Soon after we moved into our house in 2005, we planted a couple of passionflower plants, because we'd read they would attract Gulf Fritillary butterflies.
Only a couple of butterflies turned up over the next year or two, and they didn't lay any eggs. Two years ago we replaced original plants because of frost damage. Again a few Fritillaries visited but again no eggs.
Fast forward to last month. Both plants were in great shape and suddenly they started attracting Fritillaries. And more Fritillaries. (As I'm writing this, I can see 5 Fritillaries wandering around outside my home office window.) And the butterflies must have been laying eggs, because caterpillars began to appear.
Before we knew it, the plants were covered in caterpillars. At last count, 50+.
That number of 50+ doesn't include the score or more that have already made the transformation into pupae.
We assumed that the caterpillars would turn into pupae on or near the plants they were feeding on but this hasn't been the case. Instead, when it's time for the transformation to take place, most of the caterpillars crawl right across the yard and hang upside down from the TV cable that runs along the back of our house.
Dee and I have been hoping to watch a pupa make its transition to butterfly but we haven't been lucky yet. The closest we've come was seeing two butterflies just after they'd emerged. (You can see an empty pupa husk on the right of the photo.)
It was interesting watching one of them learning to flex its wings.
Of course, having so many caterpillars has taken its toll on our passionflower plants. One has now been totally stripped of leaves.
The other is doing a little better and is even trying to flower. Unfortunately, it seems that caterpillars eat flower buds as well as leaves.
I suppose that half a passionflower is still better than none at all.
We're now worrying that the caterpillars will run out of food before they get a chance to turn into pupae. Maybe we'll have to go out and buy another passionflower plant for them to feed on!