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 make it differ from the Monarch since Monarchs do not have those spots AND Monarchs are MUCH larger in size.

This is a picture of a mating pair and you can see their silvery spots, and the beauty in the patterning…

Here is basking female with her wings spread wide. Note how her markings are distinctly different from those of the Monarch’s which have thick black veins criss-crossings its wings along with a black body.

f you happen to live in the South (you may even find some strays in the northern United States) and you happen to have Passionvine (Passiflora) plants, then you should check your plants because you just might find the eggs of these beauties!

The Agraulis vanillae use plants in the Passiflora family for their host plant (including the Maypops and Running Pops).

There are some Passiflora spp. that are toxic to the little caterpillars.To the female butterfly, they all ‘taste’ alright but many of the red-flowered Passionvines 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.

Here is that same female ovipositing (laying eggs)…

The female will usually oviposit a single egg on the tops of the leaves or tendrils of the Passiflora. There is no guarantee, however, as sometimes eggs can be found on the undersides of leaves or even on fence posts. Gulf Fritillary eggs start out yellow and look sort of like a corn kernel, darkening as the caterpillar develops within.

*If you scroll to the very bottom of this page, you will see pictures of a Gulf Fritillary hatching.

After a few days, as the larva (caterpillar) begins to develop, the ova (egg) begins to change colour. The top turns to a dark copper (the head of the caterpillar). Soon, the little caterpillar will hatch. It will eat the chorion (eggshell) first before beginning its journey on eating the Passiflora leaves. Growth is fairly rapid, and over the course of about two weeks, the larva will undergo several instar changes. Each time it molts (sheds its skin) it will turn around and EAT the shed exuvia. Here is a 1st instar.

In this picture the caterpillar has just molted. You can see the exuvia (shed skin) in the back. Note how the 1st instar  looks so different from this 3rd instar!

When it is time to pupate, the caterpillar will often travel far from its host plant. The Gulf Fritillary hangs in the ‘J’ position when it pupates; making a silk pad to attach its last proleg. The last molt as a caterpillar will include the head capsule. If you look carefully in the next picture, you can see the white ‘button’ of silk attaching the pupa to the stem.

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...

When you raise this beauty don’t freak out if you find that the pupa bends one way then the next. It seems like the pupa is trying to stretch or move towards something! It doesn’t wriggle or jiggle but does this odd tilt that can unnerve the first-time Agraulis vanillae foster parent.

After about two weeks, a beautiful butterfly will eclose.

The Birth of a Gulf Fritillary

Nothing can be more thrilling than to be able to observe the birth of a new butterfly. Watch as a new Gulf Fritillary is ‘born.’

The yellow egg has turned a golden, bronze colour, indicating that the caterpillar is about ready to hatch. The darkened area on the top is the little one’s head. It takes about four to six days after the egg is laid before you will see this happen. (Patience!)

Ah! Here comes the little guy! There’s his head! That little black button is the head. The egg in the instance has been turned over (I flicked it off the leaf so that viewers can see things a bit better). The caterpillar hatches from the top of the egg. The flattened spot is where the egg was attached to the leaf.

Woo-hoo! A star is born! The eggshell is all that’s left. Note the little bristles on this little 1st instar. They look like fine hairs. The head is a big black button. Later, the head becomes small, in comparison to the body.

Last, but not least, time for the first meal…crunch crunch crunch! Eating the chorion (eggshell) before taking off to get some tasty Passiflora leaves…

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DJInkers clip art is used with permission.