AppearanceThe Gulf fritillary is a medium to large butterfly, with a wingspan of 6–9.5 cm . Its underwings are buff, with large silvery spots. It takes its common name from its migration over the Gulf of Mexico.
The Gulf fritillary is commonly seen in parks and gardens, as well as in open country. Its range extends from Argentina north through Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean to the southern United States, as far north as the San Francisco Bay Area on the west coast. It is occasional farther north.
ReproductionThe larva is a caterpillar which grows to approximately 4 cm in length. It is bright orange in color and covered in rows of black spines. The spines are soft to the touch and do not sting, but the larva is poisonous if eaten. The larva feeds exclusively on species of passionflower, such as maypop , yellow passionflower , and running pop .
Black and orange stripes warn predators of the toxicidity of the caterpillar which protects it from predators. Many birds avoid it. Some specialized insects such as paper wasps and pragmatists have been observed feeding on it, however, and larger caterpillars sometimes eat smaller ones. This species belongs to the "orange" Batesian mimicry complex.
The chrysalis is approximately 3 cm long. It is mottled brown and looks like a dry leaf.
The cultivation of passionflowers has enabled the Gulf fritillary to extend its range, into California, for example.
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