Florida State Butterfly: Zebra Longwing

Florida’s State Butterfly, the Zebra Longwing

I got a treat this past week when I saw the wide, lazy flapping of long black and yellow wings. A Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia) butterfly was making the rounds near my passionvine. I’ve only been graced with this beauty of a butterfly on one prior occasion and it was only a fly-through. Hard freezes in recent years have relegated our state butterfly back further south, but I was assured by butterfly expert Jaret C. Daniels of the Florida Museum of Natural History that it was just a matter of time before this beauty made a comeback in our area. He came and spoke to our chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society several months back.

It has been worth the wait!

This larval host planted in shade will attract the Longwings

There is a trick to attracting this butterfly. While having passionvine available as the host plant, it needs a further step. This butterfly will not lay eggs on passionvine that is in the sun. It needs shade. After a couple of years of meandering around my property with a mind of its own, my Passiflora incarnata has snaked it’s way behind the shed and now is creeping up the tiedown on the west side of the shed. It is sheltered enough from the sun to FINALLY get one of these beautiful butterflies to lay some eggs.

The Zebra Longwing is the state butterfly of Florida. Not every state has a designated butterfly, but many do. There are a few interesting things about this particular species. They are the only butterflies that eat pollen. The butterflies themselves will gather in groups to rest much like the monarchs do when they return to Mexico . I patiently await the emergence of many so I can witness this phenomenon.

clusters of eggs on new leaf growth

They lay clusters of eggs on fresh new leaf growth. Early instars of the caterpillars resemble the gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) larvae, which also use passionvine as a larval host. However, rather than the brash orange of the frits, the orange of the Longwings cats is just a slightly milkier white in color. Later instars will be the recognizable black and white.

early instar caterpillar can be mistaken for gulf fritillary larvae

Sometimes it just takes patience to attract wildlife to your garden. Research what is required to attract the particular species you are interested in. Keep in mind that you need to determine if they are compatible with your conditions. Do they belong in your area? Do you have the correct plants? Are those plants situated in proper conditions such as sun or shade?

Laying eggs….hopefully long into the future

I’ve waited 5 years while the P. incarnata set into the correct conditions to attract those that have added to my species life list this week. If you plant it right, they will come.

© 2012, Loret T. Setters. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

Related Posts with Thumbnails


  1. says

    Congratulations! Loret, your patience in your wildlife garden is amazing. Glad you were able to photograph the eggs of this pretty butterfly. Thanks for the always-great photos. “designated butterfly” is a neat link showing folks which butterfly is their State Butterfly. CA is the “Dogfaced Butterfly” with very interesting markings. I encourage folks to look up theirs.
    Kathy @nativegardener recently posted..California’s White Sage of the Chaparral

  2. says

    I did not see any in my yard for the past 22 years until I planted a lot of colorful zinnias. The main type I see them on are Liliput Zinnias. I think I will be able to grow them year-round. Should continue be a great butterfly show! The Monarchs are also coming around.

  3. Kimberly says

    Hi, I know this is the state butterfly for Florida but do you happen to know why this was named the state butterfly at all? I’m doing a paper and needed to know. I can find anywhere on the web and you seem to know a lot about them. Thank you for any help you can give me.

    • says

      Hi Kimberly,

      State statutes Chapter 96-153 (HB 959) Establishes the Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius) as the official state butterfly. Effective Date: April 26, 1996.

      News article from Orlando Sentinel gives a little background:
      Lawmakers Said Garden Clubs Asked Rhea Chiles To Foster Adding The Insect To The State’s Symbolic Menagerie.
      April 18, 1996|By Tessie Borden, Tallahassee Bureau

      TALLAHASSEE — A zebra longwing butterfly lives only three months or so, but Florida lawmakers are giving it a form of legislative immortality.

      Senators voted unanimously Wednesday to add the yellow-and-black insect to the virtual zoo of official Florida symbols.

      The bill, already approved by the House, now goes to Gov. Lawton Chiles, whose signature is assured. His wife, Rhea, asked for the symbolic designation.
      source: http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1996-04-18/news/9604171368_1_state-symbols-florida-rhea-chiles

      Hope this information helps and you get an A+ on your paper


  1. […] A clay plant saucer with large pebbles works nicely; place in a dirt area, and overfill (tip from Loret Setters) and place near butterfly attracting plants. Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia coenia on Rabbitbrush, […]

  2. […] 70. Florida State Butterfly: Zebra Longwing “I got a treat this past week when I saw the wide, lazy flapping of long black and yellow wings. A Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia) butterfly was making the rounds near my passionvine. I’ve only been graced with this beauty of a butterfly on one prior occasion and it was only a fly-through.” by Loret T. Setters […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge