Thursday, August 27, 2009

Gulf Fritillary Life Cycle


After saving my money, I was able to buy the Gulf Fritillary’s host plant, Passionvine. I can now raise the caterpillars and watch them transform into butterflies . The passionvine I purchased is Passionvine Inspiration. It has a wonderful aroma. Passionvines do tend to grow without boundaries and pop up in various places in the yard. I’ve had them sprout several feet from the actual plant! Planting them in a pot with a tomato cage for support is a better choice, but they will not grow as large since they are confined to a smaller area.


Most red Passionvines are toxic for caterpillars.  Gulf Fritillaries can mistake them for good host plants and lay eggs on them. When the caterpillars hatch, they soon will die after consuming the toxic leaves.


This Gulf Fritillary quickly discovered my new host plant. Gulf Fritillaries often hang upside down to delicately lay eggs on the tendrils of Passionvines.


The butterfly eggs are so tiny and easy to miss! This Gulf Fritillary egg was laid on the tip of a tendril. When they are first laid, they are bright orange, but before hatching they begin to turn a darker shade.


This Gulf Fritillary caterpillar is newly hatched.


With so much eating it quickly outgrows its exoskeleton and goes through a molting phase which reveals a new exoskeleton . After shedding the old exoskeleton, the caterpillar must wait for hours for it to harden.

molting skin with arrow

gulf fritillary day 4

Now that it’s bigger, the spikes are clearly visible. The spikes look sharp and pointy, but actually they are smooth and can easily be broken. Predators of these caterpillars are easily fooled by the spikes.


These caterpillars keep eating and then shed off their skin again when it becomes to tight.


This big caterpillar is in its fifth instar. An instar is the stage between each molt. When they are this big, not only will that eat the leaves, but also the flowers.

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It has reached its maximum size and is now searching for a place to make a chrysalis.


It found the perfect spot! Look how its starting to turn white. That means it will begin shedding its exoskeleton soon for the last time.


The chrysalis is complete. Doesn’t it resemble a dead leaf? Some chrysalises are slightly twisted to further trick sneaky predators.


Death is sad, but it is part of the natural cycle.


It took about a week for this Gulf Fritillary to emerge. I love the silver on its wings. When the lights hits it, the silver will shimmer.


Ready to be released! This butterfly is fully dry and ready to fly. Soon it will return to lay eggs so I can raise its caterpillars again.

In May, I discovered a Gulf Fritillary egg that had been laid on the wrong host plant. My mom took me to a nursery who owned the correct host plant and we safely deposited it there. Please go to to read the story.

Also check out my book on butterflies!

It includes all about how to raise butterflies, their life cycles, and butterfly gardens/conservatories I have visited. The life cycles of ten butterflies are in my book including the Gulf Fritillary. Happy Butterfly Gardening!

Please purchase my book here to support my work:

book cover

Thursday, August 20, 2009

White Peacock Butterflies Emerge

In this posting I am going to show you pictures of a White Peacock chrysalis that is beginning to change as the butterfly inside develops. You can see pictures of my White Peacock caterpillars and them making chrysalises by going down to my older postings (August 16 and 18). In this posting you will also get to watch a video of a White Peacock butterfly emerging!

Chrysalis with arrows pointing to eyes

While checking my eight White Peacock chrysalises I noticed that a few were starting to change. The two arrows are pointing to two pink circles that are eyes.

chrysalis body parts marked 

For this picture I turned the chrysalis upside down. Now it is in profile so you can see where the abdomen, eyes, and wings are developing. It is amazing how a butterfly can fit into a tiny chrysalis.


The next day the chrysalis changed from green to a clear plastic like covering that surrounded the butterfly. As I sat waiting for the butterfly to emerge I started to feel tears coming to my eyes. Before my eyes I watched the colors of its wings begin to get brighter. I could see all of the beautiful patterns on its wings before it even came out of the chrysalis! To me this butterfly looks like a painting created by the greatest painter that there ever was. I believe that artist is God who created every butterfly we see flying through the air. Below you can watch as this butterfly emerges.



In this picture its wings are fully expanded. It pumped the fluid from its body to its wings. In the chrysalis it looked black, but it is a white butterfly! Looks can be deceiving.


Yesterday, August 19th, I released two White Peacocks. Today I released two more. I still have four more White Peacock chrysalises left.


The White Peacock in the picture above decided it liked my Secret Garden. One of the butterflies I released yesterday, I saw flying in our yard today. Other butterflies I’ve raised in the past have returned to lay eggs on the host plants they were raised on. So hopefully the White Peacocks I raised will come back also.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My White Peacock Caterpillar Makes a Chrysalis


After munching down many leaves my first White Peacock caterpillar hung in a ‘J’. In the pictures you can see that its body is beginning to turn green. Soon it will be a chrysalis.


This chrysalis has just finished, and it must now harden. White Peacock chrysalises look so much like Monarch chrysalises. They are smaller than Monarch Chrysalises though.

Below is a poem I wrote to go along with the video. When I read it out load, I always end up laughing. I hope you enjoy it too!

The Dancing Chrysalis

It’s old skin had quickly shed

While it dangled from a thread

Its music was a calming wind

Who was a tender-hearted friend

As the breeze began to shift

It produced a gentle lift

The chrysalis so free and light

Gently swayed as if to take flight

But all to soon the music ended

And for now its dancing is suspended

Poem by: Elizabeth Mann

Sunday, August 16, 2009

White Peacock Caterpillars


While at Shady Oaks Butterfly Farm in Gainesville, Florida I picked out many caterpillars. The first caterpillars I will do a posting on, are the White Peacock caterpillars. I got a total of eight! These little critters rode in containers, on my lap, for the three hour drive home. And the whole way home all I did was watch them eat. It may seem strange to you, but I enjoy watching munching caterpillars more than watching TV. 


Wow, these little guys can grow fast. This one is already an inch long. When bigger they have small orange dots along their black bodies. Also, they have many spikes which look pointy, but are actually not sharp at all! What a great defense. If I were a wasp I would think twice before messing with this caterpillar.


Of course, I have to include a picture of a caterpillar molting. Right after shedding of the skin, caterpillars are vulnerable to predators. They must wait hours for the skin to harden. I’m glad I’m not a caterpillar!

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Here are two pictures of my Water Hyssop plant. It is one of the host plants for the White Peacock. This plant started out so tiny, but grew into a monster vine! Water Hyssops are native to Florida. They die back in winter, but grow back in Spring. The reason I wanted to get White Peacock caterpillars from Shady Oaks is because I haven’t had any White Peacocks lay eggs on my vine. I’m hoping and praying that the butterflies I release come back to lay eggs.

I hope you enjoyed learning about White Peacocks. Please check back soon to see updates. If you would like to purchase caterpillars, Shady Oaks Butterfly Farm sells several different species. They take very good care of their caterpillars, and make sure the caterpillar are well protected during shipping.

Friday, August 14, 2009

My Polydamas Swallowtail Makes a Chrysalis


How can a caterpillar hang? Simple, It uses silky webbing that comes through a spinneret close to its mouth. Look closely at the plastic lid and you will see thin hair like webbing that this Polydamas caterpillar has created.


Is that plastic on my fingers? No, it is the silk that the caterpillar above created.


This picture makes me laugh. One of the younger caterpillars decided to take a swing on the silk that the bigger caterpillar created. Don’t worry it wasn’t harmed. I helped it off and removed the silk.


Finally after much wandering it found it’s pupation spot. It used silk to attach it’s hind legs, and then created a silk girdle to go around it’s waist. Never pull off a swallowtail chrysalis, because when you pull, the silk girdle will cut through the butterfly developing inside. You must use scissors to snip the girdle or the way I prefer is removing the whole stem it is attached to.


My caterpillars are very curious. They decided to crowd around the soon to be chrysalis. They did not want to miss out on any excitement.


The caterpillar is now a chrysalis! It looks like a green leaf.


Polydamas chrysalises are so funny. If you turn the chrysalis they look like a strange creature with eyes, ears, long pointy nose, and a strange body. What creature does it remind you of? Please send me your thoughts through the comment box on my blog.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly Visits My Garden


Cloudless Sulphurs are big compared to other Sulphurs. They have a wingspan of about 2 1/2- 2 3/4 inches. This butterfly has a wide range, from South America to Southern Canada.

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The Sulphurs’ major food plant is Cassia. Near the beginning of spring I saved up my money and was very excited to purchase one.


After waiting a month I finally spotted some eggs on my Cassia, but I missed getting to watch the Cloudless Sulphur lay the tiny eggs. Finally this summer I captured a photo of the Sulphur butterfly laying eggs!


Can you find the tiny white egg on this leaf? It looks like a grain of rice. It takes about six days for the caterpillar inside to fully develop.


All my Cloudless Sulphur caterpillars get eaten by wasps before reaching pupation size so I decided to rescue one from my garden.

I also am raising Sleepy Orange caterpillars which are smaller than Cloudless Sulpurs, but are in the Sulphur group of butterflies. I got the Sleepy Orange caterpillars at my visit to Shady Oaks Butterfly farm.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I Found Polydamas Swallowtail Caterpillars

pipe vine

Polydamas caterpillars eat Pipevines. We have a huge Pipevine in are back yard. These Swallowtails are also known as Gold Rim Swallowtails. The Female butterfly lays 10 to 14 eggs in a group. The caterpillars of Polydamas Swallowtail eat together while young.

Polydamas Swallowtail caterpillar

Every summer the Polydamas butterfly comes back to lay eggs on our pipevine. I was outside watching a Cloudless Sulphur lay eggs, (don’t worry I’ll post pictures of that butterfly), when I noticed a butterfly attracted to our pipevine. I went over to take a closer look when I found these HUGE caterpillars. I was so excited! I found them just in time because they are soon going to make a chrysalis. I brought in four so far. These two in my hand will soon make a chrysalis. It will probably be a while before they emerge as butterflies because they stay the winter in a chrysalis.  


I brought in three big caterpillars and one small one. These hungry caterpillars devour their host plant every summer, but it quickly grows back for them to eat again.


I put a stick inside the container for them to pupate on. They quickly found it.


I think it found its pupation spot! I can’t wait to post more pictures for you to see.

Want to help the Polydamas Swallowtail by providing a host plant for it to eat? It eats Pipevines in the Aristolochia species. (Make sure not to spray ANY pesticides on the plant). Its range is, South Texas and peninsular Florida south to Argentina. If you live in this area you will get a visit from the Polydamas Swallowtail.