Last week I wrote that rose-breasted grosbeaks are currently migrating southward through the Peach State. A couple of days ago, a friend responded with a note telling me that she and her husband were hosting both rose-breasted grosbeaks and zebra longwings in their backyard. That is truly something to cheer about!
The zebra longwing (also referred to as the zebra heliconian) is the state butterfly of Florida. It is also a permanent resident in the Sunshine State. However, each summer some zebra heliconians venture far into Georgia. When they appear, they are usually seen in mid to late summer.
This butterfly is most often spotted in the Coastal Plain; however, it will occasionally venture into the Piedmont. I see one in Monroe County every few years or so.
If you have never seen one of these distinctively marked butterflies, you are in for a real treat. Their wings do not have what you would probably characterize as being a butterfly shape; instead they are elongated.
The butterfly’s 3-3.5-inch black wings are marked with pale yellow stripes. The zebra longwing uses these long wings to leisurely glide across your yard and travel long distances.
This butterfly is very different from most other butterflies in a number of ways. Perhaps the most intriguing difference is that it has the ability to eat pollen. Most other butterflies eat nectar, plant juices, and the like, but not pollen.
In addition, whereas most of our butterflies live only a few days or months, the zebra can live up to six months.
In addition, they gather at communal roosts for the night. These roosts are sometimes used for months on end. They often roost on branches or Spanish moss.
On the few occasions that I have seen this yellow and black butterfly, it was visiting lantana.
If you have seen both zebra heliconians and rose-breasted grosbeaks this year, please let me know. Hosting both species at the same time is a treat I hope many of us get to enjoy.