Heliconius Charitonius, South Texas and
The Zebra Longwing butterfly was declared the Florida State Butterfly
on April 26, 1996, by Chiles Florida's Governor. The butterfly in known
to inhabit Florida's southern Peninsula and South Texas year round and
occasionally migrates to New Mexico and South Carolina. The Zebra Longwing
species is also know to inhabit the West Indies and Latin America.
The seemingly fragile distinguishing features of long and narrow wings
stripes in black and yellow make it hard to tell if the butterfly is coming
or going. The wing span of the Zebra Longwing reaches close to 3 inches
making for a light and wispy fluttering. Their flight pattern is slow
and they are not easily startled making the Zebra easy to follow and observe!
They are found mainly in moist tropical hammocks, damp forests and open
fields, but are most commonly spotted by human eyes under canopy edges.
These magnificent butterflies feed primarily on Passion flower nectar
and have a strong appetite for such plants as the Lantana and the Shepard's
needle. They are the only butterfly species that are known to also feed
on pollen, like bees, which accounts for their lengthy life span.
Reproduction of the Zebra Longwing is initiated by the male who searches
for females in order to mate. After mating takes place, the male will
expel a chemical onto the female that repels other males in the roost.
On average, groups of 5-15 eggs, the size of a pin head, are laid on the
leafs of host plants such as the Passion vine. The larva matures into
caterpillars nourished by eating the leaves of a host plant and during
this stage the caterpillar eats continuously. The Zebra Longwing caterpillar
has a pale yellow head and a long white body with pointed black spines
on each body segment. As the caterpillar grows, it molts and sheds its
exoskeleton after it reaches the right size after the caterpillar hangs
upside down by a silken string from a branch until its internal structure
changes. Within approximately 10-14 days an adult Zebra Longwing butterfly
emerges and continues to hang upside down to pump blood into it's newly
formed wings in order to give expand them and then as soon as the wings
are dry, the Zebra will fly away.
Zebra butterflies are said to be the most intelligent butterflies and
they have a structured social life. They are communal roosters, which
means that when nightfall comes, the Zebra Longwing will roost in groups
of 30 or more and will also return to the same location each and every
night. The oldest butterflies have first choice of sleeping perches. At
dawn, the oldest butterflies are also the first butterflies to awake,
which then wakes the others by gently touching them. Adult butterflies
(Zebra) are long-lived and can survive up to 6 months with adequate nutrition.
Zebra Longwing butterflies will die off in the winter months due to the
freezing temperatures and recolonize by mid-summer when the climate is