Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Life on a Maypop

Maypop fruit - REK
On a WOLF school field trip to Wilson's Creek Battlefield, a student gave me a tiny caterpillar to identify later. After we passed a set of passionflower vines entangled in shrubs, I put a maypop fruit in my bag. When I returned home I found the caterpillar had escaped and was hanging on the fruit. Under magnification the white spots glistened like silver. Short of time, I sent it off to Kevin Firth who identified it as Euptoieta claudia, the variegated fritillary.

Purple passionflower- REK
Just by chance the captive caterpillar had found itself in my bag with one of its several host plants.  It is only fitting that the beautiful caterpillar has an equally beautiful host plant, purple passionflower, Passiflora incarnata.  Also called maypop, the flowers are long gone, replaced by the fruit whose popping sound when you step on them is the source of this common name.

We are feeding the caterpillar leaves of yellow passionflower, Passiflora lutea, until we can return it to its "owner."  Hopefully the supply of leaves will hold out until it pupates.  It will wander off its leaves and find a spot to hang on, spinning a silk thread and then enclose (form its chrysalis).

Dorsal view - Bob Moul
Chrysalis - Carla Kishinam-CC

This spectacular caterpillar produces an even more beautiful chrysalis, glistening white with black and orange bumps.  The wings are under the chrysalis covering and yet seem to be ready to fly away at any second. Once it emerges, it overwinters as an adult.
Variegated fritillary - Bob Moul
A week later our caterpillar formed its chrysalis. When we started to move it to safety 8 hours later the chrysalis started a continual wiggling.  The interesting part is when I shined a small flashlight directly on it, the wiggle abruptly stopped and didn't start again. Now 6 days later I put it in the sun and it started dancing again for this video.

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