Post last updated: December 24th, 2018
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).