The Gulf fritillary, Agraulis vanillae (Linnaeus), is a brightly colored butterfly common across extreme southern portions of the United States. At home in most open, sunny habitats, it frequents roadsides, disturbed sites, fields, open woodlands, pastures, yards, and parks. It is a regular in most butterfly gardens, including those in more urban settings.
The Gulf fritillary occurs throughout the southern United States southward through Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies to South America. In Florida, it can be found in all 67 counties. The butterfly undergoes distinct seasonal movements each year. Adults move northward in spring and form temporarily breeding colonies throughout the southeast. Individual vagrants may occasionally reach into the central U.S., but rarely into the Midwest. Starting in late summer and continuing through fall, huge numbers of adults migrate southward into peninsular Florida. Adults overwinter in frost-free portions of their range.
The Gulf fritillary produces multiple generations each year. Adults may be found in all months of the year throughout much of Florida. Adults have a quick, erratic flight but are easily drawn to nearby flowers. Females lay the small yellow eggs singly on or near leaves, stems, or tendrils of purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata L.), corky stem passionflower (Passiflora suberosa L.), yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea L.) and several other passionflower vines. The larvae are bright orange with numerous black, branched spines. Larvae may feed on all parts of the plant and can rapidly defoliate host vines. The pupa is mottled brown and resembles a dead leaf. Adults overwinter.