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The Exquisite Zebra Longwing: Florida's Official State Butterfly


Long black wings with distinctive thin yellow bands - combined with slow, graceful flight - characterize the zebra longwing (Heliconius charitonius). It has a wide range of habitats, including hardwood hammocks, thickets, and gardens. The zebra longwing is found throughout the state, although it is more common in south Florida, particularly in the Everglades National Park. In 1996 the state legislature designated the zebra longwing as the official state butterfly.



ABOUT OUR STATE BUTTERFLY


The zebra heliconian, is a species of butterfly belonging to the subfamily Heliconiinae of the family Nymphalidae. It was first described by Carl Linnaeus in his 1767 12th edition of Systema Naturae. The boldly striped black and white wing pattern is aposematic, warning off predators.


The species is distributed across South and Central America and as far north as southern Texas and peninsular Florida; there are migrations north into other American states in the warmer months.


Zebra longwing adults roost communally at night in groups of up to 60 adults for safety from predators. The adult butterflies are unusual in feeding on pollen as well as on nectar; the pollen enables them to synthesize cyanogenic glycosides that make their bodies toxic to potential predators. Caterpillars feed on various species of passionflower, evading the plants' defensive trichomes by biting them off or laying silk mats over them.


Unfortunately, mass spraying of naled has decimated the zebra longwing population in Miami-Dade County, Florida. There has been mass collapse of the colonies with impacts on the balance of the ecosystem.


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Butterfly gif animation by Anna Salmi. Anna is an expert illustrator with a special talent for animated Gifs. For work inquiries please visit Anna's website.