Zebra Longwing – Heliconius charithonia

Zebra Longwing butterflies are also called Zebra Heliconian butterflies. Found primarily in Gulf Coast states and the Carolinas, they prefer shadier area over bright sunny locations.

Zebra Longwing Heliconian drinking nectar from Mexican Flame Vine

Zebra Longwing Heliconian
Drinking nectar from Mexican Flame Vine

Zebra Longwings lay eggs on passion vine that is growing in the shade or in the open on a cloudy day. They lay eggs primarily on tendrils and the fresh tender tips of growth. They are picky about the species of passionvine they will eat. We have used maypop (Passiflora incarnata), boomerang (biflora), inspiration (Inspiration), and corky stem (suberosa) without problems.

Zebra Longwing Heliconian eggs on passion vine

Zebra Longwing eggs on passion vine

Young caterpillars tend to stay on the tip of the vine, where eggs were laid.

Zebra Longwing Heliconian butterfly young caterpillars

Zebra Longwing young caterpillars

Where populations are heavier or passion vine isn’t covered with fresh new growth, caterpillars often are found clustered on the same leaf or leaves. They are often various sizes, from adults laying eggs are various times on the available tender growth.

Zebra Longwing Heliconian larvae caterpillars

Zebra Longwing caterpillars

Zebra Longwing Heliconian caterpillar larva

Zebra Longwing caterpillar

Caterpillars hang in a J shape before pupating. Pupae range from light brown/cream to dark brown, almost black.

Zebra Longwing Heliconian butterfly prepupa J to pupate

Zebra Longwing caterpillar J’ing for pupation

Chrysalises often pop up in unexpected places. While walking in the woods, we were surprised at this chrysalis hanging from a pine needle right in front of our faces.

Zebra Longwing Heliconian chrysalis.

Zebra Longwing Heliconian chrysalis

The color of the chrysalis depends on its surroundings. On the white lid, they all pupated light in color. On the darker lid, they all pupated dark in color.

Zebra Longwing Heliconian pupa chrysalis color depends on its surroundings.

Zebra Longwing chrysalis color depends on its surroundings.

Adult Zebra Longwing butterflies fly into sunny gardens to drink nectar although they tend to prefer nectar from plants in the shade.

Zebra Longwing Heliconian butterfly

Zebra Longwing Heliconian butterfly

At night, Zebra Longwing adults cluster, several to many of them sitting together until morning.

Zebra Heliconian Longwing cluster at night

Zebra Heliconian Longwing cluster at night

Zebra Heliconian Longwing roost cluster at night

Zebra Heliconian Longwing roosting in a cluster at night

Not only do Zebra Longwing butterflies drink nectar, unlike most butterflies, they also eat pollen. They will mix pollen with moisture and drink pollen after it has begun to liquefy.

Pollen on the proboscis of a Zebra Longwing butterfly

Pollen on the proboscis of a Zebra Longwing butterfly

Zebra Longwing butterflies are known for ‘pupal rape’. The males often mate with females just before the females emerge from their chrysalises. When one mates with a chrysalis, he patiently waits with her until she emerges, expands her wings, and her wings dry. At that point he will fly off with her to drink nectar.

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