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Zebra Butterflies - August 30, 2010

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In the back yard, I have a native fire bush (Hamelia patens) that’s a favorite source of nectar and pollen of the Zebra long wing butterfly (Heliconius charithoniathe state butterfly of Florida.  It was declared the state butterfly by Lawton Chiles in 1996 (Wikipedia, Native Florida).  Zebras are striking in their black color with white or yellow stripes on the wings.  Some authorities suggest the color patterns may mimic the zebra’s stripes for camouflage which make the Zebra butterfly difficult to find when flying (  

In any case, several sources state the adult butterfly is one of the few that eat pollen and sip nectar which adds to the life span.  Most butterflies sip nectar but the addition of pollen to the diet of the Zebra seems to add two months to the typical lifespan of one month without pollen.  

Caterpillars feed on passion flowers and pupation takes about 10-14 days.  Because they feed on passion flowers, the caterpillars and adults taste bad and are toxic to birds and predators due to chemicals in the passion flower.  

Several sources indicate the adults make a creaking sound when alarmed or grabbed.  The butterfly may be found in the southern US, Central and South America and the Caribbean.

© Fred Searcy 2017