Zebra Heliconian ~ Heliconius charithonia (Linnaeus, 1767)
Family: Brush-footed Butterflies (Nymphalidae)
Subfamily: Longwings (Heliconiinae)
Identification: Wings long and narrow; black with narrow yellow stripes.
Life history: Males patrol for females, and are also attracted to female chrysalids. A male will wait on the chrysalis and mate with the female as she is about to emerge. He then deposits on her abdomen a chemical than repels other males. Eggs are laid in groups of 5-15 on leaf buds or leaves of the host plant; caterpillars feed at night on leaves. Adults roost communally in groups of 25-30 individuals.
Flight: All year in South Texas and southern Florida, wanders north during warmer months.
Wing span: 2 3/4 – 4 inches (7 – 10.1 cm).
Caterpillar hosts: Passion-vines including Passiflora suberosa, P. lutea, and P. affinis.
Adult food: Flower nectar and pollen, which are gathered on a set foraging route or “trap-line”. Favorite plants include lantana and shepherd’s needle.
Habitat: Tropical hammocks, moist forests, edges, fields.
Range: South America north through Central America, West Indies, and Mexico to South Texas and peninsular Florida. Occasional immigrant north to New Mexico, Nebraska, and South Carolina.
Conservation: Not usually required, but habitat for permanent populations is limited in South Texas.
NatureServe Global Status: G5 – Demonstrably secure globally, though it may be quite rare in parts of its range, especially at the periphery.