Ever Seen a Butterfly Laying an Egg?

Oct 3, 2012

Ever Seen a Butterfly Laying an Egg?

Oct 3, 2012

Let's talk butterfly eggs. Have you ever seen a Gulf Fritillary butterfly laying an egg in the wild?

The Gulf Frit (Agraulis vanillae), one of the showiest of all butterflies, is a flash of orange-red as it flutters toward its host plant (genus Passiflora) to lay its eggs. If you're lucky--that is, if you're in the right spot at the right time--you may actually see it laying an egg.

Our story began two months ago when we planted a passion flower vine in our yard to attract Gulf Frits. The vine, about two feet tall, was a thin, scraggly little thing yet to bloom. It still hasn't.  

Well, about two weeks ago, the Gulf Frit butterflies discovered it and began laying eggs on the leaves. Soon, bristly-looking red, orange and black caterpillars appeared.

That's exactly what we wanted. Caterpillars. Lots of 'em.  However, these little critters  were not only hungry, they were famished! In a matter of a day or so, they denuded it. 

The result: a pathetic-looking Passiflora that reminded us of Charlie Brown's scraggly little Christmas tree, a tree that nobody wanted and everyone ridiculed.  In fact, when I showed a cell-phone photo of the sticklike plant to scientists at the UC Davis Department of Entomology, they laughed. Uproariously.

"THAT is a plant?"

What to do? Find another passion flower vine. A quick trip last Saturday morning to a Sacramento nursery yielded a five-gallon Passiflora manicata, variety Linda Escobar, hailing from Ecuador. 

We temporarily placed Linda Escobar right next to Charlie Brown. That very day, both the caterpillars and adults gravitated toward Linda. Sorry, Charlie.

On Sunday I captured several images of a Gulf Frit laying a egg on Linda.

What does an egg look like? It's about the size of a pin head and emerges the color of pure gold (it will darken later).

Does life get any better than this?

Not in the butterfly world.