Zebra (Heliconius charithonia)
The Zebra Butterfly has aptly been named so since they exhibit bold patterns alternating in black and white, a characteristic which is bound to remind the watcher of a zebra’s coat design. These are monomorphic butterflies, of medium size, and has a relatively longer life cycle. They are mostly found in the sunny days in the warm, tropical areas.
- Family: Nymphalidae
- Genus: Heliconius
- Common names: Zebra longwing, zebra heliconian, zebra winged butterfly
- Scientific Name: Heliconius charithonia
Zebra Longwing Butterfly Description & Identification
The caterpillars are purely white with black dotted spots with frequent black spikes throughout the central part of the body. The head is yellow.
Chrysalis is light brown to dull yellow and has a typical way of camouflaging. The nymphs hang in their cocoon in such a way that they perfectly resemble dry, yellow leaves hanging from the branches.
Sexual Dimorphism: Both the sexes look alike.
Color and Appearance: The hind wings are very narrow that have given them a sleek look. The patterns on both the sides of the four wings of the adults are simple with long lines. The wings are jet black at the base having narrow white and yellow stripes. However, the markings on the ventral side are paler and have red spots.
Average wingspan: 72 to 100 mm
Flight pattern: Quick and erratic (said to be ‘dancing’ pattern unique to the species)
Light yellow in color, laid one at a time or in small clusters of 5 to 15.
|Distribution||Throughout Central and South America, as well as southern Texas and peninsular Florida in the United States; migrates further north during summer|
|Habitat||They live in moist forests, tropical hammocks, edges, and fields|
|Lifespan of adults||Up to six months|
|Host plants||Leaves of various passionflower species|
|Adult diet||Pollen and flower nectar from mostly passionflowers|
Did You Know?
- The bold coloration on the wings is an adaptation termed as ‘aposematic,’ i.e., a warning signal to the predators to stay away.
- At night, these creatures roost communally in small to big groups of up to 60 adults to ensure safety from predators.
- The zebra butterflies consume pollen grains from flowers, which helps them synthesize specific chemical compounds called ‘cyanogenic glycosides’ that make their body toxic to their enemies.
- In 1996, the zebra butterfly was declared the official butterfly of the US state of Florida.