Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, nectaring from thistle, Cirs

Photo by: Bryan Reynolds

Agraulis vanillae

This beautiful pollinator has bright colors and is found in the extremely southern portions of the United States and Mexico. Their coloring is orange with black markings and white spots that warn predators to stay away. This particular species of butterfly is native to the southeastern United States and eastern Mexico, where they thrive in environments from open sunny pastures, to roadsides and parks.

Every year multiple generations of Gulf fritillary are born and travel northward in the spring to form breeding colonies in the southeast. Large numbers of the adult Gulf Frillary continue to migrate toward Florida, overwintering in frost-free portions of their range. The quick and erratic flight of adults do not hinder their attraction to flowers. Their wingspan is 2.5 to 3.75 inches, though females are larger than males. The males actively search for females to mate with around passionflowers.

Their small yellow eggs are laid on parts of passionflower plants. Passionflowers are not usually eaten by insects, as they produce toxins to most insects. The Gulf fritillary, however, is adapted to ignore these defenses. The bright orange larvae feed on all parts of the plant, rapidly defoliating the host vine, and develop into a pupa that is a mottled brown. Adults overwinter in the south. They also often stay in open pastures and fields. Their flight paths are generally above the reach of humans and they fly fast.

Written by: Christian Newkik, an undergraduate Environmental Science student at the University of Oklahoma