When I planted native passion flower on the back fence, it was part of my hardy-tropicals garden scheme. But instead of fabulous flowers I got an outbreak of glorious butterflies- gulf fritillaries. The butterflies are so beautiful I’ve forgiven their larvae for eating it all. Black and orange spiny monsters by the dozens have chowed down, greenery going in one end, frass popping out the other. Once they stripped the leaves, they gnawed the petioles down to nubs. And when they finally ran out of food, they morphed.
While I watched, a caterpillar girdled and killed a vine, turning it from green to brown. Then it shucked its gaudy hide and clung head-down, wrapping itself in a plain brown chrysalis nearly identical to a dead leaf. Its siblings attached their own cryptic hulls to the brown vine, though green ones twined alongside. It was almost as though the caterpillar engineered a safe haven for the fritillary family’s metamorphosis.
Things aren’t looking too good for the passiflora- I hope it recovers from the fritillary invasion. But is it really an invasion when the air is full of butterflies?
(update: see below for frustrated and hungry gulf fritillary caterpillar footage)