Gulf Fritillary: Passion for butterflies

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Posted on Sep 10 2020
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Life stages of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly taken here on Saipan.
Iva Maurin/Lee Roy Sablan Jr.)

Have you been noticing the many orange butterflies fluttering around the island these past few weeks?

Whether you are out to swim at Obyan Beach, jogging around the Gov. Eloy S. Inos Peace Park in Puerto Rico, taking trash down at the Marpi landfill, or perhaps, simply relaxing in your own yard, chances are you’ve seen them—they are called Gulf Fritillary butterflies.

According to Division of Fish and Wildlife entomologist Lee Roy Sablan, Jr., the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) is native to the southern states of the U.S., and are found as far south as Central America.

They are a recent arrival to the Mariana Islands, with a recorded first sighting only in Nov. 6, 2018 in Guam, and that it is not clear yet if the butterfly will displace other species or if it will become an invasive specie.

It is important to note, however, that the Gulf Fritillary was mentioned in a 1997 study, Butterflies of Micronesia by the Agricultural Experiment Station-College of Agriculture and Life Sciences by the University of Guam.

It noted of the butterfly in Palau, but that the only record is a photograph taken in the Palau Entomology Collection where the “underside” was not photographed, so its identification could not really be confirmed.

“Here in the Mariana Islands they feed on bush passion fruit which in itself is an invasive vine. This could prove to be beneficial as a bio-control agent, but it is too early to tell. Unless we have passion fruit farmers on island, they may not be considered agricultural pests.”

Also known as the passion butterfly because they love passionflowers, the Gulf Fritillary are medium-sized, and their wingspan is up to 95 millimeters long. The wings are bright orange with black markings, its sides brown, with prominent three white spots lined with black on each wing. They have silver spots on the underside.

Sablan clarifies, however, that the butterfly is sexually dimorphic, which means the male and the female have different physical traits. The male is a much brighter orange while the female is more brownish orange. He also said that in many states, the butterflies are normally migratory but that here on the islands, these traits may not be present.

The adult butterflies also tend to prefer open areas such as grasslands, parks, woodlands, and meadows.

“They will breed year round as long as host plants are available, mostly plants from the Family Passifloraceae. Passifloraceae includes passion fruit vines which we have two invasive species on island, Passiflora foetida and Passiflora suberosa.”

“For now, there is no need for alarm unless you plan on growing passion fruits, in which case there are some organic and conventional treatments available. Enjoy the butterflies while they last,” he added.

So, if you have not seen one yet, and you are interested in seeing one, or many Gulf Fritillary, all you need to do is follow the road where the passion grows. Enjoy nature!

Iva Maurin | Author
Iva Maurin is a communications specialist with environment and community outreach experience in the Philippines and in California. She has a background in graphic arts and is the Saipan Tribune’s community and environment reporter. Contact her at iva_maurin@saipantribune.com
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