I lead Anne down a grassy hill from where the community clubhouse sits to the cypress swamp along the edge of Lake Tsala Apopka. The sun is still rising in the east and shade shrouds the forest except for a few rays that penetrate through small openings in the tree canopy. We stand there for a moment and suddenly, flying from the deepness of the wetland we see a butterfly that has long and narrow black wings with zebra-like yellow stripes. Its wings wave rather than flap. It has a more deliberate flight, unlike the seemingly erratic flight of other butterfly species. It is the zebra long-winged butterfly, Florida’s state butterfly.
Zebra long-wings are actually “intelligent” butterflies. They remember where their nectaries are and go back to them each day. Long-wings even learn the locations of specific nectar producing plants and revisit the plants each day. These butterflies return to the same roost each night and even have somewhat of a social order. The oldest choose the prime locations to roost at the expense of the youngsters.
Another interesting fact about these beautiful butterflies is that in addition to sipping nectar, they eat pollen. Long-wings have saliva capable of digesting pollen. It is rich in protein and this helps Zebras live longer than other butterflies. It also aides in the production of viable eggs.
Although Anne has enjoyed seeing these magnificent butterflies, she grows impatient with all the time I spend photographing the butterflies and yes, I admit, ignoring her. “Take your time,” she tells me, “I’m going for a swim in the pool.” I am mesmerized by the scene before me. I watch as one, two, three, and more zebra long-wings move smoothly through the air like stingrays glide through salty water. It is like watching the tranquility of a tropical fish tank. It is very calming, relaxing… peaceful. Oh well, like the long-wings, I must return to my roosting site and I leave this serene setting. But, I’ll be back for another dose of nature’s Xanax!