Leopards Can’t Change Their Spots, But Zebras Can Change Their Stripes!

I have had the honor and privilege of hosting a large Zebra Longwing butterfly family at my home by my front door for the past few months.  A Passion Vine decided to grow there a few years ago, probably planted by birds, and I let it grow to see if caterpillars would enjoy it.  The first few years, I had a few families of Gulf Fritillary butterflies with their bright orange caterpillars and orange adult wings, and then for a year or so, no one came.  This year, for the first time, I saw several Zebra Longwing caterpillars feasting on the plant. I’ve always admired all stages of this species because I thought the black and white caterpillars were very unusual looking and the adults are unique and gorgeous with their long, narrow, yellow and black striped wings.  I have been photographing this family since I first spotted them and have thoroughly enjoyed watching them grow up, form their chrysalises and then yesterday, I saw them emerge and take flight. Luckily, they made their debut on a Sunday when I was home to witness this miracle.  I decided to wander outside to check their progress and I noticed three butterflies, drying their wings, attached up high to the side of my house!  Upon further inspection, I found two more had emerged and they were low in the vine where I could better photograph them. Even though the mosquitoes were fiercely biting my legs, I stood outside with great expectations waiting for them to take their first flight.  Within about fifteen minutes, three launched at almost the exact same time.  One even flew back and gave another who had not yet flown, a nudge as if to say “Come on!  Hurry up!  You’re not going to believe this!”  Then about an hour later, the final two, who were lower in the vine, took flight to join the other three.  As sad as I was to see them go, it was a great joy to see them fly and they do come back to visit every now and then and I saw new eggs on the vine already!  Butterfly gardening in South Florida is a year-round activity which is highly enjoyable and easy once you learn a few tricks.

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