Location: Waialua, Hawaii 96791
January 2, 2011 1:45 am
Hi, I live in Waialua on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. I’ve noticed that some thing has been chewing up the leaves of some of the plants in my yard, and today I caught one red handed (or mouthed, as it were) in a planter on my front porch.I think that it might be the larvae of the Kamehameha butterfly (Vanessa tameame), but I’m not sure. I’d really appreciate any help in pinpointing the species as I’ve recently become rather interested in putting a name to some of the interesting creatures that I see on the island.
Your caterpillar is not that of the Kamehameha Butterfly, but of the Gulf Fritillary. Both are in the Brush Footed Butterfly family Nymphalidae, and many butterflies in this family have caterpillars with short spines, so your error is understandable. The Gulf Fritillary is not native to Hawaii. It is found in North America, Central America and South America, and its range has increased with the cultivation of its food plant, the Passionflowers in the genus Passiflora. It is our understanding that many species of plants from this genus are problematic in Hawaii where they are not native and they easily naturalize because of the climate. The Gulf Fritillary was introduced to Hawaii along with the introduction of the plants. You can compare your image to photos of the caterpillar of the Gulf Fritillary that are posted to BugGuide, and you can see some examples of the adult butterfly on the Insects of Hawaii website.
Comment from Keith Wolfe
Value Added (I hope)
If you want to attract Hawaii’s state insect to your yard (I believe the Kamehameha butterfly, Vanessa tameamea, still occurs on O‘ahu), purchase several māmaki (Pipturus albidus) plants from a local garden shop or nursery. With time and luck, you may really see the beautiful adult and its handsome caterpillar, which graced the Spring 2007 cover of “Ka ‘Elele”: http://www.bishopmuseum.org/membership/kaelele/spring07.pdf.