ZEBRA LONGWING BUTTERFLY

Post last updated: December 24th, 2018

Zebra Longwing butterfly on firebush2-1710

The Zebra Longwing (Zebra Helaconian) butterfly ranges through North, Central and South America. In the U.S., they range through the southeastern states and as far west as Texas. In central and southern Florida, they can be seen all year.

At the Southern Rural Route, 2013 was the Year of the Zebra Longwing. It is the official butterfly of the State of Florida (1996) but I have no recollection of seeing them on our property in recent years, if ever. I think they came this year because I had everything they needed: both host and nectar plants.
The host plants were two different passion flower vines given to me by Susan at the Mandarin Garden Club which I had planted in partial shade. I have two of their favorite nectar plants – Firebush and Firespike but neither is blooming at this time. Attracted to red flowers, the Zebras seem delighted with an orange Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia) I am growing for the first time. The seeds came from my friend, Karen, another beekeeper. I have four separate plants, two each at the corners of two of the garages. The two nearest my front door are in full sun and healthier than the two that are more shaded (the leaves of these two whither and turn dark). The plants don’t seem to need staking and, at 6 feet tall, are well on their way to Jack and the Beanstalk status. I have seen as many as 6 Zebra Longwings on them at one time.
Two Zebra Longwing at top of Mexican Sunflower bush
Two Zebra Longwing at top of Mexican Sunflower bush

 

HABITAT

They choose warm, damp tropical areas, often in hammocks and thickets.

At night, groups of Zebras roost on tree limbs. They have a social order when roosting; the oldest butterflies get first choice of the best spots. They always return to the same roosting spots.

 

APPEARANCE

The Zebra Longwing has long, narrow wings, black and marked with pale yellow-white zebra-like stripes and a long, black antennae. The wing span is from 2-3/4 to 4 inches.

 

 

LIFE CYCLE

The adult female lays 5 to 15 round, white eggs, the size of a pin head, on leaves of the passionflower vine.

Their caterpillar is white with black polka dots and black spikes. It feeds on the passionflower to acquire toxins to make itself distasteful to predators. The branching black spikes of the caterpillar also make it difficult for predators to swallow them but are harmless to humans.

Zebra Longwing caterpillar
Photo by Cee

 

The chrysalis attaches itself to a leaf or branch with a silken string. It looks like many other chrysalis – like a brown, curled, dead leaf. The chrysalis becomes almost transparent when it is about to split open and the butterfly can be seen inside. This stage lasts from 10 to 14 days.

As the adult butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, it hangs upside down and pumps blood into its four wings, inflating them. Then it waits for its wings to dry.

A zebra longwing butterfly is slow and calm in flight. When alarmed, they wiggle their bodies to make a creaking sound.

They are the only butterflies known to eat pollen and they have a long lifespan of about six months. If denied pollen, they live a more typical lifespan of a month.

 

WHAT TO PLANT FOR THE ZEBRA LONGWING

Host Plants – Corkystem passionflower, (Passiflora suberosa, Purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), Yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea) as well as several other passionflower vines.

Nectar Plants – Butterfly bush (Buddleja), Lantana (Lantana camera), Milkweed (Asclepias), Passionflower (Passiflora), Salvia (Salvia officinalis), Shepherd’s or Spanish needle (Bidens Pilosa) a perennial wildflower also favored by honey bees, and Tall Verbena (Verbena bonariensis).

 

Jacksonville, Florida, United States

30 thoughts on “ZEBRA LONGWING BUTTERFLY”

      1. I must be slipping. I have read every one of your posts and thought I had commented. But looking back in the comments section I see that I have been remiss in that lately.
        Be assured that you are still my favorite blogger and I read it religiously.
        As I said, I learn so much from you.

  1. Well, I’m included in their range, but I’ve never seen this butterfly. It’s beautiful! And so unique. I do have firebush, which is blooming now, so maybe one day they’ll find my garden. They look so pretty on your tithonia!

    1. Holley – don’t feel bad. It was a new butterfly to my garden, too. My brother was here today to help my Dad on a project and I took him over to the Mexican Sunflower bush because SIX Zebras were on it. Now he wants a Mexican Sunflower, too.

    1. Dena – In my reading on butterflies, I found that many of them use citrus trees as a host plant. I have a tangerine tree that has never done anything except maybe sprout butterflies plus two lemon trees.

      1. I would love to have a tree that sprouts butterflies! I already have a passion flower vine that grows more butterflies than passion flowers.

        1. I hope my passion vine sprouts some flowers when I finally get it planted in a permanent place. It’s a cinch those citrus trees don’t do anything useful, except, like I said, sprout butterflies. I have seen the UGLIEST biggest fattest caterpillars/worms on them.

          1. My sunflowers have been gobbled UP by caterpillars. Same with my jasmine vine and, as it may be, my passion flower vine. I try to see the big picture: I got my summertime visual enjoyment and they’re now providing food for butterflies. It still frustrates me to see so many holes in so many leaves, though! Haha

          2. Dena – Do a web search on those caterpillars. They might not be the kind that become butterflies. I ran into that with an Azalea Caterpillar. If they don’t produce butterflies and they are eating up your flowers, they got to go!

          3. You know, I’d never considered that. I only searched the butterflies that would be dependent on my particular flowers. I fear it may be too late for this season, but now I’m better armed for next! I’ve also been directed to plant “decoy sunflowers” away from my big patch. Then when I find caterpillars on my big patch, I can move them over to the decoy patch and everybody wins.

  2. Wow Jones, the pics are great and the post informative, most appreciated. Though I doubt I’ll evah see them here (CO), I will be planting some of the Mexican Sunflowers next year!

  3. In years past, the zebra longwing was not a usual visitor to my garden. However, this year they are all over my back yard. Perhaps this is the year of the zebra, not the rat…
    Becky B

    1. Becky – Wouldn’t that be something? Do you have any Firebush? I bought a dwarf one from a lady at MGC and I don’t know how to prune it to get the best look and it ain’t got the best look right now.

  4. I really love butterflies so I am envious of what you have achieved. The photos are really excellent and the information is great. I am going to tweet and put your post on my Facebook page so others can see the pictures.

    1. Charlie – I really appreciate that Facebook post. I’d like to have more subscribers — whether they read the blog or not — just to make me FEEL like people are reading it. I know you understand. Do some research for Seattle to see what kinds of plants you need to attract more butterflies.

  5. I saw a Zebra Longwing on two occasions last week, on Tithonia. First time in 10 years one visited here. I don’t know why they haven’t been around, there is no end of Gulf Frits.

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