Dateline: July 6, 2012*
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!
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.
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.
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?
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. Other plants that will host this butterfly are yellow passion flower (Passiflora lutea) and corky-stemmed passion flower (Passiflora suberosa). If you plant it right, they will come.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 6, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.