Focus on Butterflies--Zebra Longwing

From time-to-time, we'll feature a different butterfly and the plants on which it depends. Butterflies need different plants for their stages of growth. The adult butterfly feeds on one plant and may lay its eggs on a different plant on which the caterpillars will feed.

There is some evidence that butterflies are under stress because of the quantity of systemic insecticides being used to eradicte other pests like the white fly. It's easy to add the plants to your garden that support butterflies. You'll be surprised at how quickly you get results.

Zebra longwing butterfly - click to see all insect symbols
Zebra longwing butterfly photo by Patricia M. Ciesla, Forest Health
Management International Insect zebra longwing.
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 longwing butterfly caterpillar - click to see all insect symbols
Photo of zebra longwing butterfly caterpillar by Jerry A. Payne,
USDA Agricultural Research Service 
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, which is a winter annual in South Florida. During the spring and early summer, the zebras also concentrate on the red pentas and occasionally visit blue porterweed.

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.

Passion Flower


Come see our selections of Passion Flower, Porterweed, and Verbena and treat yourself to a garden full of butterflies. 

More information can be found at
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