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Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.



Saturday, August 29, 2015

August Butterfly Bucket List- Zebra Longwing

I'd given up getting any sort of shot of a butterfly at all for the August Butterfly Bucket List hosted by Anna at The Transmutational Garden every 4th Sunday.  I was actually out taking photos today of some clumps of century plants that I have big (BIG!) plans for.

I was trying to get some good wide shots of the beds the century plants currently dominate, when I spotted a dragonfly I didn't recognize.  Off I went to get a photo (of course!) and while I was wheeling around it trying to get a good shot of any identifying marks, my attention was captured by a narrow winged strongly striped black and yellow blur in the background.
It was one of a handful of Texas butterflies I recognize on sight, a Zebra Longwing (Heliconius-charithonia).  I was elated! A sighting for August in the nick of time! In the spirit of the Bucket List, I decided it was time to fill in some gaps in my information on this wonderfully striped visitor.

According to the information on the BOMA page linked above, Zebra Longwings grow to a length of between 2 3/4 and 4 inches, wing tip to wing tip.  Their preferred host plant is any one of the several varieties of passion vines.  I found it fascinating that such a strongly patterned winged creature flies around leaving eggs and setting their cats loose on vines bearing one of the most striking flowers around.
The adults feed on lantana and shepherd's needle preferentially.  I'd never heard of shepherd's needle previously (a parsley relative - butterflies of all stripes do love the parsleys) but we have loads of lantana around as evidenced in the photos today.

Zebra Longwings are reported to have a set foraging route.  They are considered "trap-line" feeders.  That means since I saw one out on our lantana this afternoon, if I am observant I ought to be able to catch it visiting again tomorrow.  And the next day.  I like that idea - that the zebra and I have a standing appointment, if I wish to keep it.
What I found really intriguing, is that adults roost communally in groups of 25-30 individuals.  I can barely imagine what that might look like, a cluster of 2-3 dozen of these beauties all in one place at one time.  It would be like winning the butterfly lottery - a bonafide Zebra Longwing Jackpot!
So, take that, August.  While I barely made the cut this month I am optimistic the return of slightly cooler temperatures and at least a chance for precipitation will see our winged visitors showing up in numbers again soon.

Thanks to Anna for hosting this wonderful incentive to get out and take a closer look at who is flying in and dropping by.  Be sure to visit her own August post and pick up the links to a whole host of great bloggers posting about their own butterfly experiences this month.

12 comments:

Rebecca Newcomb said...

Awesome! I have not spotted any longwings in my own garden, but I have seen some while hiking various trails in the Austin area. They are very striking with their long wings and prominent stripes. While I have plenty of nectar sources for them in my garden, I do not yet have a host (passion vine) for them, so I'm definitely hoping to add some passion flowers to my garden soon.

TexasDeb said...

Rebecca: I remember seeing lantana in your posts - especially if you put some passion vine in it is probably only a matter of time before the Longwings discover you. We have passion vine growing here but it has never bloomed that I've seen. It has to be doing something to produce/reproduce though - we have volunteers growing in one corner every year. The Gulf Fritillaries love it as a host plant, too.

I'm such a creature of habit - I really like the idea Longwings have a regular route for feeding. I'm going to keep an eye out on that one lantana and see if it gets daily visits.

Tina said...

Well, I am impressed and a little bit (okay, a LOT bit) jealous!! Such gorgeous butterflies, but I hardly ever see them in my garden. I grow their host plant, but, and thank you for this information, not their preferred nectar plant, the lantana. So, that's probably why, when I see them, they're rapidly flitting through my garden, on the way to someone else who provides what they need. Fabulous captures and thanks so much for that information.

Shirley said...

Great photos of this beauty. I know just how challenging they are to catch. We haven't seen any since the yellow cestrum quit blooming but maybe now that the lantana is back we'll see a few.

TexasDeb said...

Tina: Thank you!

This guy didn't stick around for long - worked one particular plant and then booked it. I'd seen some butterfly out there several times and gone inside to get my camera only to have it gone when I returned. I was just lucky to already be out with my camera and only a few feet away when it showed up this one time.

I don't have scads of them or I'm sure I'd have noticed before now. (right?? ) Hmmm....

TexasDeb said...

Shirley: Thank you ma'am. I got lucky timing wise this once.

This particular Zebra does seem to prefer the yellow lantana. There was a ham and eggs lantana in bloom one plant over which was completely ignored, but maybe my presence caused a more hasty than usual departure. That's interesting if a color preference holds species wide. (I had to look yellow cestrum up). I'm going to keep an eye out to see if any of the other lantana are visited.

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

Wow you hit the motherlode with this butterfly. How I wish they traveled here...gorgeous creatures and fascinating to read about them too!

TexasDeb said...

Donna: I agree with you - I think these are some of our most striking looking visitors. It was pure luck I was out with my camera close to where the butterfly feeds. I'm simply happy for the coincidence!

Kris Peterson said...

You didn't get just one shot but a good series of them! I seem to be hopeless in catching photos of the few butterflies I've seen this season. I think I need to hang out near the Zinnias more often, camera in hand.

TexasDeb said...

Kris: I do spend a lot of time in my garden with the camera nearby if not in hand. I never know what (or who) I'm going to come across, and few sightings or encounters are prolonged enough for me to leave, get my camera, and return for a photo session. And as I've said often here, I take loads of shots of the mobile critters and if I'm lucky a few of them are suitable for posting.

Zinnias! Butterflies adore zinnias and so do I. I've been so distracted by the many large jobs to do here to bulk up certain natives and debulk others that I didn't get any seed for two seasons running. There are native zinnias (Z grandiflora) - not nearly so colorful or splashy - and I've plans to open a space to plug some of them in, but I think I'll also just have to pick up some garden Z seed for next year. Thanks for the reminder!

Travis Heights Garden Mama said...

Great pictures! Maybe they've come out of hiding with the change in weather- one played with my passionflower vine for over 20 minutes the other day. It looks like yours let you get up close- love the details!

TexasDeb said...

THGMama: Thank you! That butterfly seemed pretty shy but I was shooting from far enough away I only seemed to spook it when I went in close to try and get a sharper shot. I hate to interrupt feeding butterflies - times are tough enough without humans with cameras zooming in at the drop of a hat. Nobody loves the paparazzi!