San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide
Gulf Frittilary, photo by Bob Parks

Agraulis vanillae
Gulf Fritillary

Family: NYMPHALIDAE (Brushfooted Butterflies)


The Gulf Fritillary is a relatively large butterfly; wings span 2 5/8 - 3 1/8 inches. Its upperwings are bright orange, and key field marks include three silvery-white spots ringed in black on both of the upper front forewings. Underwings are brown with brilliant silvery spots. Caterpillars are orange with thick, purplish-gray stripes and long, black spines.

Range and Habitat

Habitats include thorn scrub, pastures, open woodlands, and urban gardens. Ranges throughout the southern United States including Hawaii, south to Argentina. Some say that the sight of a Gulf Fritillary is a sure sign that there is a passion flower vine (Passiflora sp.) growing nearby. As it is the sole host plant for Gulf Fritillary caterpillars, the passion flower vine is an essential element of their habitat.

Natural History

Females lay eggs in various places on the host plant. Mature caterpillars are about 1 5/8 inches long and are purplish-black with long spines and rust-orange stripes along their sides. The chrysalis is a mottled gray, resembling a dry, curled leaf as it hangs near the vine, often from the fence on which the vine is growing. The courtship behavior of the Gulf Fritillary is worth noting: males land in front of females and clap their wings repeatedly, close enough to catch the female's antennae between them. It is thought that this process releases chemicals that foster successful mating.


Glassberg, Jeffrey. (2001). Butterflies Through Binoculars: The West: A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Western North America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hogue, Charles L. (1993). Insects of the Los Angeles Basin. Los Angeles: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Stewart, Bob. (1998). Common Butterflies of California. Patagonia, Arizona: West Coast Lady Press.

Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center. Butterflies of North America: Gulf Fritillary Webpage.

Text by Liza Blue in consultation with Christian Manion.
Photos by Bob Parks.

Field Guide: Butterflies | Field Guide Feedback Form