Gulf fritillary is a familiar fall sight in our area

Sunday, November 4, 2012

At first glance this mid-sized butterfly may appear to be a monarch butterfly, but it isn't. It is a gulf fritillary. Although bright orange like the monarch butterfly, the gulf fritillary has fewer white spots and its wings are shaped differently.

Gulf fritillaries migrate in autumn and sometimes large groupings are seen as far south as the Gulf of Mexico. This is where the gulf fritillary gets its name.

This butterfly is also called "passion butterfly" because it is often seen where passion flowers grow. The larvae of the gulf fritillary often feed exclusively upon the leaves of passion flower plants. In the butterfly stage they are less discerning and will feed on the nectar from flowers of many different kinds of plants such as thistles, morning glories and passion flowers.

The thistle in this photo is a musk thistle. The musk thistle is considered an invasive plant in Southeast Missouri. It is native to Europe and Asia and was introduced to North America in the early 1800s. I took these photos Monday, a sunny, cool, windy afternoon.

Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell. Find this column at semissourian.com to order a reprint of the photo. Find more work by Aaron at The Painted Wren Gallery.

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