Thursday, August 27, 2009

Gulf Fritillary Life Cycle


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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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This Gulf Fritillary caterpillar is newly hatched.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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 http://elizabethssecretgarden.blogspot.com/2009/05/story-of-lost-caterpillar.html 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:  https://www.createspace.com/4083202

book cover

32 comments:

  1. What a wonderful "butterfly journal"! I thoroughly enjoyed the story and pictures. Thank you for documenting it!

    Cindy

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  2. This was so educational. I have a purple passion plant in my yard. And I oould not help noticing all the butterflys in my yard and on the plant. So I went "googling". Thank you so much for the journal, I learned so much and will be a frequent visitor to my plant. I live in Bradenton Florida. Fran M.

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  3. So thats where they are coming from to distroy my passion flora, if you are intrested in any that I find, or a host plant, you can contact me via text message at 763-221-6167 e-mail Luckypiercer@hotmail.com these things are a long way from home, I'm not a big fan of killing butterflys but I can not let them eat my plants down to nothing, including the buds. I live in Albuquerque, NM

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  4. We have a bumper crop and have been growing them in a fishtank with some fresh passion vine every day or so. Waiting for them to start emerging from the coccoons!

    Great journal! Was trying to figure how long I needed to wait.

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  5. Love your journal!!! I have a huge purple passion flower and this month I enjoyed watching this life cycle!!! Once they are butterflies, I have read that they immediately mate, then what? Will they stick around? Do they migrate? How long until they lay eggs? How long do they live as a butterfly? I would really enjoy if you continued your journal to complete the cycle!!!

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  6. how long after it forms a chrysalis will it become a butterfly?

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  7. A butterfly usually stays in a chrysalis 7-14 days depending on the weather. Good luck on whatever butterfly adventures you may have!

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  8. Hey Elizabeth,

    Thank you for sharing your experience with moving the GF. We found one on our corkie stem plant (actually the host plant for the Zebra Longwing). I will be moving him to our passion vine for sure!

    Thanks again for sharing!
    Wanda

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  9. We have (some other species of) fritillary all over our yard in Wisconsin right now, which is full of violets and dandelions. I got curious about the butterfly life cycle and came to your wonderful account. Enjoyed the great documentation and thanks for sharing.

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  10. I found a gulf fritillary caterpillar today, and saw it start its chrysalis. I dont have any passion vine but it seemed quite comfortable on a different purple flower that i have. Should i just see how well it can work with its resources?

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  11. i found a gulf fritillary caterpilar today. It watched it get cozy and start its chrysalis. But im a little worried because i have no passion vine, yet it seems quite comfortable on a different purple flower that i have. Should i just see how well it can use its resources?

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    Replies
    1. Try going to your local plant nursery and see if you can purchase a plant. Gulf Fritillary caterpillars are voracious eaters and can devour a vine quickly. My passiflora though bounces back quickly. Make sure you get the purple flowered variety and not the red.

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    2. WARNING: ALL new plants bought at plant nurseries MAY have been sprayed with a systemic insecticide which will kill caterpillars or bees. This poison has a staying power of at least 2 months, so DO NOT TAKE the nurseries' word that their plants are safe. Contact Master Gardeners in your area (via your local Ag Extension office). If they're not organic, maybe they know of someone who is.

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  12. My yard is full of Gulf Fritillary butterflies and I have a very invasive Passion vine that has taken over a fair amount of my white picket fence. The plant also sends up shoots all over my yard so you were wise to recommend the potted method to enjoy this vine.

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    Replies
    1. I have the same problem with the Passion vine growing on our fence. It is a never ending battle!

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  13. My grandsons and I learned quite a bit from your story. We have started a caterpillar habitat and planted more passion flower vines. Thank your for sharing. Haves a butterfly day! Mommo.

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  14. Thank you for the pictures,because I have one, now I will know what it will look like.

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  15. Our Passion vine in Sacramento, CA is being devoured for the third year now (at least a dozen caterpillars at work as I write) and it's fine with us.... the butterfly activity is wonderful and the regrowth each year has been strong. We appreciate your photos and explanations of the caterpillar life cycle. I've now spotted my first spent chrysalis and will start the search for more... how far will they crawl to fine a location??
    Peter

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    1. They will climb several feet away to make a chrysalis. Sometimes I find Monarch chrysalises all the way on the ceiling underneath our porch!

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  16. Elizabeth, You are an inspiration! I was looking for info on Ladybugs, and one site led me to another butterfly site, and that one lead me to you. Often Iget on the computer to look up one thing and end up going from on site to anothe r for hours. Today was one of those days.
    Yet most of all I was proud-it sounds strange to say I'm proud of someone I've never met yet I am-proud of you. I've been reading over a dozen of your postings, and will read many more but for now i need to get out to my garden.
    Many blessings to you-and your family!
    Kimmie (Nana) to 6-grandchildren

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  17. Love your info on the gulf... My daughter and I are currently raising Monarchs and want to do the same with the Fritillary; they are so beautiful. Off to buy a Pasiflora incarnata. thanks

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  18. Hello. I don't have Passion Flower, but these critters are eating a vine in my yard. Looks the same and we do have a lot of these flying about. My neighbor has Passion Flower. These leaves don't match. Any idea what it might be? Thanks.

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    1. To correctly identify it a picture would be most helpful. You can e-mail me questions or pictures at elizabeth@flmann.com. Please include Butterfly for the subject of the e-mail.

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  19. It's nearly impossible to find knowledgeable people on this topic, but you sound like you know what you're talking
    about! Thanks

    My blog post - Australien Sheperd

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  20. Thank you so much for the information that red passion vines are toxic to catepillars. Last year my catepillars began dying and I did not know why. This year the same thing is happening. I have red and purple mixed together. I have just removed the red ones. I feel bad for not finding you website last year. I have lost so many catepillars. Hopefully now this will change. Thanks again.

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    Replies
    1. I'm so glad my article could be of help to you and save the caterpillars lives. I'm sure things will be good now that you've removed the red passion vine. Red is a warning signal in nature of toxicity. Wish you the best with your caterpillar raising.

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  21. I have a GF that has decided the best place for it to form a chrysalis is on my chain link fence. It is currently forming and I am worried it will be knocked off by a dog or other animal/outside force. Is it possible to move the GF before it is has completed forming its chrysalis? And if so, where can I move the little guy or gal? Is there something in the house I can keep the GF safe on until it has emerged??

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    1. Do not move the GF until after it has formed the chrysalis! Let it harden and then move it. Once it has fully hardened you can gently move it by using your finger nail to lift up the silk where it is attached. I usually use butterfly castles to attach my chrysalises or a container big enough for the butterfly to dry it's wings. http://www.livemonarch.com/index.php

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    2. You can also use a tiny drop of super glue to attach it (same way it was attached) wherever you desire.

      Marge in California

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  22. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge on the Gulf Fritillary. Your site single-handedly allowed me to identify the caterpillars that were crawling on my fence, why they were crawling there, and what they would soon become. As a previous comment stated, I do not have the beautiful passion vine as you do, but some other purplish fuzzy flowered vine. The Fritillarys are beautiful now in my yard and judging by the number of caterpillars still crawling around, there are many more to come! I have plenty of pictures to share if you have any questions! Thanks again!

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  23. Thank you for the information! I was astonished to find my passionflower vine covered in these strange caterpillars last week and moved about 6 of them into a butterfly cage we have and continued to feed them leaves from my vine (fresh of course!). Three of them how now formed their chrysalis and my kids and I are excited to see them emerge as butterflies!

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