December 19, 2014

Florida's Butterfly

Narrow yellow bands on narrow black wings-that's the Florida state butterfly, the zebra longwing (Heliconius charitonius). Common throughout Florida in hardwood hammocks, deep woods and gardens, zebra longwings are most plentiful in southern Florida swamps and hammocks, where they breed all year, spreading to northern Florida with the spring's warmth.

Like the famous monarchs, zebra longwings are social butterflies, congregating every evening to roost hanging motionless on a branch. And although some butterflies drink only nectar, sucking it up through their proboscises, zebra longwings eat pollen as well.

Zebra longwings can take as few as 21 days to pass through their cycle of metamorphosis. Females lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves. A creamy white caterpillar with black spots and spikes soon emerges, eats voraciously, sheds its skin several times, then finally wraps itself in a pupal case (also called a chrysalis), later to come out as a butterfly. Males will mate with females as they emerge-or even before they emerge-from the pupa, then smear them with a perfume to repel other males. The adult butterflies live up to six months.