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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Friday - November 18, 2011

From: Denton, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Butterfly Gardens
Title: Where are the Gulf Fritillary butterflies?
Answered by: Nan Hampton, Mike Quinn and Valerie Bugh

QUESTION:

I have a beautiful passiflora plant that more of a bush than a vine, and I expected to see more Gulf Fritillary butterflies than I have seen this season (I've seen only a few over the months). My question is this-Where are all the Gulf Fritillaries this season? This situation also seems to stretch across the whole United States from Florida to California. So, what's up guys?-Is it the weather, habitat destruction, or is this a normal dynamic of their life-cycle? I would appreciate any light you could shed on this issue, because I'm really baffled.

ANSWER:

I checked with a couple of entomologists associated with the Wildflower Center—Mike Quinn, President of the Austin Butterfly Forum, and Valerie Bugh, head of The Fauna Project at the Wildflower Center—and they agreed that it was a combination of the drought and the extremely high temperatures of the summer that reduced the number of caterpillars of  Agraulis vanillae (Gulf Fritillary) this summer.  High temperatures, in particular, are deadly to caterpillars and many other species of butterflies were similarly affected.  This would certainly explain the lack of butterflies in the Denton area where the average maximum temperature for the month of July, 2011 was 102.3 degrees F. and for August, 2011, 104.7 degrees F.  Similar temperatures prevailed over most of Texas and the southwest US.

 

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