Medium-sized butterfly with a wingspan up to 4 inches. The long, narrow wings are black with narrow yellow stripes. The underside is similar but paler, with small red spots near the body. The slender caterpillar is white with rows of long, branched black spines. The head has black patches and two long black horns. The chrysalis is brown.
Florida and southern Texas, West Indies, Mexico, Central America and South America; rarer to the north in North America.
Distribution and Abundance in Florida:
Rare to uncommon in West Florida August-October, uncommon to common in North Florida all year, abundant all year in Central Florida and South Florida, uncommon to common all year in the Keys. Caterpillars are present all year.
Tropical hammocks, pinelands and shrubby disturbed areas.
Three or more broods per year. The yellow, elongated eggs are laid singly or in groups of 5-15 on the leaf buds or leaves of the host plants. Unhatched eggs are sometimes eaten by young larvae. Multiple male adults tend female chrysalids; mating often takes place before the female emerges from the chrysalis.
Zebra heliconians fly slowly and gracefully, usually in partial shade. Adults live longer than most other butterfly species because of the additional nutrition from the pollen they consume. They commonly roost in groups of 25-30 at night, sometimes at the same location for weeks or months.
Caterpillars feed on the leaves of host plants. Adults feed on nectar and also eat pollen; they forage along linear routes. Native larval host plants include the vines corkystem passionflower (Passiflora suberosa) and maypop (Passiflora incarnata). Native nectar plants include the shrub firebush (Hamelia patens var. patens). Larvae will also feed on the edible passion fruit (Passiflora edulis).