How to Identify a Zebra Longwing Butterfly

Find out what a zebra longwing butterfly looks like and where you can see them in the U.S. Also learn which host plants the caterpillars need.

What Does a Zebra Longwing Butterfly Look Like?

14 Donnakay Floyd Bbxsep20Courtesy Donnakay Floyd

“What’s this beautiful butterfly?” asks Birds & Blooms reader Donnakay Floyd of Tallahassee, Florida.

The zebra heliconian, also called the zebra longwing butterfly, seems well named—even though its stripes are black and pale yellow, not black and white.

Learn how to identify and attract a long-tailed skipper butterfly.

Range and Habitat

252771094 1 Nancy Konigsberg Bnb Bypc2020Courtesy Nancy Konigsberg

These butterflies are widespread in the American tropics. In the U.S. they’re found mainly in Florida. Smaller numbers call Texas home, and they may wander into other southern states.

Adults are often seen flying through the shadows of open woods, with shallow, shivering beats of their long wings. Also look for clusters of zebra heliconians roosting together in the evening.

Meet the lovely American Lady butterfly.

Caterpillar and Host Plant

Zebra Longwing larva on passion vine leafcturtletrax/Getty Images
Zebra longwing caterpillar

You can find the spiny black and white caterpillars feeding on the leaves of passion vines in warm climates.

Discover 8 crazy cool caterpillars you could find in your backyard.

Zebra Longwing Pictures

zebra longwingCourtesy Doreen Damm

“When a butterfly chooses your garden, it’s magical. Your cares fade away with each flap of their wings. I grow several flowering plants to attract these beauties. In particular, this zebra longwing needs its host plant, passionflower, for its caterpillars to munch on. As adults, the species enjoys the bright red blossoms of jatropha shrubs and this yellow starry rosinweed,” says reader Doreen Damm of New Port Richey, Florida.

250872805 1 Carol Neel Bnb Bypc2020Courtesy Carol Neel

“I spotted this zebra longwing in the spring, just south of home along a hiking trail in Corpus Christi, Texas. I love the stark contrast and beauty,” says Carol Neel.

253676838 1 Dave Bause Bnb Bypc2020Courtesy Dave Bause

“As I took this photo, there was one zebra longwing butterfly, pollinating the left orange zinnia. Imagine my surprise, when I opened the photo, at home, the second zebra longwing had flown in!” says Dave Bause.

Next, check out these fascinating monarch butterfly facts.

Lori Vanover
Lori has 20 years of experience writing and editing home, garden, birding and lifestyle content for several publishers. As Birds & Blooms senior digital editor, she leads a team of writers and editors sharing birding tips and expert gardening advice. Since joining Trusted Media Brands 13 years ago, she has held roles in digital and print, editing magazines and books, curating special interest publications, managing social media accounts, creating digital content and newsletters, and working with the Field Editors—Birds & Blooms network of more than 50 backyard birders. Passionate about animals and nature, Lori has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural and Environmental Communications from the University of Illinois. In 2023, she became certified as a Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener, and she is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and sits on the organization's Publications Advisory Committee. She frequently checks on her bird feeders while working from home and tests new varieties of perennials, herbs and vegetable plants in her ever-growing backyard gardens.