Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the June 19, 2016 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán MÉXICO

Something special about these days is that, on a healthy clump of Yellow Cosmoses planted beside the hut door, from dawn to dusk every day, normally at least eight to ten orangish Variegated Fritillary butterflies are flitting about, sometimes more. I love sitting nearby watching wondering how they can remain so active in the intense sunlight and heavy heat. Below, you can see a Variegated Fritillary, EUPTOIETA CLAUDIA, on a cosmos blossom:

Variegated Fritillary, EUPTOIETA CLAUDIA

One reason so many Variegated Fritillaries frequent the cosmoses is that this is a widely distributed species specializing in open, sunny areas, including fields, pastures, road edges, landfills and such, and thus it's one that benefits -- at the expense of others -- from human disruption of the landscape. Originally Variegated Fritillaries specialized in prairies and other such open natural environments, but nowadays roadsides and flowerbeds next to huts suit them just fine. They distributed from Argentina north through Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean, to most of the US.

Variegated Fritillary caterpillars feed on species of several plant families, including the Passionflower and Purslane Families, which commonly occur here. Adults take nectar from many kinds of flowering plants, including members of the Milkweed, Dogbane and Sunflower or Composite Family, which are abundant here.

from the July 10, 2016 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán MÉXICO

I'm tickled with the picture of mating variegated fritillary butterflies shown below:

mating Variegated Fritillaries

Not only does it show how they do it, and that the two butterflies are somewhat differently colored, but also they're hanging onto a pale, discarded casing of a chrysalis, a chrysalis being the resting or pupal stage in butterfly metamorphosis occurring between the caterpillar and the winged adult stages.

It's hard to resist believing that the female had just emerged from her chrysalis, ripely emitting powerful sexual pheromones, and a male came along and got her maybe even before her wings were dry.

She must have been redolent of pheromones, for as I took the picture another male, sometimes two males, and once even a male of a different species -- some kind of yellow sulfur butterfly -- flitted around the pair, evidently wanting some of the action. Below, you can see one of the invaders in midair:

Variegated Fritillaries

My presence unnerved the male a couple of times, so that he tried to fly away, but the female refused to move and anchored him there as he beat his wings. Later while watching Variegated Fritillaries feeding at the cosmoses next to my hut, a mating pair landed, with one doing all the flying and the other just riding along, being pulled through the air backwards. My impression is that when fritillaries mate it's a slow process and one that doesn't end until it's all done.

The number of Variegated Fritillaries on the landscape now is amazing. Not far from where the above pictures were taken, a bathtub-size bunch of white-flowering Scorpion Tails, or heliotropes, was much occupied with them. A small part of the plant with some visitors is shown below:

from the July 24, 2016 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán MÉXICO

Deep in the forest, at about chest height, attached to bark on the lower surface of a tree trunk leaning toward sunlight, an especially pretty butterfly chrysalis "exuvia" turned up -- an exuvia being the remains of a molted arthropod such as a scorpion or an insect. It's shown below:


It looked like the same kind of chrysalis exuvia we saw the other day, with a presumably just-emerged female Variegated Fritillary on it, already mating before she'd had a chance to explore her world. However, I wasn't sure of the ID, so I sent it off to volunteer identifier Bea in Ontario; she says she's pretty sure it's that species, so that's what we'll call it.

One reason I hesitated over the name is that there in deep forest where the exuvia was photographed, the forest floor was so shadowy that no wildflowers were present blossoming. Out in the fields and along roads where many plants are flowering nowadays, Variegated Fritillaries are abundant, but they're seldom seen in the forest.