Senna and sulphurs

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) caterpillar on host plant, Senna mexicana.

This spring I overhauled the front part of the front yard, getting rid of some scraggly dune sunflower and replacing it with some more long-lived plants. (Not that dune sunflower is bad or short-lived, but I have it in many other areas of the yard as well, and it needs frequent cutting back to keep it looking nice.)

I put in some of the usual suspects with lovely little flowers: beach creeper (Ernodia littoralis), blue porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis), and a few actual wildflowers (a wild petunia, among others). I also put in three (count ’em, three!) little plants on which I pinned some rather high hopes: Bahama senna (Senna mexicana var. chapmanii).

Chapman's or Bahama Senna (Senna mexicana). Boca Raton, FL, April 8, 2015

Chapman’s or Bahama Senna (Senna mexicana). Boca Raton, FL, April 8, 2015.

These are also called dwarf senna, so I suppose I shouldn’t count on them to grow very large, but the pictures I’ve seen of them in my plant guides show some tremendously flowering plants, with big yellow flowers dominating the scene. That one lonely bloom in the picture above was supposed to be just the first of many. Hasn’t worked out that way; once the blooms that were on the plants when I brought them home from the nursery were gone, there were no more. Rufino Osorio’s guide mentions that they flower most profusely in autumn and spring, so perhaps a long period of summer dormancy isn’t anything to worry about.

But they also never seemed to grow. Whenever I went out to look at them, I saw snapped-off new growth, as if the plants were just too brittle for our breezy locale. I checked for insect damage but could never find a culprit, even though I know that several lovely yellow butterflies use these as their larval host plants (which was one of the reasons I’d brought them into the garden, after all.)

Recently, however, as I was out pulling weeds after several months of heat-induced procrastination, I noticed what I’d probably just been overlooking for the past few months: a big, bright green and yellow caterpillar munching contentedly on the leaves, practically denuding the branches it was on:

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) caterpillar on host plant, Senna mexicana.

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) caterpillar on host plant, Senna mexicana.

The bright blue outlines around the black spots, combined with the yellow racing stripe on a green body are distinguishing characteristics of the lovely Cloudless Sulphur butterfly, an insect whose devotion to its larval host plant is reflected in its taxonomic name: Phoebis sennae.

This caterpillar, despite its bright colors, just blends right into the leaves and stems of the host plant. It’s the same kind of camouflage enjoyed by some parakeets. Take a look at them out of their natural setting (on a telephone wire, for example) and you’d wonder just how in the heck they could ever conceal their bright green colors. Why haven’t they all been eaten by predators? But then you watch an entire flock of them just completely disappear into the green-leaved canopy of a large tree and it hits you: their camouflage is just perfect for where they evolved.

At least, that’s what I’m telling myself after months of apparent obliviousness to these quite large caterpillars trimming my bushes so effectively.

Here’s what this lovely young rascal will eventually turn into:

Cloudless Sulphur butterfly (Phoebis sennae). Boca Raton, FL, October 5, 2014.

Cloudless Sulphur butterfly (Phoebis sennae). Boca Raton, FL, October 5, 2014.

Here’s another shot of a different larva, from the top (I just love the symmetry of the spots and the “wings” of the senna leaves):

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) caterpillar on host plant, Senna mexicana. Top view.

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) caterpillar on host plant, Senna mexicana

And a different adult:

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae). Boca Raton, FL, August 12, 2015

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae). Boca Raton, FL, August 12, 2015.

We have lots of butterflies here in south Florida. And if we plant pretty little plants that they enjoy, we can enjoy even more of them!

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae). Boca Raton, FL, May 8, 2015.

The Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) is one of the most common butterflies in my backyard, and it’s one of the most impressive as well. Large and brightly colored, it’s attracted to the nectar provided by the abundant flowers of the butterfly sage (Cordia globosa) that I have growing in several places, as well as to its larval host plant, any of several vines in the passionflower family. I have a couple of them; one is a cultivar of Passiflora incarnata, with very showy flowers:


Another is the true native, Passiflora suberosa. The flowers of this second vine are much less showy but the plant is no less attractive to the butterflies for that reason: the attraction is the chemicals contained in the vine, not the nectar or the beauty of the flowers. The larvae eat the leaves and incorporate the toxic chemicals (cyanogenic glycosides) they contain. Here are some of the fruits and foliage of this “maypop” vine:

Leaf and fruit of Passiflora suberosa. Bocca Raton, FL, May 12, 2015.

Leaf and fruit of Passiflora suberosa. Bocca Raton, FL, May 12, 2015.

The other day I found yet another species of passionvine that I didn’t plant and haven’t seen before, with intriguing red three-petaled flowers:

Unknown passionflower. Boca Raton, FL, May 13, 2015.

Unknown passionflower. Boca Raton, FL, May 13, 2015.

When I first saw the flowers, they looked so much like the bougainvillea that’s growing nearby (right down to the three stamens in the middle) that I simply assumed one of those flowers had somehow fallen off that plant and onto this volunteer passionvine that’s growing up between the cracks on my patio. But closer inspection revealed the flower to be part of the passionvine itself, so I’m stumped. And unfortunately, since it’s a volunteer vine in a bad location, it probably won’t survive long. And on top of that, because it’s growing up between paver cracks, it’s situated too tightly for me to be able to dig it up and put it somewhere nicer; I just have to hope that it sprouts again in a more favorable location.

If you look at the leaves in the picture above, you’ll notice that someone’s been eating them; here’s a picture of the culprit:

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) caterpillar. Boca Raton, FL, May 2, 2015.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) caterpillar. Boca Raton, FL, May 2, 2015.

They sure look, um, interesting, when they’re young, don’t they?

When they grow up, they look much more attractive:

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae). Boca Raton, FL, May 8, 2015.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae). Boca Raton, FL, May 8, 2015.

New backyard butterfly: Little Yellow (Eurema lisa)

Eurema lisa on Richardia grandiflora. Boca Raton, FL, October 25, 2013.

Halloween is right around the corner and the butterflies are popping out of the woodwork. I’ve seen the “standard” passion vine butterflies (heliconians attracted to the Passiflora vines I have growing along the backyard fence) all summer, and they’re still out in force, but I’ve also got the smaller “grassy” butterflies flying around now. One that I’ve been trying to get a good picture of for a long time is the lovely little yellow (which, by the way, is actually its standard American name), Eurema lisa:

Little Yellow butterfly (<em>Eurema lisa</em>) on <em>Sida acuta</em> (Common wire weed) Boca Raton, FL, October 25, 2013.

Little Yellow butterfly (Eurema lisa) on Sida acuta (Common wire weed) Boca Raton, FL, October 25, 2013.

They’re normally pretty quick to take flight when approached, so I was quite happy that this little lady (males don’t have the large pink spot at the top corner of the hindwing) was calm enough to allow me to approach and get a few images. She was nectaring from a couple of weeds in the front lawn, the wire weed (Sida acuta, which longtime readers of this blog might recall as the larval food plant of the Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak) and the mexican clover (Richardia grandiflora, which no one really “likes” but I tolerate for its year-round flowering, which keeps nectaring insects like bees and butterflies attracted to the yard when nothing else might be in bloom).

<em>Eurema lisa</em> on Richardia grandiflora</em>. Boca Raton, FL, October 25, 2013.

Eurema lisa on Richardia grandiflora. Boca Raton, FL, October 25, 2013.

The little yellow is probably more common in my yard now that I’ve got a good patch of Powderpuff (Mimosa strigillosa) going in it; that, along with Partridge Pea, is its larval food plant. It’s also a darn pretty little thing:

<em>Mimosa strigillosa</em>, Boca Raton, FL, May 1, 2013.

Mimosa strigillosa, Boca Raton, FL, May 1, 2013.

I haven’t seen any of the caterpillars yet, as far as I know, but I’ve seen more than one of the butterflies, so I’m hopeful this will be a semipermanent addition to the insect fauna at the homestead.


My favorite site for online etymology of hard-to-find insect names is the Century Dictionary Online. While the main site appears to be gone, there are some easy-to-search other sites that still produce results. And thank goodness. After all, my initial thought for what Eurema might mean was that it can’t just be a corruption of Eureka, “I have found it!,” can it? And, well, no, not really. Here’s what it says:

Definition of Eurema from Century Dictionary

So Eurema, like Eureka, is indeed associated with discovery; eureka being merely the perfect indicative active form of the verb “to discover.” (By the way, the 120-year-old dictionary’s taxonomy is no longer current, referring the reader to the Old World genus Terias, whereas we now point back to the New World genus Eurema. The entry for Terias, by the way, is rather uninformative, so I’ll skip it, if you don’t mind.)

Lisa, of course, is a diminutive for Elisabeth (appropriate, given the diminutive stature of these butterflies, don’t you think?). According to some sources, the name Elisabeth derives from the Hebrew Elishebha, “God is an oath,” but I don’t know how much, ahem, faith to put in that…

One nice etymological thought is that this family, or perhaps the larger Sulphur butterflies, gave rise to the common name “butterfly.” After all, these are the creamiest, butteriest yellow of all the butterflies.


Eumaeus atala butterfly, at long last


I have a new puzzle on my hands. I don’t know of any places in the neighborhood with enough coontie to support the Atala Blue butterfly (Eumaeus atala), but I’ve got one “sleeping” on my pool deck:

It’s been there all morning, from 8 a.m. when I got the right profile above, to noon, when I got the left profile, below.

From now on when we’re on our evening strolls, I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for its only known larval host plant: coontie (Zamia floridana). It’s a plant I want to have in my yard, but the seeds are poisonous, so we’re a bit worried about the boys eating them. My boys don’t have the millions of years of evolutionary adaptation that allow the butterfly larvae not only to tolerate the poison but to incorporate it into their tissues, rendering them unpalatable to predators.

The bright, warning (aposematic) coloration advertises their toxicity, so predators know to leave them alone.

Judging by the frayed wing edges and its sluggish demeanor, though, I don’t think this butterfly is much longer for this world. You have to respect its warning coloration, though: Not many insects would last four hours on that pool deck, surrounded by hungry lizards. In fact, the regal darner I “rescued” from the pool back in September didn’t last four minutes.

For more on the coontie plant and the butterfly it supports, read this information sheet from UF/IFAS.

And have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Zebra Heliconian larvae


Back around Labor Day I wrote a couple of short pieces about the various egg-laying episodes I’ve seen on the hybrid passionvine in our back yard. This particular plant is a cross between our native Passiflora incarnata and a Mexican variety, thus explaining why our “3-lobed” native has 5-lobed leaves. The star of the September post was our state butterfly, the Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charithonia); in that article I showed a few pictures of the adult form and the eggs. But I wasn’t able to hit for the cycle—the life cycle, that is—meaning showing photos of egg, larva, chrysalis, and adult. I posted the pictures I had: the adult butterfly and the egg. While I still haven’t got the complete cycle, I’m only missing the triple, because today I got the double: a good photo of the larval form, the caterpillar.

While it’s true that passionvines have developed some chemical defenses against herbivory, the heliconians have outsmarted the plants, incorporating those chemical defenses into their own chemical defenses against lepidivory (to coin a term). And now there are quite a few heliconian caterpillars (all Zebras) on the vine. Here’s what initially attracted my attention:

Isn’t it an interesting caterpillar? White body with black spots and black spines all over the body. According to Minno et al, the eggs are laid singly, but several other sources agree that the eggs are laid in clusters. That is, they’re not in rafts, each egg touching the next, but they are laid in loose aggregations. I suppose the authors are technically accurate, but for a lay audience the phrase “singly” is a bit misleading.

The photo above was taken with an older lens that doesn’t allow me to get as close to the subject as I’d like. While it has a nominally “better” zoom factor (80mm) than the lens in the photos below (zooms “only” to 55mm), the newer lens has a much closer focal point, so you don’t need anywhere near as much zoom. This find was so exciting that I went back in the house to get the newer lens; it’s hard to describe how much better the close-focus lens works, so I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Here’s a “thumbnail” shot of a single caterpillar and a few eggs:

Did you notice the “holes” running along the length of the animal? If you look closely, you’ll see that there is one “hole” per abdominal segment, except for the first two segments. These holes are called spiracles and they allow the caterpillar to breathe. On some species, the last pair of holes is larger than the others, as they have to supply the entire posterior of the animal with oxygen while the others only have to supply their own individual segment.

Here is a pair of Zebra larvae. I don’t think they’re trying to eat each other (these caterpillars are not described as being cannibalistic, unlike Giant Swallowtail larvae), but they certainly do look like they’re in close communion:

And here is the by-now traditional thumb shot of the pair:

If you clicked any of the pictures above for the larger version, you probably noticed that these caterpillars have yellow heads. Here again Minno et al’s description of the caterpillar is a bit misleading; they say that the head is white. This must be a variable character, because it’s clearly yellow in the photos.

Did you also notice the color of the spots on the bodies? Some larvae have black spots while others have brown. I wonder if that’s a function of age, or sex, or some other character, or it might just be random. Do younger larvae have brown spots that deepen to black (or vice versa)? Or do females, which I believe are browner than the males as adults, have the brown spots, while the male caterpillars have black? (I’ve not been able to find a reference that confirms my hunch that female adults are browner than males, but I thought I read it somewhere…)

One interesting thing about the adult form of this butterfly is that it is relatively long lived. While other butterflies feed on nectar alone, the Zebra (and other heliconians as well) supplements its diet with pollen. Apparently this richer food source enables the Zebra to live for several months, rather than the days to weeks of other types of butterfly.

Hooray for Heliconius! Hooray for Zebras!

Zebra. Lion Country Safari, Loxahatchee, FL, October 24, 2011.

No, not that kind of zebra. This kind:


New backyard butterfly: Heraclides cresphontes


There hasn’t been much to post about recently, with all the wind and clouds keeping photo ops to a minimum. The heliconians (zebras and julias) are still hanging out around my passionvines, and the blues are still festooning the scorpion tail. I’m also seeing sulphurs around, as I have been all summer—no surprise with False Tamarind (Lysiloma latisiliquum), the larval host tree of Large Orange Sulphur (Phoebis agarithe), on the premises—but trying to get a picture of those strong and erratic fliers is like trying to get a picture of the wind itself.

I’ve also been seeing a couple of large swallowtail species. One of them is the familiar Battus polydamas that I had around the old house, thanks to the robust Dutchman’s-pipe we had there. Here at the new house they drift over to our house from our across-the-street neighbors, who have a much smaller, but still quite productive, vine.

The other swallowtail I’m seeing now and again is the striking Heraclides cresphontes, Giant Swallowtail. It’s a two-toned beast, as you can see from the couple of snapshots below, taken back in 2008 when I was frequenting Fern Forest at lunchtime. In this one you can see the black upperside with the strong yellow spots, the hint of color on the tail and dorsal side of the abdomen:

But that’s nothing compared to the cream-colored underside, with the strongly marked blue median spot-band edged in orange, and the cream-colored abdomen:

I show these ancient photos because despite all my efforts here at home, I have yet to capture this butterfly on my camera’s digital chip.

These colorful butterflies nectar on just about anything, but they tend to favor areas that have their favorite larval food, which is just about any member of the citrus family (hence one of their other common names, “orangedog”). And as I was out hand-watering a few late-season transplants Monday night (a wild coffee, a gumbo limbo, and a firebush), I checked in on one of the first plantings that I put in, my Zanthoxylum fagara, also known as Wild Lime or Lime Prickly Ash. As its common name implies, it’s a member of the citrus family. And lo and behold, I saw what looked like a giant bird dropping! On closer inspection, though, that “bird poop” had shape, structure, and even what look like ocelli at the “head” end:

That’s no bird poop! That’s a giant caterpillar! Intimidating little bugger, innit?

And it’s not just any giant caterpillar: it’s literally a Giant Swallowtail caterpillar. This one looks to be about two weeks old, fourth instar, if the timeline on this website from way out west (Utah!) holds true for my area (which it might not; the humidity and extra daylight of subtropical Florida might favor rapid larval development).

Here are a couple more shots of this little guy. In this next one you can see the shiny skin that increases its resemblance to fresh bird poop. (And note the wicked thorn visible on the plant in this shot; that’s why I put this particular plant in the corner, where it wouldn’t get much traffic. I don’t want people getting stuck by those vicious spines!):

And this last shot actually shows most of the animal in focus; always a nice  effect to strive for in one’s nature photography. You know: focus!

One of my guides to butterfly caterpillars (Allen et al 2005) says that this is the most likely of all citrus swallowtail caterpillars to occur in the garden, and recommends, before any other citrus tree, prickly ash (which is a close relative of wild lime). So I’m pretty confident of the ID on this little guy; I can’t wait to see the adult form!

Another of my caterpillar guides (Wagner 2005) notes that this is

a caterpillar with excellent options in both bird-dropping and snake-mimicry. When viewed head-on the later instar caterpillar passes as a credible snake mimic with scalelike markings all about the thorax. When viewed from the side and top its visage is that of a bird dropping, especially in early instars. Its shiny skin adds to the disguise, giving the larva the character of a freshly deposited dropping. (78)

And my third guide (Minno et al 2005) echoes the other two in noting that this is one of the more conspicuous and predictable caterpillars.

One note about the name: the genus to which this species is traditionally assigned (Papilio) is disputed. Some taxonomists prefer to split this large group into three or more genera, one of which is Heraclides, to which these “splitters” assign Giant Swallowtail. Others prefer the “traditional” classification of this animal as a member of Papilio, but they place it in the “Thoas” group (there actually is a Thoas Swallowtail, a rare visitor in extreme Southern Texas).

Two of my three caterpillar guides (all dated 2005—a banner year for caterpillar books, with one each from Oxford, UPF, and Princeton!) still list the Giant Swallowtail under Papilio (P. cresphontes), but Minno et al, brave taxonomists, list it under the new name, Heraclides. The insect conservation group the Xerces society follows this new taxonomy, at least based on their entry for a closely related species, Schaus’ Swallowtail:

Traditionally, all North American swallowtails were placed in the genus Papilio but were recently split between three genera. Papilio aristodemus was transferred to the genus Heraclides Hübner 1819.

I don’t have any skin in this game; I just want to know what to call the darn thing!

[UPDATE: The Heracleidae, of course, are the descendants of Hercules; Cresphontes is one of those people.]


Allen, T.J., J.P. Brock, and J. Glassberg. 2005. Caterpillars in the Field and Garden: A Field Guide to the Butterfly Caterpillars of North America. New York: Oxford UP.

Minno, M.C., J.F. Butler, and D. W. Hall. 2005. Florida Butterfly Caterpillars and Their Host Plants. Gainesville: UPF.

Wagner, D.L. 2005. Caterpillars of Eastern North America: A Guide to Identification and Natural History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP.

Backyard butterfly: Cassius Blue


One great thing about working from home is that it’s relatively easy to see wonderful things on your lunch break—that is, if you’ve planted the right backyard habitat. Last week I wrote about the butterfly-attracting qualities of Heliotropium angiospermum, or Scorpion’s-Tail, which is conveniently located between my pool and the backyard fence. Back then, I was captivated by the sight of a Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) butterfly resting on one of the exquisitely sculpted leaves of this showy little flower.

Today I went outside to see who else might have been visiting (before the Pearl Crescent there was the Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak), and as you can see from the photo below, today it was the turn of Leptotes cassius. This handsome little devil is the common and widespread (well, in Florida and Texas, anyway, although the two populations are geographically distant enough that they have been recognized as two separate subspecies, theonus in Florida, and striata in Texas) Cassius Blue butterfly:

These little guys are abundant in my neighborhood; I’ve seen up to half a dozen at once chasing each other off of favored perches on this little flower, so I’m pretty sure someone here has one of their many host plants in the pea family (Fabaceae). In fact, I think the large tree on the side of my house, one whose ID I was pretty uncertain of until researching this post, is one of the hosts. That tree has the powder-puff seeds, the long pods, and the compound, fine-textured, feathery leaves of the lovely Florida native False or Wild-Tamarind (Lysiloma latisiliquum):

One of the advantages to keeping this weblog is that research from one area (butterflies) leads naturally into knowledge about others (the most likely ID of my mystery tree!). Yay, blogging!

Here’s another shot of the foliage:

According to Rufino,

Wild-tamarind plays an extremely important role in the ecology of South Florida hammocks. It is a fast-growing pioneer species. Seedlings establish themselves in open, sunny areas and quickly grow into large shade trees that serve as “nurse” trees for a wide array of hammock species needing such a canopy to become established. [In fact, it’s doing that for my Pearlberry shrub right now!]

If I ever find a caterpillar in this tree, I’ll be sure to post about it. The branches are pretty far above the ground, though, so it’s not too likely anytime soon.

Early morning lepidoptera

Pearl crescent's underwing, showing the diagnostic "crescent."

Was out early last Sunday mowing (with a reel mower, no motors) the lawn (all volunteer plants, not watered except by the rain) and watching the boy play in the sandbox when I noticed this striking little butterfly on our good old Florida native scorpion’s-tail (Heliotropium angiospermum, which is a wonderful little plant that I need to write up soon):

The butterfly’s name is Phyciodes tharos, Pearl Crescent. Taxonomists have decided that butterflies like this belong to the family Nymphalidae, subfamily Nymphalinae. That means it’s a “true” brush-footed butterfly. What’s a “brushfoot”? That means unlike most insects, with six fully functional legs, their forelegs are greatly reduced: they’re just brushes, not legs.

Here is a picture of the underwing:

You can see from this shot that there are four, not six, legs on the undercarriage. Look more closely at either picture (upperwing or underwing) and you’ll probably spot lots and lots of crescent-shaped markings; they (actually, a specific series of them) are what give this group of butterflies the common name “crescents”:

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos), underwing detail.

From the underwing to the upperwing, crescent markings abound:

Phyciodes tharos hindwing detail (upperwing).

Here’s another crescent on the forewing topside, in nearly the same location as the one on the hindwing underneath:

Pearl crescent forewing detail. Boca Raton, FL, July 17, 2011.

Can you guess which of these groups of crescent-shaped markings gives the group its name?


Backyard animals in June

There aren’t a ton of animals visible in the steamy sunny heat of late June here in Boca; those few that there are, apart from the omnipresent mockingbird and his counterpart in red, the cardinal, tend to be insects. Here’s a blue dasher dragonfly that seems to favor a perch on the spicewood tree on the side of our house:

As you can see from the red eyes, this is a not-quite-mature male (the adult male has green eyes). But he’s got the adult male body coloration: blue abdomen with black on the tip, and yellow on the sides of the first few abdominal segments. Females are brown and yellow, but tend to turn blue as they age. They usually retain the yellow stripes that run down the dorsal side on the majority of the abdominal segments, though, which helps differentiate a “blue” female from a juvenile male. For more on this, visit’s blue dasher page.

The blue dasher is a widespread species in the United States, occurring from Florida and the Bahamas all the way out west to California, and north as far as southern British Columbia in the west to Ontario in the east. In other words, just about wherever you live in the lower 48, you have a good chance of encountering this species, although it is apparently absent from the Dakotas and the Rocky Mountain states.

Apart from the lovely anisopterans, the other insect we get in droves here is one of Eric’s favorites: butterflies! (He calls them lellerflies, as near as I can make out. He’s not actually referring to the lepidopterans around here; his gymnastics lessons have him “reach for your butterflies”; i.e., reach your arms straight over your head, in preparation for “making your pizzas,” which means planting your hands on the floor in front of you. All of this is to position you properly to allow you to turn a somersault. Just don’t try it with real pizzas, please!)

And here’s a lellerfly in potentio, a Polydamas swallowtail (Battus polydamas):

As you can see, he’s fatter than the Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia gigantea) leaf he’s feeding on! For the life history of this guy, visit the UF/IFAS web page; for many better photos, use

From the archives, here’s another common caterpillar we get this time of year (although this archive shot was from December–while the summers can be a bit muggy, Florida winters are da bomb!):

The gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) is a very pretty adult, and the larval form is one of the more attractive critters among lepidopterans. Certainly friendlier looking than the big old swallowtail larva above, although apparently its diet of passiflora species (Passiflora incarnata in our yard) renders it noxious, as its bright orange and black coloration (an aposematic combination) would suggest.

So go on, get out into the real world, even if it is a little hot, and a little muggy, and a little buggy. It’ll do you some good!

Agraulis larvae

A couple of weeks ago (December 2, actually), I happened to be outside and found this larva of Agraulis vanillae, the beautiful Gulf Fritillary, on our maypop (passiflora) vine. I can’t get over how those little feet work so well to keep these guys attached to whatever they’re clinging to at the moment.

Seeing this caterpillar was a bit of a surprise, because most of that entire fence on the side of the house is covered with a very aggressive Aristolochia vine that these fritillary caterpillars can’t eat. But way back when we planted, we had two (or maybe it was three?) of these native passiflora vines, and only one of the exotic Dutchman’s pipe. Even in the detail photos, the larger leaves of the exotic vine are easy to spot; it’s pretty hard to tell that the caterpillar is happily munching on its food in and among all that foliage that wouldn’t do it any good at all…

Now I’m not saying that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but there really is something to it, at least as far as these vines are concerned. If I even want to see one of these vines, I have to go over to my neighbor’s yard and look back at the fence; for some reason the pretty little flowers are more prominent on that side of the fence.

Here’s another shot of the fritillary:

1 2