Gulf Fritillary Adult
Gulf Fritillary Butterflies (Agraulis vanillae) are abundant and easily seen this fall, but many people don't know its name and tend to confuse it with another orange and black butterfly, the larger and more famous Monarch. The large silvery spots on its underwings are a giveaway; Monarchs don't have these. Gulf Fritillaries are most at home in the southeast, though they will expand their range during warm months, and they do migrate to frost-free areas such as the Florida peninsula where they overwinter as adults.
Gulf Fritillaries nectar on all of the usual flowers which attract other species, but lay their eggs exclusively on Passionflower Vines (Passiflora sp.). The larvae, which are shiny orange with black spines, feed on the leaves of passionflower vines which render them poisonous to predators. Gulf Fritillary caterpillars are non-stinging if touched. The chrysalis resembles a dead leaf.
We have two common native passionvines in the Midsouth, the showy Passiflora incarnata and the daintier Passiflora lutea. Passiflora incarnata is sometimes called maypop after the edible fruit it produces, or simply passionvine. Many nurseries sell tropical species of Passiflora, usually native to South America. Passionvines are a wonderful addition to the home landscape, establishing quickly on a trellis and producing spectacular flowers and lots of fruit. When the Gulf Fritillaries find them, the caterpillars may strip it bare late in the season, though this plant-insect relationship has been around for many thousands of years and the passionvine will be back in the spring.
For more information on the Gulf Fritillary Butterfly, follow this link.
Gulf Fritillary caterpillar Chrysalis
Maypop/Passionvine/Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata