Return to Life Cycle Studies of Lower Rio Grande Valley Butterflies
November 11, 2013, at 1230hrs., I observed a Julia Heliconian - Dryas iulia moderata laying eggs on the Corkystem
Passionflower - Passiflora suberosa that was growing mostly in a 8'x5'x18'' mat, about 9' high on top of my
backyard arbor. With Randy Newman's "Short People" song ringing in my head, I quickly fetched a step-stool
to try to get a photograph of the Julia laying an egg, as well as try to collect an egg. I did get one poor photograph
of the butterfly laying her eggs while flapping her wings. However, I was able to get an egg!
The Julia caterpillar is very awkward looking, with all those unevenly high spikes all over its back, and
would definitely make the Julia come in last in a beauty contest with Black Swallowtail, Monarch or Queen cats.
Mexican Bluewing, Common Mestra, and other brushfooted butterfly caterpillars
have the spikes. Are these just ornamental or are they to deter predators like birds, lizards or insects (remember,
no butterfly caterpillar can sting---only some moth caterpillars can sting)? They certainly don't stop our local Mockingbird
or Curve-billed Thrashers from scarfing these caterpilars up.
The caterpillar was a "pain" to feed, as
it would only feed on the tender new growth of the Corkystem Passionflower. Since most of this growth on the arbor is
well out of my reach, I had to search for newly grown Corkystem coming up around the yard, where the birds had scattered the
seeds. Many a cold and misty night I was out in the dark with a flashlight trying to find food for this caterpillar,
but I was determined I was not going to lose this cat, due to starvation!
One neat thing about this study is that I FINALLY was able to photograph the
sequence of a caterpillar changing into a chrysalis. Most remarkable to me was seeing the antennae formed in less than
two minutes from the start of the beginning of the pupa.
Not so neat, I completely missed photographing the Julia
emerging from the chrysalis. After rearing several caterpillars, one can learn a few "signals", such as: a
caterpillar will always rest in place, not moving or eating, for several hours just before it goes into a new instar; a caterpillar
will go into a growth spurt from 1-2 millimeters per day of growth to several millimeters per day for a couple of days, just
prior to forming a "J"; a caterpillar will roam around rapidly for several hours, just prior to forming a "J";
brushfooted butterfly chrysalises will turn very dark to black, just prior to the butterfly emerging...except, the Julia chrysalis
only turned a light gray color, barely darkening, before the emergence.
The Julia Heliconian
picked the wrong time of year to lay her eggs. Since November 12, the LRGV has had wet and often cold weather (temperatures
below 50F are cold in the Valley). Those eggs and caterpillars and pupae that were outside had to endure nighttime temps
into the low 40's. I kept the newly emerged butterfly indoors for 24 hours, before releasing it into warmer temperatures.
All photos on this site are by Jan Dauphin and are copyright protected
and may not be used or published elsewhere without the permission of Jan Dauphin
Corkystem Passionflower - Passiflora suberosa is
the most abundant of the four Passionflowers (Passiflora filipes, P.foetida, P. suberosa, and P. tenuiloba)
that are native to the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The small, dime-size flowers flowers are relatively non-descript
unless viewed closely. The fruit is small, starting out green and turning dark purple to black when ripe, and is eaten by
many species of birds. P. suberosa is an important caterpillar food plant/host plant to several species
of fritillaries and heliconians, including the Julia Heliconian.
Almost as soon as the pair mate, egg laying will begin.
The Julia began laying her eggs on 11/12/2013,
at about 1230hrs.
11/11/2013, egg laid at 1245hrs., beginning Day-1 as
11/14/2013, Day-4 as an egg. The coloring towards
red started on Day-2, and did not change much through Day-4.
11/15/2013 at 1310hrs. Day-5 from when the egg
was laid. The caterpillar has eclosed, beginning Day-1 as a caterpillar. The first thing the caterpillar did was
to begin eating its egg casing. The caterpillar is 3mm long.
11/16/2013. Day-6 from when the egg was laid.
Day-2 as a caterpillar. The caterpillar is 4mm long.
11/17/2013. Day-7 from when the egg was laid.
Day-3 as a caterpillar. The caterpillar is 5mm long.
11/19/2013. Day-9 from when the egg was laid.
Day-5 as a caterpillar. The caterpillar is 7mm long.
11/22/2013. Day-12 from when the egg was laid.
Day-8 as a caterpillar. The caterpillar is 11mm long.
11/25/2013. Day-15 from when the egg was laid.
Day-11 as a caterpillar. The caterpillar is 19mm long.
11/28/2013. Day-18 from when the egg was laid.
Day-14 as a caterpillar. The caterpillar is 25mm long.
11/30/2013. Day-20 from when the egg was laid.
Day-18 as a caterpillar. The caterpillar is 35mm long.
12/2/2013 at 1807hrs. Day-22 from when the egg
was laid. Day-18 as a caterpillar. The caterpillar is 35 mm long.
12/2/2013 at 1949 hrs. Day-22 from when the egg
was laid. Day-18 as a caterpillar. The caterpillar is starting to form the silkpad from which it will attach itself
to. Note the gray, swollen wingbuds just above the 2nd and 3rd set of legs.
12/2/2013 at 2140hrs. Day-22 from when the egg
was laid. Day-18 as a caterpillar. The caterpillar has attached itself to its silkpad and has formed a "J".
The swollen wingbuds are prominent.
12/3/2013 at 0821hrs. Day-23 from when
the egg was laid. Day-19 as a caterpillar. The forming of the chrysalis has begun. Note the timeline through
the following 7 photographs as the process continues. The caterpillar began moving
its spikes around, which caught my eye, thus alerting me to the changes about to happen.
12/3/2013 at 0822hrs.
12/3/2013 at 0822.5hrs.
12/3/2013 at 0822.7hrs. You can clearly see the
12/3/2013 at 0823hrs.
12/3/2013 at 0823.5hrs.
12/3/2013 at 0827hrs.
12/3/2013 at 0842hrs.
12/3/2013 at 1008hrs. Day-23 from when the egg
was laid. Day-1 as a chrysalis.
12/4/2013. Day-24 from when the egg was laid.
Day-2 as a chrysalis.
12/8/2013. Day-28 from when the egg was laid.
Day-6 as a chrysalis.
12/11/2013 at 0900hrs. Day-31 from when the egg
was laid. Day-9 as a chrysalis. The chrysalis has turned a very light gray color.
12/11/2013 at 1522hrs. The male Julia Heliconian
has emerged (at ~1200hrs-1400hrs). Because of the chilly weather,
I will keep it indoors and release it, tomorrow.
12/11/2013 at 1524hrs. The male Julia Heliconian
has emerged (at ~1200hrs-1400hrs). Because of the chilly weather, I will keep it indoors and release it, tomorrow.
12/12/13 at 1300hrs. The Julia Heliconian
was released onto Texas Lantana - Lantana horrida, one of its most often used nectar flower. Weather forcast
for the next several days is for daytime temperatures to be in the 70's and 80's. Good luck, bug, you're gonna' need