Tom Allen Memorial Butterfly House works to repopulate Zebra Longwings

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro Writer: Paul Dolan
Published: Updated:

Hurricane Ian impacted many of Florida’s beautiful and unique species. One of them, the Zebra Longwing Butterfly, virtually disappeared from the area after the storm.

At the Tom Allen Memorial Butterfly House, six Zebra Longwing Butterflies were released back into the wild. They were raised in Tom’s garden from eggs to caterpillars to chrysalis to fully grown butterflies.

Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife made it their mission to bring the butterfly back to the Southwest Florida area.

“When you eat or you lay your eggs on a toxic planet and your caterpillars eat a toxic plant, you become toxic too,” butterfly curator Cheryl Anderson from Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife said.

To a caterpillar whose black spots on white with spikes screams, “Don’t eat me”…

“Its defense methods would be the spikes,” Anderson said.

To a chrysalis that disguises itself as a dried, dead leaf and a full-grown butterfly whose lifespan ranges from six months to a year compared to the two to a four-week lifespan of other butterflies…

Anderson said the Zebra Longwing is a fighter through all stages of life but couldn’t withstand Ian’s relentless might.

“It’s been eight months since Ian… we’ve seen maybe two or three wild in the park,” Anderson said.

From Florida’s state butterfly, one of the most prominent in the area, to virtually gone.

“So our project was to try and bring them back. This happened after Hurricane Charley also, and it took a couple years for the zebras to come back,” Anderson said.

Monday, Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife released the first batch, witnessing the start of the next generation.

“Five, then we’ll just leave six and seven in there since they’re mating,” Anderson said. “And I will probably just put them back in the butterfly house, because what happens after the mating is we get eggs.”

With 20 or more chrysalis at her home and nine in the garden, Anderson and her team are accomplishing exactly what they intended.

“I don’t know how many butterflies we have to release to get the population back,” Anderson said, “but I would say it was probably something we’ll work on most of the summer because summertime is zebra time, summertime is butterfly time.”

After releasing the butterflies, one of the Zebra Longwing butterflies laid eggs on a corkystem, symbolizing the circle of life is back for the Zebra Longwing Butterfly.

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