Nature Study with Zebra Longwing Butterflies

By Holly Giles | Florida

 Zebra Longwing butterflies are the state butterfly here in Florida. In June, they started taking over our backyard by the hundreds each year.

What can we find out?

Their host plant is the passion vine.  We have several planted around the backyard, but the one they favor is growing up the railing on our back porch.  We have been able to watch every step in the process, from laying an egg through chrysalis and butterfly!

In years past, we always seem to study the Monarch.  Today, the beauty of the Zebra Longwing is calling! The wing structure of the Zebra Longwing is quite different than a Monarch. The difference seems to cause a completely different pattern in their flight.  It is not as graceful as a Monarch, it is quite floppy as Grant calls it.
What is apparent in watching the daily mass of butterflies is they are a community. They chose one area of passion vine each day to lay eggs.  All of them seem to come to that one area to deposit their young.  The next day, it will be somewhere else on the plant.
Zebra Longwings seem to take turns and wait for one to finish laying one egg, and then the next.  You can see one waiting for the one laying the egg.  If you look closely, you can see many little yellow eggs on the young leaf on top.
When the Zebra Longwing caterpillars hatch, they congregate on one leaf, and all eat together. There will be caterpillars of all sizes on one leaf until it is gone.
Hunting for the Zebra Longwing Chrysalis can be tricky.  They look like shriveled up dead leaves hanging from a vine.  Sometimes, we never seem to find one, then the next day we can see them everywhere! Look for the four dots of gold, in our experience, this seems to indicate a viable chrysalis.  The ones we have watched without it never became butterflies.

When you are able to safely move a Zebra Longwing chrysalis to a habitat for study, it usually takes up to a week for the butterfly to emerge.  At that time, while their wings dry, they are quite still. Being able to examine them up close, you are able to see the red markings and distinctive body sections.  Once they are dry, they are anxious to get outside with the rest of the community!

Netting the Zebra Longwing to study is possible. However, I caution you to have a watchful eye on overzealous kids wielding nets!!  The butterflies are fragile!  With care, it is possible to catch, examine and release without harm to anyone!

The study of butterflies never seems to bore the boys or me. It is such a testament to God’s creation! Each delicate process, the detail in every step, the sheer beauty that emerges.
When the day has been tough, and you set the workbooks aside, go OUTSIDE to renew your spirit! Watch the beauty emerge from your children. You just might get a surprise as we did!
A Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, too bad I wasn’t prepared for the visit with my lens!
If you would like to take this study further, there are many websites with detailed information. This site offers more scientific information Lakes and District. I also stumbled upon a beautiful blog about journaling nature, particularly in South Florida, she has a great study on the Zebra Longwing

Some books we keep for reference are

  • Caterpillars, bugs, and butterflies by Mel Boring
  • Butterflies & Moths by Bobbie Kalman
  • The Butterfly Book by Kersten Hamilton
  • The Best Book of Bugs by Claire Llewellyn

When we specifically studied butterflies, I printed photos of the different species and glued them on cardstock.  I used them as part of a scavenger hunt with clues about the butterflies.  They had to use their clues to decide which butterfly was which.  It got
them outside, looking high and low and discovering new things.

We have put together a wonderful study of butterflies with experiments, worksheets, and videos.

homeschool science curriculum butterflies unit


Check out our Butterfly Mini-Unit


Our boys make a popular flower press on Etsy. Check it out.


About the Author

Holly Giles is a wife, mother, and storyteller. As an author and Florida Master Naturalist, she writes about heritage homemaking skills, motherhood, and why Florida offers the best hidden natural gems to explore as a family.

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