The Gulf Fritillary butterfly is what started me on my 'journey' into raising butterflies. This beauty is often mistaken for the Monarch but once you see one, you will definitely recognize it as a totally different butterfly!
The Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) is of the brush-foot or Nymphalidae family and its subfamily is the long-wings (Heliconiiae). It is a medium-sized butterfly whose wingspan is from 2.5" to 3.75". The upper-side is a bright reddish-orange with black veins and the underside is brownish with the most glorious iridescent silvery spots. Those silvery spots is what makes it differ greatly from the Monarch (Monarchs do not have silvery spots but are orange on their undersides).
If you happen to live in the South (although you may find some stray GFs in the Northern United States!) and you just happen to have Passionvine (Passiflora) plants, then guess what...you will probably find the eggs of these beauties! Gulf Frits use the Passiflora family for their host plant (including the Maypops and Running Pops). There are some Passiflora that are toxic, though, to the little caterpillars although mama GF may not realize this. Many of the red-flowered Passis are poisonous to the larvae and some of the blues are as well. Mama Gulf Frit may oviposit (lay her eggs) on the plant not knowing that her little babies will die upon eating the leaves.
Mama will usually oviposit (lay the egg) on the tops of the leaves or tendrils of the Passiflora but this is no guarantee! Sometimes eggs can be found on the undersides of leaves. Ova (eggs) are laid singularly, not in groups. The egg of the Gulf Frit is a dark yellow and it looks sort of like a corn kernel or football. When it is first oviposited, it is a nice bright colour.
After a few days, as the larva (caterpillar) begins to develop, it begins to change colour to a copper. The top slowly becomes very dark (this is the larva's head) and this will indicate that it is getting ready to hatch! Click on the pictures for a closer view.
After about four days or so a little caterpillar will hatch. It will eat its eggshell first before beginning its journey on eating the Passi leaves.
Growth is fairly rapid, and over the course of about two weeks, the larva (caterpillar) will undergo several instar changes. Each time it molts (sheds its skin) it will turn around and EAT the shed exuvia. Ewwww! NOT!
So, two weeks of eating and pooping, eating and pooping (caterpillar poop is called frass) goes by and the little one has molted five times and it is now time to pupate.
The gigantic caterpillar will decide, "HEY! I need to go and find me a nice place to hang out for awhile." The big guy will take off, usually FAR away from the host plant (but not always), to find a super-duper place to pupate.
Now, the pupa of the Gulf Fritillary is a non-descript brown. It looks almost like a dried up, wilted leaf. If you look carefully, however, you can see where the abdomen and thorax are as well as where the wings of the new butterfly will be! The spiracles (breathing 'holes') are even visible upon close inspection...
During the time it is pupating, it will undergo complete metamorphosis upon which it will become that amazing creature the butterfly!
And, after about two weeks, what should eclose but a most beautiful Gulf Fritillary butterfly! (this one is a male)