Sunday, June 3, 2012

Black and White

The rainy season officially started on June 1, and we ushered it in here in My Florida Backyard with almost three inches of rain. After watching almost of all TS Beryl's rain go north and east of us, it was wonderful to see our rain gauge fill at last. The plants in the garden seemed to perk up almost immediately, as often happens after a nice rain. We took a little stroll around the yard to check things out, and discovered this random passionvine that we don't remember planting... least not in this exact spot. We do have some about 25 feet away, and passionvines are definitely known for spreading underground and popping up in new places. This one is Florida's native Maypop (Passiflora incarnata), which is so aggressive that many people consider it a pest in their gardens. We don't mind it, because it generally gets eaten so quickly by Gulf Fritillary caterpillars that it doesn't have time to cause problems. Interestingly, though, it wasn't Gulf Fritillary caterpillars we discovered on the Maypop...

... it was Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia) caterpillars! This was pretty exciting, because this is the first time we've documented Zebra Longwing caterpillars in our yard. I raise them at work all the time, and I've written about them on My Florida Backyard before, but it's so fun to have them here naturally.

These are one of my all-time favorite Florida native caterpillars. The stark black-and-white coloration, the crazy long (but completely harmless) spikes, the reddish color on their legs and prolegs - they're just really fascinating. These caterpillars are just about full-grown, and soon will pupate into chrysalis - also some of my favorites, as they look like tiny upside-down bats.

Zebra Longwing butterflies are actually pretty rare sightings in our yard; we don't remember seeing one here in several years. They're obviously around though. They have a great affinity for firebush as nectar plants, and this passionvine just happens to be climbing up one, so this is a perfect corner of our garden for them. We'll know now to keep our eye out for them, both as caterpillars and adult butterflies.


  1. We too have raised butterflies..even got the eggs of the monarch caterpillar put on damp pamper towels in a plastic bowl with lid it developed into the caterpillar and then it was relocated to our butterfly cage....beautiful chrysalis too.

  2. I too was thrilled when our garden received almost 4 inches of rain in the last week. Great news about the longwings. Just two weeks ago, we saw the first zebra longwing butterfly I've seen in our yard in two years. I'm hopeful we'll have some little caterpillars on our passionvine this summer -- if the Gulf fritillaries leave them alone long enough for the longwings to get a shot!

  3. I don't have passion vines, but today while weeding, came across those exact 🐛 caterpillars! Do they live on other plants?