Back to Nature (Published on TBNWeekly.com - March 22, 2007)
The Zebra Longwing butterfly
 
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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 flowers.
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.

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 mating ritual.

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 butterfly’s 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.

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