Fritillary Fashion

IMG_2133One of the most colorful displays in the historic Charleston area this time of year is the Gulf Fritillary, a distinctive butterfly easily distinguished by its bright orange wings with black and white patterns and streaked veins. This tiny creature is native to this area, emerging from its caterpillar stage by late Summer to emerge with a fluttering frenzy in search of nectar from gardens, forests and roadside wildflowers.
Local gardeners plant shrub borders with Pentas, Lantana, and Honeysuckle, blooming with bright blooms that catch the Fritillary’s compound eyes, which can observe a 360-degree pattern without the butterfly having to move its head.
The tiny head has two sets of protruding sensors in the stub-like palpi and the long antennae, both of which can detect the scent of nectar being emitted by blooming plants.
With three pairs of legs to latch on to succulent blooms, the Fritillary loads its gas tank with a hollow protrusion called the probiscis, which sucks up the sweet nectar. Butterflies only ingest liquids, and will also lap up water, sweat, and even urine to absorb minerals and proteins.
The wings that make the Fritillary such an attractive creature are made up a thousands of paper-like scales. These are helpful in a number of ways: by absorbing heat the sun to give the constantly-moving butterfly extra energy; as a means of attracting other butterflies to mate; and, showing off color patterns that may warn predators in the natural world that the wings are toxic, as well as large, circular spots that can also deceive predators into observing the butterfly as something larger and more menacing.
So enjoy the Fritillary, it will be putting on this bright show for about another month.

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