The Strange Practices of Our State Caterpillar

25 Sep

Zebra Longwing

Heliconius charithonia

What’s going on back there under the passionvine foliage?  Look closely…there are two Zebra Longwing Butterflies all a flutter, and a chrysalis.  We’ll come back to that after some fun context.

Florida may claim it as our state butterfly, but so could Caribbean Islands and nations all the way into South America. The Zebras need passionvines for their hungry caterpillars, so I’ll guess without data that the butterfly’s range is related to that of the genus Passiflora.   My wife Donna and I have several species of passionvines in our butterfly garden where experience shows the Longwings have their preferred species, such as Corkystem.   When the caterpillars get on a bender along with Gulf Fritillaries, they can make short work of passion-foliage.   I’ve never seen this written anywhere, but to my eye, these colorful butterflies darken into shadows in the shade, which they like to haunt.    Butterflies come to flowers for nectar, right?  Yes, but how many eat pollen?  Today’s friend does.

Now for the main points.

1. The chrysalis is camouflaged like a dead leaf. Cool.


2. For the most part, an inverted male fertilizes the female while she is still inside the chrysalis,  as in the photo below.

photo by Donna Rogers

3. Sometimes two males hop on the same female  chrysalis.  A female can be inseminated by more than one male, yet the two males jostle and flutter for “dibs.”

photo by Donna Rogers


Posted by on September 25, 2020 in Uncategorized


7 responses to “The Strange Practices of Our State Caterpillar

  1. Lindy Cerar

    September 26, 2020 at 8:30 am

    WOW-That’s bizarre!

    • George Rogers

      September 26, 2020 at 8:56 am


  2. Annie Hite

    September 26, 2020 at 8:22 pm

    I’ve been told that eating pollen is something that helps the Zebra Longwing live such a long life for a butterfly. Also, they seem to be drawn to my newly planted white stoppers.

    • George Rogers

      September 26, 2020 at 9:50 pm

      Thanks Annie..very interesting re. the stoppers…will watch for that now

  3. Barbara Levy

    October 1, 2020 at 9:54 pm

    We had at least a dozen fluttering around for weeks after the last round of racy activity. Being greedy for a bigger show, I have three Corkystems in different parts of yard to jazz things up – will see what happens!

    • George Rogers

      October 2, 2020 at 8:09 am

      Caterpillar salad

  4. exploreorca

    October 4, 2020 at 6:04 am

    Reblogged this on Enjoy the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area and commented:
    You’ll see lots of zebra longwing butterflies in the shady hammock loop area at ORCA …


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: