Zebra longwings (Heliconius charitonius) are one of four longwing and
fritillary butterflies found in Florida.
In 1996, Governor Chiles designated the Zebra Longwing as Florida's official
state butterfly. The zebra, easily identified by its long black wings
striped with yellow, is found in all parts of the state year round.
Zebras fly slowly and don't startle easily, making them easy to follow
and observe. A zebra resting at dusk can be gently coaxed to climb on
your finger and to return, unflustered, to its perch. Zebras roost in
groups, returning to the same location each night.
Zebra longwings feed on nectar and pollen. They are the only butterflies
known to eat pollen which is probably why they have a long lifespan of
about six months. If denied pollen, they live a more typical lifespan
of about one month.
Zebras are especially fond of the nectar of plants of the Verbena family.
During the spring and early summer, the zebras in my yard concentrated
on the red pentas and occasionally visited the blue porterweed nearby.
During the late summer, their attention shifted to the golden dewdrop.
In winter, they're attracted to poinsettia flowers.
Passion vines host zebra eggs and larvae. Passion vines contain toxins
that are consumed by the larvae and make the adult butterflies poisonous
to predators. The tiny (1.2mm x 0.7mm) yellow egg is usually laid on new
foliage, sometimes in a group. The newly emerging caterpillar is yellow.
It will go through four or five instars (moltings), becoming white with
six bands of black spots and black branched spines and a greenish-white
head that is also spotted and has two spines. When it pupates it forms
a chrysalis that looks like a spiny curled, dried leaf. If disturbed,
the chrysalis makes a rasping sound.
The entire process, from the time the egg is laid until the butterfly
emerges, is dependent on temperature, taking longer during cool weather.
Under optimum conditions, it make take as little as three weeks.