Apr
16

The Zebra Longwing, Beautiful and Unique

By CoolGardenThings

The Zebra Longwing, Beautiful and Unique by Diana Cooper

The Zebra Longwing, also known as the Zebra Heliconian, was declared the official butterfly of my home state Florida in 1996. These beautiful and unique little creatures, actually insects, with long narrow black wings and yellow zebra-like stripes (purposely designed by nature to help avoid and warn off predators) live throughout Florida and are plentiful on my land in the North Central section. You can also find Zebras in warm and damp tropical areas of Texas, Mexico, Central America and South America.

Certain passion vines are the host plant for the Zebra Longwing; it is the only plant the larvae will eat. A corky stemmed passion vine is a favorite of theirs which grows wild in Florida, classified as a weed. Eggs are laid in groups of 5-15 on leaves of the host plant. The larvae will hang in a “J” position waiting to form a chrysalis. In about 10 to 14 days the adult emerges. No time is wasted with this life cycle for an eager male will mate with a female as she is about to emerge from the chrysalis. The Zebra Longwing can go from egg to butterfly in a little over three weeks.

Zebra Longwings live a longer life than most butterflies, up to 6 months compared to a week or two. Experts believe this is because of their diet. Not only do Zebras feed on nectar, they are the only known butterflies to eat pollen which is rich in protein. If denied pollen, their life span is greatly decreased. Zebras feed off of a variety of plants. I noticed my group feeds off many, including the lantana, porterweed, mexican sunflower, powder puff, milkweed and candy corn but the one they seem to enjoy the most is the red penta.

During the daytime hours the Zebras will fly slowly and gracefully, almost as floating, through the air instead of fast and fluttery like other butterflies; however, they can pick up speed when threatened. The Zebra Longwing is less fearful of predators, not only because of their warning colors, but because of their foul taste. Passion vines, consumed by the larvae, contain a toxin that makes adult Zebras poisonous to predators. Once a predator experiences such a taste they will never forget.

Another unusual feature of Zebra Longwings is that adults roost in groups of up to 70 at night. The Zebras on my land will huddle together (about 18-20) on a strand of moss hanging from an oak tree near one of my gardens. Each night they return to the same spot and on cold and gloomy days they will remain there. Although Zebras are commonly in flight all year in South Florida, I have seen a few survive on my land during the cold winter months.

Zebra Longwings are wonderful to have around. If you live in their territory and don’t have the native plants required, just plant some of the above mentioned flowers and in no time you should have your own family of Zebra Longwings.

Diana Cooper specializes in nature and wildlife photography. You can visit her websites at http://www.dianasphotography.com (gallery, articles, links) and http://www.cafepress.com/dianasphotos (photo cards and gift items of flowers and butterflies).

Article Source: http://articlecrux.com

Originally posted 2009-01-30 01:16:57. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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