Back to Nature (Published on TBNWeekly.com - March 22, 2007)
The Zebra Longwing butterfly
Spring is just around the corner. Already Floridians are observing nest building
and new birth activities. As we were working in the garden last weekend we noticed
a chrysalis nearby on a Passion vine on a back fence.
|Photo by Rick Tremmel
|This very distinctive
butterfly, Zebra Longwing Butterfly (Heliconius charitonius) rests
upon lantana, but prefers to feed on the nectar of passion
This little gem, which could have easily been overlooked as a brownish dried leaf,
was unusual, because it had spines. After a bit of research we realized the
chrysalis was the commonly known Zebra Longwing Butterfly.
The Zebra Longwing is the official Florida State Butterfly.
This butterfly is very distinctive and makes the perfect beginner butterfly to
identify with its long jet black wings that are banded with thin yellow bands. MyFlorida.com
describes the Zebra Longwing
has a wide range of habitats, including
hardwood hammocks, thickets, and gardens. The Zebra Longwing is found throughout
the state, although it is more common in south Florida, particularly in the
Everglades National Park. In 1996, Governor Chiles designated the Zebra Longwing as
the official state butterfly.
The Zebra Longwing has multiple broods year-round in Florida resulting in this
butterfly being quite plentiful. Its favorite and host plant is Passaflora or
Passion Flower which contains toxins that gives the Zebra Longwing an unpleasant
taste and makes it poisonous to predators. This butterfly conducts a very unusual
The male Zebra Longwing makes its rounds looking for females. Apparently the
female Zebra gives off some pretty powerful pheromones just as she is emerging from
her chrysalis. Several males hover around vying for her attention then eventually
two remain, one on each side of the chrysalis but only one wins out. After mating
he then deposits his own scented chemical upon her abdomen that repels all other
males. She lays 5 to 15 eggs on the host plant Passion Flower.
At first hatching, the caterpillars appear yellow then after molting they are
white, with six bands of black spots. The caterpillars of the Zebra Longwing are
fierce looking with long black, branched spines protruding from their backs and
sides. Caterpillars have pale greenish-yellow heads.
Gathering at dusk, Zebras roost at night in communes with other Zebra butterflies.
Another interesting fact is Zebras feed on nectar and pollen. They are the only
butterflies known to eat both nectar and pollen which is thought to account for
this butterflys long life span of nearly six months.
For more information you will find Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park Butterfly
Checklist at: www.floridastateparks.org/kissimmeeprairie/docs/ButterfyChecklist.pdf
Karen can be reached at MyMuddyPawsStudio@gmail.com.