Saturday, September 23, 2006

Gulf Fritillaries Galore

For the first time in several years, we have oodles of gulf fritillaries managing to live through their caterpillar stage and pupate successfully. The first year I planted their larval food, maypop (Passiflora incarnata), we had numbers like this. But then a pair of Carolina wrens moved in and gave us a firsthand demonstration of "natural control". It's the maypop that's been winning in recent years.

That natural control on the fritillary population doesn't seem to be "working" right now, though. Not that I mind in the least. I've seen a Carolina wren recently, and the pair successfully raised a brood earlier this summer, so I'm not too worried about their survival. Right now, despite the wrens' obvious reproductive success this year, we have ragged, defoliated maypop vines, multitudes of bright orange, "thorny" caterpillars happily munching away, and dozens of pupae hanging off eaves and in lots of other creative places. (In the photos, the caterpillar is next to its outgrown and discarded exoskeleton, and the chrysalis is hanging on the underside of our trashcan handle.)

Most stunning of all, at any one time I commonly see 10 or more velvety orange adults doing twining mating flights, resting in the sun, laying eggs or (occasionally) feeding.

The garden itself may be looking pretty ragged right now, but butterflies are in their glory!

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