The zebra longwing butterfly was designated the official state butterfly of Florida in 1996. Among butterflies, the zebra longwing is unmistakable with its long narrow wings striped black and pale yellow. This species is common in Mexico and Central America and it is also found in most of Florida and in some areas of Texas, where it can be seen year round. Occasionally it wanders farther north, as far as South Carolina and some of the central states, although it is not likely to survive the cold. The zebra longwing butterfly lays its eggs on passion vine leaves. Passion vines contain toxins that are consumed by the caterpillars, which make the adult butterflies poisonous to predators. The female gives off powerful pheromones just as she is emerging from her chrysalis. Several males hover around vying for the female's attention. The winner deposits its own scented chemical upon her abdomen that repels all other males.
Forewing span: 2 3/4–4 in (7–10.1 cm) Larvae: The mature larvae are white with black spots and numerous black branched spines.
Adult: Up to 6 months
The zebra longwing butterfly lives in warm, damp tropical areas. It is often found in thickets. Range: South America north through Central America, West Indies, and Mexico to South Texas and peninsular Florida. Occasional immigrate north to New Mexico, Nebraska, and South Carolina. Flight period: June to mid-November
The zebra longwing's flight is slow and feeble, although it can put on a burst of speed if needed to escape a predator. These butterflies form communal roosts at night. It is thought such conglomerations provide protection via strength of numbers. When it is disturbed, the zebra longwing butterfly makes a creaking sound by wiggling its body. When a male zebra is ready to mate it will find a female chrysalis and open it just enough to mate.
Adults: Flower nectar and pollen, which are gathered on a set foraging route or "trap-line." Favorite plants include lantana and shepherd's needle. Larvae: Passion vines
Zebra longwing and other heliconians have a reputation for being very intelligent insects. They have a social order when roosting, the oldest ones choosing the best places. Elders also gently nudge each other early in the morning to wake the flock.
Heliconian butterflies remember their food sources and return daily to the plants where they fed previously, a behavior known as trap lining. The memory is so strong that if one shrub in their route is cut down they return to the location again and again only to search in vain.