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GULF FRITILLARY Agraulis vanillae

FritTopside.jpg (75972 bytes)Family:  Nymphalidae
Subfamily:  Heliconiinae

The Gulf Fritillary, although it is one of Florida's three Longwing (heliconian) butterflies, it is a bit different from the Julia and the Zebra.  It feeds only on nectar, not on pollen as the zebra longwing.  However, scientifically, it's still considered a longwing and not a true fritillary.  True frittilaries (which are relatives to the longwings), are also orange and have silver spots on the underside of their hindwings, but have more rounded forewings, and a more compact appearance.FritGround2.jpg (86807 bytes)

The upperside of the Gulf Fritillary is rich orange in the male and a slightly duller brown in the female, she is also a little larger.  Frits are beautifully patterned on the underside, with shining silver spots across wings and a rich rose patch at the base of the forewing.  This is one of the most common butterflies in Florida.  Because it's larvae feed on passionvine, the adults are presumed to be distasteful to birds. 

The species cannot survive freezing temperatures at any stage in its life.   In late August, September,and early October, huge numbers of Gulf Frits fly into Florida from other parts of the eastern United States.  It flies all year in southern Florida, and recolonizes here, in northern Florida after cold winters.  It's habitat is much the same as that of the Zebra Longwing:  woodland edges, city gardens, and open, brushy fields where the adults visit Lantana, Penta, and Coneflowers.

FritonMaypop.jpg (96851 bytes)The caterpillar is orange with four rows of black spines along it's body, that areFritCat2.jpg (85942 bytes) harmless to humans.  They feed on many varieties of passionvine, but seem to prefer the Maypops (P. incarnata).    Florida Butterfly Gardening, by Marc and Maria Minno, say they will eat Corky-Stemmed Passionflower (P. suberosa), Yellow Passionflower (P. lutea), and Incense Passionflower (P. incense), as well as the Maypops, but larvae do poorly on Red Passionflower (P. coccinea) and Purple Granadilla (P. edulis).   The egg is deposited, one at a time on the tips of a tendril (to protect it from ants) of the passionvine. FritEgg.jpg (73247 bytes)
Each egg is strikingly sculpted with ribs.  A newly hatched caterpillar will, first, eat the shell of the egg before munching on the leaf.  When it is finished feeding, the cat makes a silk pad on a stem, FritChry.jpg (54612 bytes)attaches its rear end to it, and hands head down in a "J" position.  The head area swells with fluid, and soon the skin splits and rolls back.  About ten days after it forms the chrysalis, the new, adult Gulf Fritillary butterfly splits its pupal shell and emerges.



Freshly hatched cat and egg

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