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)

Caterpillars Galore!

by Larry Kocian

A few weeks ago, I noticed a Swallowtail butterfly flying frantically in my tropical garden, going back and forth. It would land on this volunteer plant that I didn’t know what it was until now. I realized that this Swallowtail was laying its eggs on this plant.

Happy babies

It turns out the volunteer tree is a Prickly Ash. After the egg laying, I noticed five caterpillars a few weeks later. They look like bird poop. They were happily eating each day and staying here.

They did a good job chomping at the ash!

I would check them daily. Then over time, I noticed one disappeared. Then the next couple of days, two more disappeared. Oops.

Continue reading “Caterpillars Galore!”