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  • Writer's pictureJessica Morgan McAtee

The Fancy Gulf Fritillary

The marvelous Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) can be seen throughout the southern U.S. They frequent the states surrounding the Gulf of Mexico, plus they wander north to Tennessee, east to the Carolinas and across the great state of California. They can be found infrequently across other states as well.

These butterflies are one of Florida's most common species. If you have the correct host plant for them, you will see them often, even daily in the warmer months.

They host on passion vines, but not on every kind of passion vine. So, if you are in their range and you are not seeing them, you may not have the kind of passion vine they prefer.

While there are several species of butterfly globally that feed on passion vines (Passiflora spp.) they don't all prefer the same species to host on. With over 500 kinds of passion vines on the planet, it is necessary that you find the right one for your location and that will accommodate the butterflies you are trying to attract.

In a Florida garden and other Gulf states, Gulf Frits happily feed on the native Purple Passionflower (P. incarnata).

In my garden, they feed on a hybrid called P. Inspiration which is a combo of P. incarnata and P. cinnicata. For me, this is the hardiest variety and it lives as a perennial. It spreads underground with root suckers so it can pop up unexpectedly, which makes it delightfully "invasive". To prevent this you could keep it in a container.

There are other passion vines Gulf Fritillaries will use. As a rule of thumb, red flowering passion vines will not usually work.

If you don't know which plants are hosts, perhaps you can go to your local nursery and look for eaten passion vines, they may even have chrysalises on them. Check out this Gulf Fritillary score.

Mama lays little yellow eggs on the tips of the new growth of the host plant.

From those tiny eggs come spiny caterpillars that look like they can sting, but they cannot.

Enough caterpillars can defoliate a plant, but it will usually come back in time.

Once they've eaten enough, they will attach themselves by the tail end to a silk pad and make a "J" formation. Their colors will begin to change from orange and brownish to gray like the one below.

They will shed their skin to unveil their chrysalis which resembles a dead leaf.

The chrysalis doesn't have any fancy markings or metallic bling. The lay low and vary in color from lighter to darker browns. I always think they look like they are sugar coated like frosted mini-wheat cereal.

One thing the pupa can do is wiggle. It can move from side to side which is amazing and creepy at the same time.

The adult will emerge with brilliant orange on the upper wings.

The three white dots on the forewing with black outlines help distinguish this from other butterflies.

The under side is like a spectacular sunset with coral colors and flashy white markings.

These abundant marvels nectar on a variety of plants including fire bush, lantana, sweet almond, Panama rose and Spanish needle.

For more information on Florida's passion vine butterflies, check out my online Udemy course.

Thanks for reading!

Have a Fluttery Day,


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1 Comment

Nov 16, 2020

Wow! Is that the one I photographed at our Condo back yard in Nashville? It was on a zinnia! Maybe I need to plant something they like .


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