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Let's look for zebras!

Backyard Safari

Monday, March 01, 2010

Media contact: Jessica Basham

Grab your tennis shoes, sunscreen and hat; it's time to look for zebras in your backyard.  We're not talking about the kind of zebra you are thinking of, but a butterfly called a zebra longwing!

These "zebras" are the official state butterfly of Florida. You can see them all year throughout Florida.  Join the Get Outdoors, Florida! movement and begin your search for these easy-to-spot butterflies, or their caterpillars and eggs, by looking on the underside of a leaf of a passionflower vine.  Butterflies lay their eggs under leaves to protect their eggs and young caterpillars from predators.

If you find a cluster of small oval dots about the size of the tip of your pinky finger "stuck" to the bottom of a leaf, it may be butterfly eggs.  Please don't touch; they are very delicate.

Zebra longwing caterpillars are creamy white and look as though they have long, sharp spines.  The spines are actually soft and will not hurt you.  However, many caterpillars look very similar, and some are poisonous.  It is safer to look and not touch.

Passionflowers attract zebra longwings and are important to the butterfly for its diet and for laying eggs.  Butterflies lay their eggs on specific plants called host plants.  Host plants provide the food caterpillars need when they hatch.  For zebra longwings the host plant is the passionflower vine.  This plant also contains a special toxin that helps zebra longwing butterflies protect themselves from predators.  This toxin makes the insect taste bad to animals like birds that might want to eat it.

If you don't have any passionflowers in your yard, you can also find adult zebra longwings eating nectar and pollen from lantana, verbena, firebush and shepherd's needle plants.

Using their proboscis, a straw-like tube extending from their head, butterflies can drink the nectar flowers make.  One thing that makes zebra longwings and some other longwings different from other butterflies is that they eat pollen.  Most butterflies live only a few weeks, but longwings live up to six months because of the addition of pollen to their diet.

Activity: If you can't find any zebra longwings in your yard, there are other butterflies you can seek.  Ask your mom or dad if your family can buy and plant a passionflower or other nectar plants to attract butterflies to your backyard.  Not only will you have many colorful flowers to look at but the beginning of a butterfly garden!

To learn more about butterflies and butterfly viewing, visit MyFWC.com/Viewing.  Or, just search the Web for "butterfly crafts."  The Web offers many ideas, from paper-chain caterpillars to butterfly window hangers.  Enjoy looking for zebras!



FWC Facts:
Seagrasses stabilize the sea bottom with their roots and rhizomes (underground stems) in much the same way that land grasses retard soil erosion.

Learn More at AskFWC