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Flying Zebras: Florida’s State Butterfly

With Florida’s abundant all-year blooms, flurried butterfly activity is a welcome sight on hikes. The most common encounter is the Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius), designated as the official state butterfly of Florida in 1996. No wonder it’s the state butterfly; it’s found throughout Florida in hardwood hammocks, swamps, wetlands, meadows, and in the Everglades. And if you’re keen to plant native, butterfly-friendly plants in your garden, you’ll quickly be visited by these lovelies.

While Longwings can be seen throughout Florida, they’re most abundant in the southern half of the state.

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius)

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius) in Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge: Cypress swamp habitat

Despite its common presence, it’s always a wonderful sight — bright and bold in our swamps and marshes. As the name suggests, Zebra Longwings sport long, narrow wings, with light yellow and black stripes.

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius)

Zebra Longwing in Fern Forest Nature Center: Oak hammock environment

Adults can mate immediately upon emerging from the chrysalis — I once witnessed a few Zebra Longwings crowding a poor lone Longwing, and feared they were attacking him/her. I now understand what was happening — the female was emerging from her chrysalis, as the males had been attracted to her scent through the chrysalis wall. They battle their way to mate with her, as she emerges. Hello, world?!

Another unusual sight I’ve witnessed (but haven’t been able to capture well) is their roosting behavior — Longwings will group together as dusk approaches, to keep warm through the night. They return to the same roost night after night….

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius)

Zebra Longwing in Riverbend Park: Open meadow habitat

A tropical and subtropical species, the Zebra Longwing is unlike other butterfly species that live for only a few weeks: these guys can live for up to six months (6 months!), since they eat the pollen AND the nectar from flowers. They are the only butterfly to do this, and the energy from the pollen extends their lives. The caterpillar feeds on various varieties of the Passion Flower (Passiflora), which is another great reason to have this beautiful vine in the yard, if you live in the Southern parts of the U.S. (and South and Central America). They’re easy to grow, and oh-so-lovely — and their widespread health benefits have been respected for centuries.

Outside of passiflora tea, it’s been used  for more than two centuries by Native Americans as a sedative and relaxant — and traditional medical practitioners accept its help in alleviating pain and lowering blood pressure, among other things. Even WebMD acknowledges its use for seizures, withdrawal symptoms, asthma, fibromyalgia, burns, swelling, muscle spasms, and more. Passiflora was approved as an over-the-counter sedative and sleep aid in the U.S., only to be taken off the market in the ’70s, like so many other natural remedies.

Yet another example of the many gentle and beautiful ways in which Nature provides!

Passion Flower (Passiflora), "Lavender Lady"

Passion Flower (Passiflora): “Lavender Lady” example at Butterfly World

Passion Flower (Passiflora), "Inspiration"

Passion Flower (Passiflora): “Inspiration” example at Butterfly World

For more information on introducing butterfly-friendly plants to the garden, visit Butterfly World and its wealth of information. Butterfly World’s conservation efforts include the establishment of The Passiflora Society International, which was established at the site to encourage research on Passion Flowers, the source of food for many butterflies. A North American “Bring Back the Butterflies” campaign is also active here, with thousands of people across the country receiving free literature on butterfly gardening for their region. Check it out! Butterfly World also helped establish the Boender Endangered Species Laboratory at the University of Florida — instrumental in saving the endangered Schaus Swallowtail, and reintroducing the species to South Florida.

95 Comments Post a comment
  1. You’ve given me yet another reason to visit Florida, I’d live to see one if the butterflies in person. I had no idea they were so common.

    January 7, 2013
    • Ah, they’re so lovely!! You must see them, at their best — black and yellow against the swamp, in my humble opinion. I see them literally EVERY day… In my little yard (lots of natives growing) and on hikes. I even have a found wing in my wallet. (Found on the ground, on a hike…)

      January 7, 2013
      • Capt. Richard Barone #

        They have such an exotic way of flitting about that entrances as if they knew we were watching their erratic yet graceful flower to flower dances.

        January 13, 2013
      • Very well put… I always like to think that. 🙂

        January 14, 2013
  2. So,if I had to be a butterfly , I would to choose to be a Zebra Longwing!.
    At my old house , I made a frame over the garden gate and trained the Passion Flower vines to grow over it, looked gorgeous!

    January 7, 2013
    • Heeeeh! It is rather masculine… I’ve always thought that!

      You can grow Passion Flower over there? WOW!! That is so wild… And your idea sounds gorgeous!! I tried it once in my yard, and it didn’t take. I blame the bad energy at the time — hahaha! I shall try again for the sake of the baby butterflies. 🙂

      January 7, 2013
  3. Pam #

    Here is Central Florida we see them around, but not as often as you. That is amazing that they roost together at night! We’ve always loved passion flowers – got to plant a bunch this spring.

    January 7, 2013
    • I’ve seen groups of 2-3 begin the roosting process… But my shots were horrible, because the camera settings were askew (of course) in the darkness of the dusk hours and denseness of the hammocks. But I just didn’t realize what I was seeing… Or that it was a consistent thing, I guess! Such fascinating little creatures. And so sturdy!

      I tried planting passiflora once, years ago… And curiously, they didn’t take! All the other natives are going gangbusters. I SHALL try again, though. My butterflies (incl. the zebras) are loving all the others!

      January 7, 2013
  4. Lovely, as usual and fascinating!! Ah, poor gal. They just can’t wait… 😀 In your first photo, I’m reminded of spider’s legs. She’s got great style.
    I appreciate the Passiflora information. I may give it a try – I have RLS…
    Peace.
    Darylann

    January 7, 2013
    • Thanks so much!

      I know… Those poor girls! Argh!!

      I’ve been meaning to buy some passiflora tea for some time — there are just SO MANY benefits. And it’s yummy! I just need to find a good purchasing resource for it. If you find one, let me know — and likewise!

      XO! -Christina

      January 7, 2013
  5. Wow. Your gorgeous photos make me want to jump on a plane to Florida today! I’ve seen a similar-looking butterfly in tropical Mexico…except it has red bars on the wing. I wonder if those are related to the zebra longwing…how interesting that they can live so long. I love watching butterflies of all species feed – the way they probe the flower with their proboscis, then curl it up when they are done. Fascinating!

    January 7, 2013
    • As much as I see these lovely little flying zebras, this was a new fact for me, too — their long lifespans! Isn’t that fascinating (and their feeding habits)? They’re so tiny and delicate, and yet they can survive the elements for months on end.

      Hmmm…. I wonder what flutterby you saw? There are MANY that are interrelated. Was it a longwing too?

      January 7, 2013
  6. Gorgeous post! I love the Zebra Longwing – and your pictures of the passionflower are some of the best I’ve seen 🙂

    January 7, 2013
    • Thanks so very much!! I love passionflower — I must try growing them again. For whatever reason, the first time I tried (years ago), they didn’t take! All the other natives are going gangbusters. I shall try again! 🙂

      I love our little flying zebras…. NEVER tire of them! 🙂

      January 7, 2013
  7. Reblogged this on 2012 Spirit In Action and commented:
    A beautiful new post at Serenity Spell!

    January 7, 2013
    • Thanks so much for sharing our lovely little flying zebras!

      January 7, 2013
  8. saymber #

    I don’t remember seeing these when I lived in Florida – so beautiful! 🙂 reblogged!

    January 7, 2013
    • Aw, thanks so much! 🙂

      I’m fortunate to see them daily, both in my little yard (I have several natives growing) and on hikes… but then again, I’m in the southern portion of the state. And I never tire of ’em!

      January 7, 2013
  9. saymber #

    Reblogged this on saymberblondi and commented:
    For you butterfly fans – here is a beauty from Serenity Spell!

    January 7, 2013
    • Thanks so much for sharing our lovely little flying zebras!

      January 7, 2013
  10. Without a doubt, these are the most gorgeous photos of this butterfly I’ve EVER seen!
    I will never forget the first time I saw them (last year in the Univ of FL St. Lucie County teaching garden,) fluttering all around me as we walked through the passiflora arborway. What an amazing experience!

    January 7, 2013
    • You’re so kind — THANK YOU!! 🙂

      I adore these guys… I have them in my yard every day (several natives growing here), and I see them EVERYWHERE on my hikes. But of course, I’m in the south of FLA, heh. They’re always so wonderful to see!!

      January 7, 2013
  11. Happy New Year Serenity Spell!! I see we are both into insects this week!! 🙂
    These are great shots of the zebra butterfly!! I love winged creatures (mosquitoes excepting maybe!!)

    January 7, 2013
    • OH I’m running behind — I haven’t seen your latest post! Now I have to play catch-up (and by “now” I mean later tonight, hahahah!). I can’t wait to see your insect of choice…

      I love these guys… As much as I see them, I never fail to tire of them. And I learned something new — six months of life! Can you believe it?

      Happy New Year to you!!! 🙂

      January 7, 2013
  12. Christina: Thanks for your thorough explanation on this Butterfly, I had not known it lived for so long. Great article.

    January 7, 2013
    • You’re so welcome! Thanks very much.

      As often as I see them… This was a brand-new fact for me, too! I had no idea — it’s pretty amazing that this delicate little thing has such a lifespan!

      January 7, 2013
  13. Beautiful shots! I have been seeing these lately. They’re the only ones I’ve noticed in the last month or so.

    January 7, 2013
    • Thanks so very much!

      Oh most definitely…. I’ve been seeing loads of Queens and Ruddy Daggerwings, too — just yesterday I hiked for 5 hours, and was swarmed in ’em! LOVELY! 🙂

      January 7, 2013
  14. jimbey #

    Absolutely beautiful shots. I am woefully unschooled in the clouds of butterflies, dragon flies and other flying critters (iow, bugs) – but I know great photography when I see it. Thanks!

    January 7, 2013
    • Ah, thanks so much!!

      I really didn’t know much about the Florida butterflies… I looked ’em up when I was looking through my pictures, years ago! Learning about them, bit by bit. I still don’t know much about all the insects, though. Dragon/Damselflies? Eh? 🙂

      January 7, 2013
  15. Beautiful Captures – thanks for sharing:) Happy Monday!

    January 7, 2013
    • Thanks so very much — I’m glad you enjoyed our little flying zebras. 🙂

      Happy Monday to you, too!

      January 7, 2013
  16. I am so glad you are doing all this for FL. Having spent many years there on east and west coasts, criss-crossing the state, interning at Mote Marine, doing artwork, watching bugs, snakes and whatever was there in front of me and just loving it since 1966, preserving it through your awareness is what is needed. Thank you for doing what you do.
    ~Heather

    January 7, 2013
    • Thanks so very much… And you’re absolutely right: You couldn’t have said it more perfectly or poignantly: “preserving it through awareness.” It’s such a beautiful and unique land, full of amazing and brilliant flora and fauna. The more beauty I can share through my constant explorations — perhaps in my small part helping this most wondrous habitat — the happier I am. 🙂

      January 7, 2013
  17. A great post. Lots of good information and great photos too. Like everyone else I was not aware of their longevity and their roosting habit.

    January 7, 2013
    • Thanks so much!!

      I had seen the beginnings of their roosting behavior — badly captured due to bad camera settings, hah! — but their longevity, because of their unique diet, was equally new to me! So very fascinating.

      January 7, 2013
  18. One of my favorite butterflies and we currently have a lot in our backyard. Great captures as well as those of the passion fruit flower.

    January 7, 2013
    • Thank you!!

      I love these guys… I have a very small yard, but I’ve planted lots of natives for our butterflies. 🙂 And of course, the flying zebras are VERY happy! Yesterday on a longish hike, I was mobbed by both them, as well as the Queens and Ruddy Daggerwings. So lovely.

      January 7, 2013
  19. gregjoder #

    Love these photos! Very beautiful butterfly =0)

    January 7, 2013
    • Thanks so much! I love their markings… And they’re so bright and bold in our swamps, wetlands, woods. I never tire of seeing them. 🙂

      January 9, 2013
  20. Hi, it’s me, Fork in My Eye! Very cool post. I’ve never seen a zebra longwing here in North Carolina (outside of the butterfly house and the life and science musem) but we do have passion flower. Isn’t it one of the coolest flowers you’ve ever seen? Fun to learn so much about it. Beautiful photos as usual.

    January 7, 2013
    • Ah, thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoyed and learned a bit about the passiflora… REALLY beautiful and integral vine / flower. I need to buy that tea before I forget, lol. Nature is truly amazing, as always.

      January 9, 2013
  21. Thanks for the info. And great pictures of butterfly and flower. Love that last flower picture. Maybe I’ll get my hair done like that (color and style)!!

    January 7, 2013
    • Thanks so much — I’m glad you enjoyed!

      Hahahah, LOVE IT! I say do it. I just had a bit of teal in my hair (for about 3 months), and I realllly enjoyed it. I was actually thinking of purple, next. When my brother worked in Vienna, I was lucky enough to visit him… And I was amazed at everyone’s hair color. The most elegant women, of all ages — from 20 to 90 — in their Chanel and Prada…. with purple, maroon, crazy hair! I loved it.

      January 9, 2013
  22. Wonderful colors on those passion flowers! Beautiful shots!

    January 7, 2013
    • Thanks so much! I really need to get re-planting my own passiflora soon…. 🙂

      January 9, 2013
  23. Wow! The Passion flowers are amazing! I’ve never seen anything like them. Nice job!

    January 7, 2013
    • Thanks so much! They’re fascinating flowers… And will vine like mad down here. There are so many types, too — and of course, as the host flower to these butterflies, so very integral! One blogger described them on another post of mine as “alien-like,” and I completely agree…

      January 9, 2013
      • Alien-like and beautiful! Perhaps kin to orchids…

        January 9, 2013
      • VERY good comparison!!

        January 9, 2013
      • Wonderful beauty to fill our hearts! 🙂

        January 10, 2013
  24. Beautiful flowers and butterflies sure do go together! Wonderful photos!

    January 8, 2013
    • They do, don’t they? And they always seem to pick the most amazingly beautiful host flowers… Thanks so very much. 🙂

      January 9, 2013
  25. wow wow and more wow! These shots are stunning – that first one is just amazing!

    January 8, 2013
    • Thanks so very much! I do love these guys, so bright and bold — I love their markings. Even with as many spiderwebs as I entangle myself in, to reach them…. 🙂

      January 9, 2013
  26. Such a beauty! And your wonderfull photos reminds me there might be a summer eventually, but probably not as summery as this..

    January 8, 2013
    • Thanks so much! As much as I see these lovelies, I’m always entranced by their presence in our swamps, wetlands, and woods. They’re so bright and beautiful — and sturdy little things!

      Ah yes… We are a bit warmer than you, eh? But I would love to see your land. It’s exceptionally beautiful, especially as you document it.

      January 9, 2013
  27. Gorgeous pictures. Thank you for sharing this. Many blessings and much love to you. 🙂

    Subhan Zein

    January 8, 2013
    • Thanks so very much! They’re amazingly beautiful, bright and bold in our swamps and wetlands…. Many blessings and much love to you, as well!! 🙂

      January 9, 2013
  28. Oooh, fun. I remember my first wild zebra longwings, in Everglades. I saw them within a week of seeing some in a butterfly exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. I have some pictures, but all my butterflies had tattered wings, so they don’t look quite as lovely as yours!

    Do you happen to know if they have specifically-timed emergence dates as butterflies in more temperate climates do? It’d make sense that a species living somewhere warm might be less specific about its reproduction timing. I ask because I’m wondering if they tend to all get beat-up and shabby by a particular time of year. (I was visiting in December.)

    January 8, 2013
    • Interesting question! In our area — the more southern part of the state — that definitely doesn’t seem to be the case. I’ve seen lovely specimens in the winter months, as well…. But our weather can remain incredibly warm all year. For example: 80 degrees yesterday! The Native Floridians, myself included, are NOT thrilled.

      January 9, 2013
  29. It tickled me to see you talk about “flutterbys” – that’s what I called them when I was a kid!
    And I may give passion flower in a pot a try this year. I have some Cape Honeysuckles that have been doing very well on a breezeway – if there’s enough sun for them, there should be for passion flower.

    I think I’ve been hanging around your blog longer than I realized. Last week I dreamed I was at my (long-dead) aunt’s house, a little white frame midwestern number. Some of us were going somewhere, and when I went out to get the car, there were five – count ’em! – five alligators! Two were by the side door, two were on the roof, and one was in the garden side of the house. There were two huge red iguanas, too – they looked like red patent leather. No threat, no problem – they just were hanging out. I woke up laughing, and thinking about you!

    January 8, 2013
    • Try the passiflora!! They’re VERY easy to grow, and incredibly beautiful. They’ll vine like mad. Although my first attempt, oddly, didn’t take. I like to blame it on the bad energy at the time — I have plants galore (mostly native, of course) now! 🙂

      Hahahah!! Omigosh, that’s wonderful!! It was the Alligator Totem post! Which, as you know, is an EXCELLENT totem to have… Were they the guardians of the abode? I wonder what the dream interpretation of Alligator would be. Obviously it’s a good one, because in the dream they’re mellow! Oh I love these kinds of dreams. And yet, I don’t think I’ve had one dream of gators — the herons, yes, but no gators. To date…

      January 9, 2013
  30. Stunning butterfly and gorgeous pictures as always.

    January 9, 2013
    • Thanks so much — I never tire of seeing these lovelies….

      January 9, 2013
  31. so sharp – so colourful – great impact

    January 9, 2013
    • Thanks so very much! They make it very easy, with their coloring and wonderful markings… 🙂

      January 9, 2013
  32. hannekekoop #

    They’re both beautiful. 🙂

    January 9, 2013
    • They really are… It’s fitting that these butterflies pick such a unique and lovely host flower!! 🙂

      January 9, 2013
  33. The word hammock puzzled me: all I could think of was the kind of hammock that someone lies down in. Then came hardwood hammock, which could be a hammock with a hardwood frame. But that was obviously not what you meant, so I turned to the dictionary and found that hammock is a variant of hummock, which the American Heritage Dictionary defines as:

    A low mound or ridge of earth; a knoll.
    also ham·mock A tract of forested land that rises above an adjacent marsh in the southern United States.
    A ridge or hill of ice in an ice field.

    Now that I know, I can go lie down in my hammock and contemplate zebra longwing butterflies, which make it as far west as Texas, and which I’ve occasionally seen in Austin.

    A happy new and natural year to you.

    January 15, 2013
    • Hahahah!! That’s great… Thanks for the smile. 🙂

      It’s a common ecosystem here, the hardwood hammock (as well as the tropical forest hammock, but I’ll save that for a later day).

      Thanks you, a wonderfully happy and natural new year to you as well — may it be filled with the most bright and beautiful flowers!

      January 15, 2013
      • This is just funny – there’s more hammock talk over at my new post! Yes, ma’am, I wrote about Florida. If you see anything that’s wrong, be sure and let me know!

        January 16, 2013
      • Oh YAYAYAY! I can’t wait to read it… I’m running a wee bit behind (with everything in life these days), and knowing your pieces, I imagine there’s not a shred of inconsistency, are you kidding?

        January 17, 2013
  34. marialla #

    HOW MANY BEAUTIFUL MODELS YOU KNOW!!! THANK YOU! Mari

    January 16, 2013
    • I know, it’s amazing the beauty that I’m lucky enough to see at a moment’s notice here… If they can protect and preserve this land, there will be more of it!! 🙂 -Christina

      January 17, 2013
  35. Love these shots! I had the most fun living in Florida and using my camera. Thanks for sharing them here. I have some great shots from Big Tree Park. Poor Senator. 😦

    January 18, 2013
    • AH, I cried when that magnificent tree perished — at such stupidity. I’m still in awe of the event. Just cannot…fathom.

      Thanks so very much! This land and its creatures have so much to offer, for sure — and I hope that efforts will continue, and grow, to protect them.

      January 20, 2013
  36. What a beauty! I had no idea Florida had a state buttefly! 🙂

    January 19, 2013
    • Ah, we have loads of flutterbys! This one is quite common in our area…. 🙂

      January 20, 2013
  37. The story about the female butterfly coming out of her cocoon attracting mates reminds me of a debutant coming out. I imagine it’s just as colorful too.

    I had no idea passionflower had so many uses. I have taken passionflower tinctures and teas for a sleep aid and I think I have also used it as a muscle relaxer.

    January 21, 2013
    • Heh, love it – the debutante!! Colorful and a tad early, but so very true.

      The passionflower really is amazing… And you’ve been using it exactly as it’s intended! So many uses, so many benefits. Thanks for the reminder; I need to find a good source ASAP.

      January 21, 2013
  38. I know of zebra finches and zebra fish, but of course there must be a zebra butterfly too!

    January 26, 2013
    • Hee, absolutely! And he does look a bit like a little flying zebra!! Thanks so much for visiting… 🙂

      January 28, 2013
  39. Dear FeyGirl- Wonderful topic and photographs! As a monarch waystation monitor here in Virginia, I know how difficult it is to capture these beauties on camera! Kudos!

    AND, a little recipe for those of you growing a Passion Flower vine in your yard–those bulbous pods contain many seeds that when placed into a bottle of good vodka, infuses the MOST WONDERFUL flavor into the liquor. Store vodka in freezer and enjoy!

    January 28, 2013
    • Thanks so very much! I adore our butterflies… I chase them incessantly! The most dangerous part? Watching out for the alligators as I chase them to the water’s edge, to photograph them! Heh!

      WOW! Thank you SO MUCH for this little recipe!! How wonderful!!! See, you get the benefits of the passion flower…and vodka! 🙂 I’m definitely trying this!!!

      January 28, 2013
  40. narhvalur #

    Reblogged this on Ann Novek–With the Sky as the Ceiling and the Heart Outdoors.

    February 4, 2013
  41. Absolutely beautiful! It’s so difficult to capture a butterfly in a photo!
    Thanks for the like
    Dorinda

    May 9, 2014
    • I’ve always been so lucky with our flutterbys… Especially these guys!

      Thanks so much. 🙂

      June 13, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Florida’s State Butterfly: The Zebra Longwing « Philip's Blog
  2. Make plans for Attrackting More Butterflies to Your Garden. « FLORAFOCUS.EU
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