Governor Chiles of the State of Florida, USA, designated the Zebra Long wing Butterfly (Heliconus) as Florida’s official state butterfly in 1996. Both the senate and the house of the Florida state legislature gave their concurrence and the butterfly received a rare honor.
The Zebra long wing is distributed from Texas to Florida. It also occurs in Central America and northern parts of South America.
The butterfly prefers damp and warm places and one can find it perched on thickets, hammocks, logs of wood etc. With a wingspan of two to four inches, the butterfly derives its name from its characteristic light yellow stripes on its black wings, resembling the stripes of a zebra.
The Zebra is believed to confuse a predator while moving in groups. The stripes of Zebra herd produce a visual distortion and make the predator give up its chase.
The stripes of Zebra long wing butterfly produce a similar effect. When it is flying , the viewer will not be able to know whether the butterfly is moving away or closer. Besides, the stripes camouflage with the background. When the butterfly is disturbed, it makes cracking sound by the wiggles of its body. All these are protective mechanisms.
The zebra long wings roost together in large groups on tree branches during nights. They return to the same roost, after feeding on nectar of a wide variety of flowers.
The female lays eggs in groups from five to fifteen on the leaves of passion flower plants. The caterpillar that hatches out of the egg is white with six bands of black spots and black branched spines and a greenish white or yellow head.. It feeds on the leaves of passion flowers and accumulates toxins in its skin which provides bad taste and protection from predators. The caterpillar forms a chrysalis while entering the pupal stage. The chrysalis resembles a spiny curled dry leaf. When disturbed, it makes a rasping sound to scare away the predators.
Under favorable conditions, the egg to butterfly stage will not extend beyond three weeks. Metamorphosis is longer during cool weather.
Florida is not the only state that has given official state to a butterfly Several other states of USA have honored the butterflies like, the Monarch, Eastern tiger swallow tail, Two tailed swallow tail, Diana fritillary, Viceroy, Baltimore Checker spot, Spicebush swallow tail, Mourning cloak. Kamer blue, Black swallow tail, Oregon swallows tail and Zebra swallowtail. It is a mark of respect for the wildlife and a reminder that man should take all measures to protect plants and animals and make the earth green and pollution free.