Up until this year, the usual lineup of flutterers has included the tiger swallowtail, the black swallowtail, and the occasional monarch butterfly. But this year, all of a sudden it seemed, I had a new butterfly in the garden I’d never noticed before.
This new one, it was everywhere I went. I did wonder what was up, but these things happen; new insects come and go and I seldom find out why. I was just glad to have a new beauty in the garden.
Then, my neighbor the curb whisperer and I started seeing a menacing-looking caterpillar on the passion flower vines we have on our shared fence. I have a stop before I stomp policy, so I image-googled orange caterpillar with black spikes and found it right away: the larval stage of the gulf fritillary butterfly, the exact butterfly I had been swimming in clouds of all summer. The gulf fritillary is also known as the passion butterfly, because the larvae feed on the leaves of the passion vine.
The new butterfly had a name, and now I knew why it had made my garden its home this year– my new passion for passionflower.
Yes, they were munching on my beloved passion flower vines, but they were only taking just enough. There were plenty of leaves to go around.
An interesting fact about the gulf fritillary is that it’s a Batesian mimic. What this means is that some of its ancestors accidentally produced offspring that looked somewhat similar to another, toxic species. Since the predators associated this “look” with poison, they avoided those oddly-colored kids more than others that looked like their tastier relations. These oddities thrived and produced more kids like them, and soon their species all looked similar to the toxic species. This explains the beautiful orange color of the gulf fritillary which mimics the many toxic insects of that color.
Besides the delicious fruit, a helpful tincture, and the beautiful flower, the passion flower has given me another gift.