gulf Frit.
A sure sign of autumn:
- A skeletonized passionflower vine (Passiflora)
- A Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) eclosing
- A ravenous caterpillar crawling along a stem, and
- A caterpillar J'ing, about to form a chrysalis.
The orange-reddish butterfly, with its silver-spangled underwings, is a glorious butterfly.
How's the population doing this year?
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis professor of evolution and ecology, who has monitored the butterfly populations of central California for more than four decades and posts his research on Art's Butterfly World, says this year the Gulf Frit population is "spotty; locally abundant but less generally distributed than in recent years."
His 10 field sites stretch from the Sacramento River Delta through the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains to the high desert of the Western Great Basin.
We notice the ups and downs of the Gulf Frit population every year in Vacaville. This spring they were slow to start, Western scrub jays and European paper wasps grabbed what few caterpillars there were. In the summer, the population speeded up. And now caterpillars and chrysalids cover two of our three vines--or what's left of our three vines.
Shaprio says the Gulf Frit was introduced into southern California in the 19th century, in the vicinity of San Diego in the 1870s. It was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908. "It became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since." Once prevalent in the Sacramento area in the 1960s, it "seems to have died out by the early 1970s," he said. Then in 2009, it began making a comeback in the Sacramento area.
Meanwhile, the passionflower vine climbs our fences with reckless abandon, only to be skeletonized by the growing population of Gulf Frits. They eat the leaves, the flowers, the fruit, and then start in on the bark.
More Gulf Frits mate. More eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids and adults appear. The cycle continues until the first frost. The plants die back, and will recover in the spring. A few chrysalids will remain, clinging to the vines like leftover Christmas tree ornaments,
Surprises occur. Several years ago, we saw a Gulf Frit laying an egg on Christmas Day.