Gulf Fritillary Butterfly - Agraulis vanillae
Family: Nymphalidae (brushfoot butterflies) / Subfamily Heliconiinae
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Live gulf fritillaries photographed at Georgia and Cumberland County, North Carolina.
Gulf Fritillary Butterfly - Agraulis vanillae

Subfamily Heliconiinae - Heliconians and Fritillaries can be divided into 45-50 genera and were sometimes treated as a separate family (Heliconiidae) within the Papilionoidea.

Most longwings are found in the Tropics, particularly in South America; only the Argynnini are quite diverse in the Holarctic. Especially tropical species feed on poisonous plants, characteristically Passifloraceae vines, as larvae, becoming poisonous themselves. The adult butterflies announce their acquired toxicity with strong aposematic colors, warning off would-be predators. There are several famous cases of Batesian and Müllerian mimicry both within this group and with other butterflies. Other common foodplants are Fabaceae (which also contain several toxic species), and particularly among northernly species, Violaceae [4].

The Gulf Fritillary is commonly seen in parks and gardens, as well as in open country. Its range extends from Argentina through Central America Mexico, and the West Indies to the southern United States, as far north as the San Francisco Bay Area on the west coast. It is occasionally found further north in the US.

Gulf Fritillary caterpillars
Gulf Fritillary Caterpillars
Family Nymphalidae - Brushfoots or brush-footed butterflies encompass approximately 3,000 species worldwide, of which 160 or so live in or visit North America. This is a very diverse family of butterflies, and they occur everywhere except the polar ice caps. Their unifying characteristic is the reduced forelegs of both males and females. These vestigial forelegs are nearly useless for walking and give rise to the family's common name.
Gulf Fritillary underside
References
  1. Pictures were identified by Doug Taron, Chief Curator at the Notebaert
  2. National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects & Spiders (North America), Chanticleer Press 1980
  3. Eric Eaton & Ken Kaufman, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, Hillstar Editions 2007
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Order Lepidoptera, which contains both butterflies and moths, includes at least 125,000 known species including 12,000 in North America. Butterflies are revered for their brightly colored wings and pleasing association with fair weather and flowers.
Learn to identify many of the American Midwest's common species through descriptions and large diagnostic photos of live, wild specimens.
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