Fiery Julia Butterfly Overview and description

Dryas iulia, often commonly mispronounced as Julia, is a fiery red-orange butterfly, native to Trinidad and Tobago. People who live in Central and South America may see it around gardens or open fields.

Julia Butterfly Species Summary

Scientific NameDryas iulia
Family NameNymphalidae
HabitatSubtropical hammock openings and edges, fields
RangeTrinidad and Tobago, Southern US
Host PlantsPassion vines
Butterfly DescriptionOrange with thin black line on the edges of wings
Caterpillar DescriptionChanges color from bright yellow to dark, has black spikes

Butterfly Physical Description

Julia Butterfly on a Leaf
Julia butterfly on a leaf

The Julia butterfly has a wingspan of 3 1/4 to 3 5/8 inches, while its body size depends on the season. The main characteristics of this butterfly are elongated orange wings with black markings. The markings are different for each subspecies. Males are bright orange above and below, with a narrow black border on the outer margin. Females are duller.

Why are they called Julia Butterflies?

They are called Julia butterflies because of the mispronunciation of their Latin name iulia. Its other names are Julia heliconian, Flambeau, or The flame, likely due to its fiery orange coloration.

Caterpillar Physical Description

Julia butterfly caterpillar
Julia butterfly caterpillar

Julia butterfly caterpillars are orange and black. They’re long, and their black spines cover the entire length. These caterpillars also have a Y-shaped mark on the front of their heads. Dryas iulia caterpillars may cause a rash on human skin. The yellow liquid their produce is a predator deterrent.

Julia Butterfly Lifespan

Egg Stage3 days
Caterpillar Stage14 days
Chrysalis Stage6 days
Butterfly Stage30 days

Ideal Habitat

This butterfly likes open sunny breaks in tropical forests and open areas around gardens and forest clearings. They’ll follow the location of the host plants, often in Latin America and parts of Texas.

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Julia butterfly Distribution

This butterfly is native to Trinidad and Tobago and is present around Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Caribbean islands, Cuba, Dominica, and the Bahamas. They live in Texas, Florida, and occasionally Nebraska in the US.

This butterfly often shares the range with others, which leads to conflict. For example, the Julia butterfly and the Gulf fritillary have similar breeding geographic ranges.

Do Julia Butterflies Migrate?

Migration occurs all year, and Julia is especially active in the fall. South of the US is its usual range, but it may stray all the way to Nebraska.

Usual Host Plants

Julia butterfly likes passiflora vines. Still, the relationship between the plant and the butterfly is complex. The butterfly attempts to improve survival by using this plant, and the plant tries to stop the caterpillars from feeding.

This is why many kinds of passiflora evolved to produce thick leaves that are hard to break. Some plants even develop small leaves that are ideal for laying eggs at first sight. Once the eggs are there, the plant will detach the stem with the eggs and free itself from the butterfly.

On the other hand, the butterflies have learned to recognize the strategies of the plant and still lay eggs on it.

Julia Butterfly Diet

Adult males and females feed differently, depending on their reproductive needs. Males will look for minerals they need for spermatophores. Sometimes, they’ll fly into the eyes of caimans and turtles to make them produce tears the butterflies will drink.

Females feed on flower nectar and use pollen to get nutrients for egg production. Finally, larvae feed on:

  • Astrophea
  • Polyanthea
  • Tryphostemmatoides
  • Plectostemma

Behavior during mating

Males spend their days looking for females. They also get involved in mud-puddling and gather around a damp ground to drink minerals. Both males and females will forage for nectar sources.

Once a male finds a good spot for mating, other males will also get attracted to the site. However, D. iulia will remain close to their species. The courtship behavior has several steps, categorized into 3 phases:

  • An aerial phase
  • An air-ground phase
  • A ground phase

The mating ritual starts when the male approaches the female from behind. Then, the female will take flight with the male all around her. The female will then smell the male’s scent scales and become sexually stimulated.

Now, the female will try to fly above the male before landing. The male will continue to fly around the female, facing the same direction. The female butterfly will open and vibrate her wings and emit scent from her abdomen.

The male will then beat the wings around her one more time. If the female is satisfied with the show, they will lower her abdomen and close her wings, ready to mate. Still, males often fail to satisfy females.

Common Predators

Julia butterfly’s main predators are birds, lizards, and some insects. Still, the larvae are capable of defending themselves. It will emit a smelly chemical with cyanide from the host plant. The caterpillar will also use the host plant as protection after it hatches.

Are Julia Caterpillars Poisonous?

Adult Julia butterflies are not poisonous. Julia caterpillar’s spikes look dangerous, but don’t sting. Still, this caterpillar may cause a skin rash.

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