Tag Archives: Nymphalidae

my drawing of Agraulis vanillae, the gulf fritillary

my drawing of Agraulis vanillae, the gulf fritillary

My drawing of my favorite butterfly, drawn from a pinned specimen I collected at Brackenridge Field Laboratory in Austin, TX. Graphite, charcoal, color pencil, pastel pencil, glue and aluminum foil on sketching paper.

The Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae Linn. 1758) is a common butterfly species in the Nymphalidae family throughout the Americas, ranging in latitude from Argentina to California. It is the only species in the genus. The name Gulf Fritillary comes from their seasonal migration across the Gulf of Mexico, and their superficial similarity to the fritillary butterflies (Melitaeini).

The caterpillars feed exclusively upon passionflowers (Passiflora spp., esp. Passiflora incarnata); flowers of special beauty. Like other Heliconiines, Gulf Fritillaries sequester the cyanide compounds from the passionflower leaves they eat, making their bodies toxic and unpalatable to predators. Their wing tops are bright orange. They’re part of a Mullerian mimicry complex (where lots of toxic spp. have similar warning color patterns).

Their silvery spots on their wingbottoms are reflective like mirrors, and are why I like this species so much. Usually even aposematic toxic butterflies have cryptic (hard to see) underwings. This underwing crypsis usually only works in situ, with patterns possiby seeming conspicuous if viewed in isolation, as in this drawing. But perching on a branch, the silvery wingspots reflect the surrounding habitat, making it stealth-cloak camouflaged.