Florida Butterflies~Zebra Longwing

26 Dec

A Time to Live

Melody Hendrix


Florida designated the zebra longwing butterfly (Heliconius charitonius) as the official state butterfly in 1996. The zebra longwing butterfly is found throughout Florida in hardwood hammocks, thickets, gardens, and particularly in the Everglades National Park. The zebra longwing butterfly is characterized by long black wings with distinctive thin stripes and a slow, graceful flight.


 It makes a creaking sound when alarmed. Zebra longwings feed on nectar and pollen. They are the only butterflies known to eat pollen, it collects on it’s proboscis.

Most butterflies can only sip fluids with their specialized mouth parts, but the Zebra Longwing takes some pollen as well as nectar. Their saliva enables them to dissolve the pollen and to take their nutrients. Pollen is very nutritious, rich in proteins, unlike nectar which contains almost no proteins, just sugars. This diet allows the butterflies to prolong their lives and also enables them to continue producing eggs for several months. As a consequence they are more dependent on flowers than other types of butterflies and this makes them good pollinators. They feed on a wide range of flowers; some of their favorites are lantana, shepherd’s needle (Bidens). It is also possible that they develop a sort of symbiosis with those plants that provide their preferred pollen.


 This  is probably why they have a long lifespan (about six months, as compared to a more usual one month for other butterfly species).
The zebra longwing butterfly lays its eggs on passion vine leaves. Passion vines contain toxins that are consumed by the caterpillars, which make the adult butterflies poisonous to predators.


The longwing is not so common in northern part of the state. The zebra longwing roosts in a flock with its kin. The longwing sleeps so soundly that you can literally pick it off its roost and return it later, without waking any of the rest of its family.


 The longwing is so comfortable with its perch, it also faithfully returns to the same perch every night. During the day her flight is slow, feeble, and wafting, but she can quickly dart to shelter if threatened or approached. Zebra longwing and other heliconians have a reputation for being very intelligent insects.


They have a social order when roosting; the oldest ones choose the best places. They also gently nudge the others early in the morning to get going. Another interesting characteristic of heliconian butterflies is that they can remember their food sources and return daily to the plants where they fed previously, a behavior known as trap lining. The memory is so strong that if one shrub in their route is cut down they return to the location again and again only to search in vain.

The zebra longwing butterfly begins mating right after it emerges from its chrysalis. The caterpillar has a white body with long black spines and a yellow head.


If weather conditions are right, the zebra longwing butterfly can go from egg to butterfly in a little over three weeks.

Next week we will explore the majestic Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.




I am retired and enjoying life. My hobbies are my 5 grandchildren, son and daughter, and my loving husband. I am a photographer and extreme nature lover. I love spending time in my garden or in the wilderness connected to God my Creator.

3 Responses to “Florida Butterflies~Zebra Longwing”

  1. Noel Hartem December 31, 2017 at 8:36 am #

    Beautiful and amazing photos


  2. divoran09 December 28, 2017 at 2:11 pm #

    This is so beautiful and wonderful to read and the pictures are unique


  3. Onisha Ellis December 26, 2017 at 11:02 pm #

    My daughter gave me Seedballz and butterfly nectar for Christmas! We are going to try growing a potted butterfly garden! Thanks for the inspiration.


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