|Zebra Longwing on Bidens alba|
Zebra Longwings are cool butterflies. As I mentioned, they are primarily a tropical or subtropical species, so are not cold hardy. But they are fairly long lived, as far as butterflies go. They can live for several months, as opposed to weeks, because they eat pollen along with the nectar from flowers--a very unusual butterfly behavior. Their host plant is Passion Flower (Passiflora sp.). The Gulf Fritillary also uses Passion Flower as a host plant, but (this is so cool!) Zebras lay their eggs in the shade, and Fritillaries lay theirs in the sun. We had a big passion flower vine in the yard of our previous house and I watched this in action. The two types of butterflies would segregate their populations between the shady and sunny places in the yard. The females lay their geometric looking eggs on the tips of the new leaves, and soon the tiny white and black caterpillars emerge.
|Zebra Longwing Caterpillar|
When they finally pupate, the chrysalis looks just like the dried leaf of a passion vine. They blend in perfectly. The chrysalis is beautiful, with numerous irridescent patches that look like jewels or stained glass windows.
|Zebra Longwing Chrysalis|
Zebra Longwings engage in something called "pupal mating". As a human, I find this rather repulsive. But in biological and evolutionary terms, it makes great sense, because it provides a better chance that the first male's genes will be passed on. Males will crowd around a chrysalis where the new female butterfly is almost ready to emerge. They fight to be the first to mate with her, thus ensuring that their semen is first to fertilize her eggs. Sometimes the males will mate with her before she's emerged from the chrysalis. The first time I saw this, I had no idea what was happening. I thought the emerging butterfly was in distress and the nice butterfly friends were helping it out. Then I read up on Longwings and discovered what was really happening!
|Attentive Male and Chrysalis|
One other interesting behavior is roosting. Groups of Longwings will gather together at night to keep warm. They don't do it on the scale of Monarchs overwintering in Mexico, but they can sometimes form fairly large bunches. We had a Lepidoptera graduate student watching roosting Zebra Longwings in our yard to understand what chemical cues they use to return to the same spot.
|Blurry picture of Roosting Zebra Longwings|