I find their on-time arrival amazing every year. How do Gulf Fritillary butterflies know when July 1 arrives? They seem to have lurked somewhere waiting for the yard to be ready.
I didn’t know what I had started when I planted three maypop vines to grow along the carport lattice several years ago. My intention was to have shade for the west part of the house, some beautiful passion flowers, and maypops in the fall for bursting with grandchildren. Also called a passion flower vine, my plants multiplied and fulfilled all those expectations for a couple of years before adding a bonus.
I discovered an orange caterpillar with black stripes and spikes munching its way around a leaf one morning. Following the pattern of its species, it was eating its way around the leaf down to the center. Thanks to Google, I quickly identified this as a stage of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly. A picky eater, as many caterpillars are, this one feeds only on the maypop vine.
Life on the lattice since then has taken on a pattern. The vines begin to pop out of the ground to start their climb in early spring, covering the lattice in lush green by the end of June when maypop flowers begin to bloom. Watching their calendars closely, the earliest butterflies show up the first of July and begin laying eggs. As the caterpillars emerge, the feasting begins. By the time fall comes, the vines are little more than stems, but I’m fine with the trade. I provide adult fare for the butterflies in their favorite lantana bushes scattered about the yard and watch them flit from one to the other. (They have a hyperactive gene and never sit still for long.) They hang around until it turns cold, which may be pretty late in the fall in South Mississippi.
Gulf Fritillaries don’t get as much publicity as their cousins the Monarchs, but their underside stained glass design is beautiful and their antics are fun. If you’d like to share the pleasure, you can order a few passion flower vines as I did, or if you’re in my neighborhood, stop by and we’ll dig a few. Did I mention that the vines are prolific and invasive?
The first butterfly showed up this week right on time. The fun begins – at least for everybody except the vine.