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Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Zebra Longwing

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This tropical beauty is large, slow, and showy, but it remains close to the warm Gulf and desert states.

Updated: 01/06/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
A common sight in moist, tropical environments, the Zebra Longwing Butterfly can be found in that kind of habitat all year round. It is highly identifiable by the white-on-black coloring when fully developed. Some stripes may be pale yellow while others are white, but all species have that zebra-like pattern on the tops and bottoms of their wings. A few, small red spots near the body of the butterfly can be seen on both sides of the forewings. Its forelegs are considerably shorter than its back legs as is the case with all members of the Brush-Footed Butterfly family. Active throughout the day, Zebra Butterflies band together at night in large groups.

The caterpillar is a gray or white with black dots that grow a black spiky hair from it. The 'feet' and lower belly may be orange. It feeds on the leaves of the passion vine plant which contains noxious chemicals that the caterpillar retains in its body throughout adulthood. This makes both the caterpillar and adult unsavory meals for most predators.

This butterfly is a distinctive member of the Heliconians, and rarely strays farther north than Texas because it thrives in heat and humidity. Flight is slow and conspicuous, and it can make audible noise when wiggling on a branch. Look for individuals and social groupings in thickets and tropical hammocks (stands of trees by a coast) as they forage for nectar and pollen.

General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Striped or banded insect icon


Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Nymphalidae
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          Genus: Heliconius
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            Species: charithonia
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Heliconius charithonia
Other Name(s): Zebra Heliconian
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 72mm to 100mm (2.83" to 3.93")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; yellow; white
Descriptors: tiger stripes; wide; big; flying

Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 72mm (2.8in) and 100mm (3.9in)
Lo: 72mm
Md: 86mm
Hi: 100mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Zebra Longwing may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Zebra Longwing. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.


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