The Very Hungry Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar – From Egg to Baby Caterpillar
One benefit of creating a wildlife habitat in my yard is I get too see the wonder of nature up close throughout the year. I never tire of watching the magical life cycle of gulf fritillaries which are the most abundant butterflies in my yard thanks to all my passionflower vines (passiflora incarnata). If I had young children this would be the first plant I'd add to my yard so my children could grow up experiencing the thrill of watching this captivating process.
Gulf fritillary butterflies often lay their tiny yellow eggs on the tendrils of passionflower vine. Up close they look like fat little ears of corn.
When the egg is ready to turn into a larva, it turns dark orange. Then, just like in the famous children's book, out of the egg comes a tiny and very hungry caterpillar. This is called the first instar. The caterpillar first eats the egg sac for nutrients then moves on to the gracious host plant.
The larvae outgrows its skin and sheds the exoskeleton for new ones multiple times. The stages between this molting process are called instars. The first time I saw a shedded exoskeleton with a caterpillar nearby, I thought another nasty looking insect was eating the larva. Now when I see this strange scene, I feel satisfied knowing the baby caterpillars in my yard are growing up 🐛