Gulf Fritillary: butterfly of many costumes

While out in the garden this weekend I spotted a gulf fritillary, Agraulis vanillae incarnata. They’re stunning butterflies:

A gulf fritillary [Agraulis vanillae incarnata] hides amongst blades of lemongrass [Cymbopogon sp.].  It looks like it's hyper aware; stalking prey (even though it's looking for nectar …).  The bottom of this species' wings have beautiful spots that reflect silver in bright light (as you can see in this image), but are white in the shade.  The forewings are also partially red. (Marc Perkins)
A gulf fritillary hides among blades of lemongrass.

What first caught my eye was the silver reflections of the spots on the bottom of their wings. In direct sunlight it looks like they’re metallic; very eye-catching. But when the same butterfly is in diffuse light, those spots look white:

A gulf fritillary [Agraulis vanillae incarnata] stands on a [Ficus] leaf.  The spots on its wings when closed are white in the shade (as in this image), but reflect light to appear a beautiful silver when illuminated.  When its wings are closed, the bright orange and red colors of the butterfly are completely hidden. (Marc Perkins)
A gulf fritillary stands on a [Ficus] leaf.

Compare the first and second picture, and you’ll see that in addition to changing from metallic to white, the butterfly can also choose how much color to show on its underside. When it spreads its wings (as in the first picture), the bright red/orange coloration of its forewing is revealed; but when it rests with both wings pulled together and upright (as in the second picture) it can completely hide the red/orange color, thus showing only brown and white/silver. It can also partially separate the wings, to reveal just a bit of color (as it liked to do when it was annoyed with how close I was getting).

And speaking of color, check out the top of those wings:

A gulf fritillary [Agraulis vanillae incarnata] stands amongst blades of lemongrass [Cymbopogon sp.] with its wings outstretched, showing off its bright orange colors. The bottom of its wings have silver spots on them, not visible in this picture. (Marc Perkins)
A gulf fritillary stands amongst blades of lemongrass with its wings outstretched.

This butterfly only held open its wings for a few seconds after each flight attempt, so spotting the true colors of the wings takes finding one in flight and then watching it land.

For a fourth, and final, view of the gulf fritillary, how about a head-on look?

A gulf fritillary [Agraulis vanillae incarnata] rests its foreleg on a blade of lemongrass [Cymbopogon sp.]. (Marc Perkins)
A gulf fritillary rests its foreleg on a blade of lemongrass.

Sleek and slim, complete with a coyly resting forelimb.

And in case you didn’t realize, all four of these images are of the exact same individual. It’s surprising how different it looks depending on angle and lighting.

The larvae reportedly only eat passion flower vines; I wonder which of my neighbors has one.

More pictures

To see more of my insect pictures, head to my Insects gallery.

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