by Kyle Sweet, CGCS
As the summer days go by, hardly a day passes that I don’t see nearly every one of the beautiful butterflies that call Southwest Florida has to offer. Certainly one of my favorites is the Gulf fritillary, which is one of the first butterflies that I learned to identify years ago.
Before knowing what butterfly it was, I’m sure that I mistakenly called it a Monarch butterfly, but the Gulf fritillary has silvery white spots on the bottom of its wings which are quite visible when it’s wings are closed. Monarch butterflies do not have these markings. When the wings of the Gulf fritillary are open, the top of the wing (Dorsal) are bright orange with rounded and elongated black markings. Additionally, three white spots are indicative of the Gulf fritillary on the primary wing of the butterfly, which is the front of the wing when open.
The larvae stage, which is a caterpillar, of Gulf fritillary are bright orange like the adult with branched spines all over its body. The larvae feed on passion vine, which due to this is considered the host plant for the Gulf fritillary. As the host plant, it’s essential for the survival of the Gulf fritillary as the adult lays eggs on the host plant so that the larvae can immediately feed on the plant until they pupae, form a chrysalis and emerge as a new generation of adults.
The Gulf fritillary is distributed all throughout the southern United States, but most notably in Florida and Texas. Beyond the United States, they also populate Mexico. Throughout the states in which they live, they are most likely to be seen in open habitats such as grasslands and parks. They are a favorite of bright sunny butterfly gardens.
The Gulf fritillary is surely a butterfly that you will see around the islands during the long, warm days that the summer brings. Adults especially like to feed on the nectar of Zinnia, Verbena, Lantana and Butterfly bush. If any of those plants are close by, you’ll have an even better chance of seeing them. Of course, the presence of the host plant, passion vine, will bring in the egg laying adults providing for even more opportunities to see them.
I think the smaller creatures are the most fun to learn and learning butterflies is especially rewarding. Keep your eyes out for this quick flying butterfly that is bold and bright and popular throughout the islands.