The Passion Vine and the Butterflies and Other Creatures That Love It

by Donna Lewis

Most of us have these beautiful vines that come up on the ground, fences, and trellises. So besides being magnificent, who else appreciates them? Butterflies and birds, that’s who.

Passionflowers

The vines only show up when it’s hot.  Pretty lucky for us, because it’s hot here.

The Latin name for the passion vine is Passiflora incarnata. What you may not know is that many of the vines we have here are actually naturalized, not native. You can tell by the number of leaves on them which one they are.

Another view.

If they have five leaves, they originally came from Asia and naturalized here. If vines have only three leaves, they are true natives. Both work well here and are host plants for the Gulf Coast and Variegated Fritillary butterfly.  The vine also provides cover for other insects.

Fritillaries

The Gulf Coast species is orange and black with silver under parts.

Gulf Coast Frittilary

They use the passion vine as a host plant. They love hot weather, so only appear when the vine emerges.  Pretty smart of them.

Gulf Coast Fritillary caterpillar

The second species of Fritillary is the Variegated variety.

Variegated Frittilary. Photo by Sue Ann Kendall.
Variegated Frittilary caterpillar. Photo by @susanmco on iNaturalist.

They also use the passion vine as a host plant to deposit their eggs on.

The Vairegated Frittilary does not have the silvery underwings of the Gulg Coast. It looks more like a dried leaf when it has its wings up. Both Fritillaries appear in the summertime, and will leave when the weather turns cooler.

The passion vine is a great way to cover a large area in your garden. [Suna points out that the fruit is also edible and makes a lovely jelly.]

This vine has five-leaf clusters, so it’s naturalized.

Beautiful and practical!  Perfect.

Caterpillar Season

Cindy Travis and Sue Ann Kendall

From Cindy:

I found a dozen of these caterpillars devouring my dill. When there was nothing but a stem left, they crawled up the side of my planter and crawled away. I thought they might find the nearby parsley and ingest it too, but no sign of that and no sign if them.

I suppose they are somewhere nearby spinning their cocoons.  Maybe I’ll see some pretty black swallowtails around soon if my nesting phoebes and barn swallows or bluebirds don’t get them first!

From Sue Ann:

I have had many of these in my bronze fennel plant, and I hope they have gone off to pupate, too! The fennel also hosted the caterpillar of the cabbage looper moth. I’ll plant dill next year, for sure. The more black swallowtails, the better!

More about the Black Swallowtail, from Cindy

Papilio polyxenes, the black swallowtail, American swallowtail or parsnip swallowtail, is a butterfly found throughout much of North America. It is the state butterfly of Oklahoma and New Jersey. Wikipedia

Eastern black swallowtail. Photo by @AngelsLight via Twenty20. Licensed use.

Black Swallowtail Life Cycle: Overview and Timings

StageTypical Duration
Egg stageGenerally 4 to 10 days, depending on temperature and host plant
Caterpillar (larval) stage3 to 4 weeks
Chrysalis (pupal) stage10 to 20 days (except for overwintering pupae)
Adult butterfly stage6 to 14 days
Facts about the Black Swallowtail

And More from Sue Ann

I had to add this observation from last night, as I was dining outdoors at the Central Avenue Bistro in Cameron (with safe distancing and all that). I felt something prickling my ankle and looked down to find this fellow. It must be on the last instar, because it’s big! I believe it’s a live oak metria moth (Metria amelia) given that it and many friends were falling from the live oak tree we were sitting under, though iNaturalist has yet to confirm me.

Hard to tell the front from the back of this one!

The moth looks like this, which really would blend right in with an oak tree!

Live oak metria moth. iNaturalist photo by xylochic627 (CC-NY-NC)

Nature Goes about Her Business

by Donna Lewis

I hope we are all using this forced time at our home’s to look at the beautiful things that nature provides for us. I hope you enjoy these photos of the life in my garden as I share this story.

Earth Day, April 22nd, is coming up.  But every day should be Earth Day.

Last evening I had a concert put on by the frogs in my small pond.

In the morning the doves, phoebes, cardinals and purple martins sang to me.

In my garden the bumble bees and Hummingbirds busied themselves with the business of breakfast, paying little attention to my presence.

The breeze started to move the grasses and wildflowers around in the pasture.

Nothing short of magnificent! 

Nature goes about her business no matter what is going on with humanity.

We can learn a lot from her.

Identification Question

by Eric Neubauer

On March 16 and 17, I walked my property and nearby roads taking photos for iNaturalist observations. My neighborhood is former blackland prairie turned into grazing land and farm fields, and it includes gravel roads, wooded patches, tree lines, and a creek. Despite years of heavy cultivation, native prairie grasses and wildflowers still pop up on their own. These managed to survive in the road margins and tree lines.

Spring is definitely here, and a lot more is going on than earlier in the year. In all, I took almost 400 photos including multiple shots which allow me to choose the best focus or angle. Over the next three days I selected photos and identified them as well as I could before uploading them to iNaturalist under the user name eaneubauer.

Gorgeous image of a gray hairstreak from Eric’s iNaturalist observations.

I often use  iNaturalist for identification. I’m not very familiar with plant species, but a search of particular plant groups in Milam County made it easy to identify most of the plants I found. The previous efforts of several ECR chapter members were largely responsible.

I never know what I will encounter. I’ve found surprises like young fishing spiders thousands of feet from any permanent surface water. For identification of animals, I usually have to include nearby counties or even the entire state because of limited Milam County animal observations. I also find other observers very helpful with identifications, especially if I can narrow my observations down to the family or genus level and the photos are good.

Silvery checkerspot observed on March 24.

Most observers have a specific interest. Butterflies have a large following. Even groups like jumping spiders have their fans. Some groups can be difficult to identify from photos. Grasshoppers come to mind. Flies are a real challenge because of their great diversity. If you see a lot of flies in one area, don’t assume they are all the same. I’ve learned that lesson, and found some oddities as a result. Right now I have a “dark frog-headed fly” which I can’t seem to find among the 802 species observed in Texas. Here is a link.

The mystery fly

Maybe someone who knows will comment on it.