One point about insect wedding photography is that you don't need an invitation to attend. You just have to keep your distance and not disturb the bridal couple. No sudden movements. No stressful impatience. And no camera flash, please.
It helps, though, if you grow the host plant so a bride and a groom will show up. In this case, we grew passionflower vine (Passiflora), the host plant of the Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae).
One morning we saw a butterfly eclose from her chrysalis. Wedding Day! Within minutes, a male suitor arrived.
They became a couple.
Then unexpected guests arrived...a hungry caterpillar munching on the leaves and a second prospective suitor (PS) (rejected) and a third PS (rejected) and a fourth PS (rejected).
PS, leave them alone!
When the "ceremony" ended, the couple simply left. One sipped nectar from the nearby Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola. The other flew over the fence.
Soon we'll have more eggs, more caterpillars, more chrysalids, and more adults.
Life is like that when you're growing Passiflora and hoping for a Wedding Day.
Interviewer: "Hey, Gulf Fritillary! What happened to you? Something take a chunk out of your wings?"
Miss Gulf Frit: "I dunno. I was just fluttering around the passionflower vine and something grabbed me."
Interviewer: "Do you have any idea what happened?"
Miss Gulf Frit: "Sorry, no. It happened so fast but I managed to escape. A miss is as good as a mile, right?
Interviewer (turning to praying mantis): "Ms. Mantis, do you have any idea what happened here?"
Ms. Mantis: "What? You talking to me? You talking to me?"
Interviewer: "Yes, you're the only other one in the passionflower patch."
Ms. Mantis (smiling): "It wasn't me, y'hear. It wasn't me! Okay, well, maybe it was me. I was hungry. I'm still hungry. I missed!"
Interviewer: "Well, a miss is as good as a smile."
If you have a passionflower vine (Passiflora), you probably have cats.
No, not the four-legged ones that meow, chase mice or cavort with catnip.
These 'cats or caterpillars are part of the life cycle of the Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae) and Passiflora is their host plant.
Watch for the chewed leaves, the frass (poo) and the chrysalids.
Expect a cat-tastrophe when predators like the California scrub jays, European paper wasps, and praying mantids appear and the 'cats disappear.
The circle of life...
You know the drill, lay 'em on the tendrils.
But Gulf Fritillary butterflies, Agraulis vanillae, don't always lay their eggs on the tendrils of their host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora) although textbooks may indicate that.
We've seen Gulf Frits lay eggs on and under the Passiflora leaves, on the stems, on the blossoms, and on nearby fence posts and screen doors.
Hey, Gulf Frits, are you trying to tell us something? Don't you like the accommodations?
But the other day, we saw a Gulf Frit executing acrobatic moves to deposit an egg on a tendril. A little breakdancing, Lindy hopping, pole-climbing, scooting, rolling, hooping and juggling--and she's done.
The egg is tiny, bright yellow and pinpoint in size. It will probably hatch, but the larva or caterpillar may not make it.
Currently we have several California scrub jays enjoying an all-you-can-eat caterpillar buffet every morning. They sit on the fence, swoop down, grab a 'cat, and look for more.
There's always food in a pollinator garden. A Cooper's hawk that hangs out in the birdbath knows that, too.
It's early morning.
A newly eclosed Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, perches alone in the center of a lavender bed in Vacaville, Calif. It's too early for the honey bees.
This Gulf Frit probably eclosed at dusk yesterday and then flew several yards from the host plant, Passiflora, to the lavender bed.
As the sun warms her wings, she unfolds them gingerly. As honey bees arrive, buzzing all around her, she moves a few feet.
Eventually she flutters away as more honey bees arrive, a hummingbird hovers over an agave, and California scrub jays chatter.
Just another day in the Life of a Butterfly and another opportunity to showcase this glorious orange-reddish butterfly with silver-spangled underwings.
"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," writes butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, on his research website. He's been monitoring butterfly populations in the Central Valley since 1972. "It can be quite common in the East and South Bay--particularly in Berkeley-- nd 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! In the Bay Area, this species can be seen flying any day of the year, if it is warm and sunny enough.
Yes, flying throughout much of the year. We've seen a Gulf Frit laying eggs on Christmas Day. A gift unlike any other. Early mornings are good, too.