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Butterflies - Gulf Fritillary

Updated on November 21, 2014
naturegirl7 profile image

Yvonne has been photographing and studying birds for 40+ years. She maintains bird and butterfly gardens in her Louisiana backyard habitat.

Gulf Fritillary Pair

Gulf Fritillaries on Sultan's Turban flowers.
Gulf Fritillaries on Sultan's Turban flowers. | Source

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

The Gulf Fritillary is a southern longwing butterfly with bright red-orange wings above and brown with silver spots, below. It is found year round in frost free areas. In southern Louisiana, we see them most of the year, but more often when the passion vine (its larval host plant) is growing. During the warm months, several broods mature.

Click to buy Gulf Fritillary Duo by naturegirl7 on

Female laying egg on Passion Vine.
Female laying egg on Passion Vine. | Source

Gulf Fritillary Egg

Egg on Passion Flower Tendril.
Egg on Passion Flower Tendril. | Source

Caterpillar Shedding

As it grows, it sheds its skin.
As it grows, it sheds its skin. | Source

Large Caterpillar

This caterpillar is ready to form a chrysalis.
This caterpillar is ready to form a chrysalis. | Source

Life Cycle of a Butterfly

The life cycle of a butterfly is a miraculous event. Butterfly metamorphosis should be a unit of study for every child. By planting a few passion vines in your garden, you can transform you yard into an outdoor learning laboratory.

The photos of the life cycle of the Gulf Fritillary were taken in our backyard habitat in south Louisiana.

Gulf Fritillaries have several broods each year, so there are many opportunities to observe the life cycle. The females lay their eggs on most varieties of Passion Flower Vine.

Many people who enjoy the butterflies, but want to maintain their exotic varieties of Passion Vine will grow extra amounts of the native varieties like Passiflora incarnata (Maypop) and P. lutea (Yellow Passion Vine) in a corner of the garden.

When the brownish orange caterpillars appear on the exotic Passion Vine, they can be easily relocated to the more common, native, not so showy passion vine in the back part of the garden.

Some years, there are so many caterpillars that they will strip the leaves from our vines. To prevent this, we now have many trellises with both the native and hardy passion vine cultivars and we also let the native varieties grow into the trees.

Each year the plants are killed back by the first cold snap, but pop up when the weather warms up again in spring.

The caterpillars shed the old skin as they grow. Even though they look ferocious, the horns are soft and do not cause damage to human skin.

When they reach a large enough size, they crawl away from the vine to pupate into a chrysalis.

In a few weeks, an adult butterfly emerges and begins the cycle again by mating and laying eggs.

Variegated Fritillary

Variegated Fritillaries live in grassy fields.
Variegated Fritillaries live in grassy fields. | Source

Other Fritillaries

Another Fritillary, the Variegated Fritillary also inhabits Louisiana and other southern states.  It lives mostly in grasslands, but can also be found along roadsides, farmland and other open areas.

Its host plant is the Viola, which include violets, Pansies and Johnny Jump Ups and also passion vine and flax.

Gulf Fritillary on Lantana

Lantana flowers attract many butterflies.
Lantana flowers attract many butterflies. | Source

Butterfly Gardening

Click to buy Gulf Fritillary postcard by naturegirl7 on

Nectar plants attract butterflies to your garden, especially those with composite blooms that contain nectar. Old-fashioned flowers generally have more nectar than the newer hybrids.

While nectar plants are important, if you want to keep the butterflies in your yard you should plant the special host plants that each type of butterfly requires. The host plant of the Gulf Fritillary are Passion Vines (Passiflora spp., including the wild tiny yellow flowered Passiflora lutea L.)

Other Requirement of a butterfly garden include:

Shelter from the Wind - A fence or group of evergreen shrubs will form a wind break to protect the butterflies and if planted on the north side of the garden will also help to reduce energy costs in winter.

A Shallow Water Feature or Boggy Area, with a sandy or muddy bottom will be appreciated by those butterflies that like to "puddle".

Large Rocks, for basking in the sun, because butterflies are cold-blooded creatures, they need to warm up in the sun on cool spring mornings.

A Compost Pile or Overripe Fruit will be appreciated by some kinds of butterflies like Snout-nosed and Red-spotted Purple.

Butterfly Garden Poll

Do you have a butterfly garden?

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Under Wing Pattern

Gulf Fritillary on native sunflower bud.
Gulf Fritillary on native sunflower bud. | Source

Don't fly away, please leave a note.

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    • profile image

      cindy patten 10 months ago

      could u please tell me the plant name in first photo red flowers thank u

    • profile image

      Overactive 5 years ago

      Hi naturegirl7. I love your site. We have a lot in common. I am in southern California and have raised many Gulf Coast Fritillary over the past few years. This year I had so many they have eaten my passion vine to the curls! But I enjoy them so much. The weather will turn very cold quickly and many of the catapillars are still young. If I try to keep them on the porch on vine cuttings they hatch in the middle of winter when it warms up and have nothing to survive on. Usually the Pheobe bird rips off the wings and has them for dinner. Very sad. Luckily one of my dog likes to chase off this pesky bird, but I cannot protect the butterflies once out of my small yard. I was wondering if the cacoons can be wintered over if put in cold storage. I suppose I will have to give this a try and see if they will survive. I hope to set up a site and post more when I get some spare time.

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 6 years ago from South Louisiana

      Mrs. Menagerie, Thanks. I enjoy your hubs, too.

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image

      Mrs. Menagerie 6 years ago from The Zoo

      ...and another great hub! Fantastic! Beautiful and UP!

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 6 years ago from South Louisiana

      Some will sit longer than others. Also, cooler temperatures like on spring or fall mornings tend to make them a little lethargic and easier to photograph.

    • mannyrolando profile image

      mannyrolando 6 years ago

      This are really beautiful photographs. I have tried to photograph butterflies before but they never seem to stay put long enough! What is your secret?

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 6 years ago from South Louisiana

      Thanks. I really enjoy photographing nature and especially butterflies.

    • liswilliams profile image

      liswilliams 6 years ago from South Africa

      wow, mighty interesting read you have here

    • tnderhrt23 profile image

      tnderhrt23 6 years ago

      Wonderful hub about something that is near and dear to me. Well written and presented, interesting and informative with stunning photography! Voted up!