Photographed by Bette Jackson
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Hi, I'm Dr. Jerry Jackson, out with the wild things. The beautiful zebra butterfly is intimately linked to passion flowers and it's easily attracted to backyards and gardens where these are found. Adult zebra butterflies feed on the nectar of passion flowers. Female zebras lay their pale-yellow eggs on the young growing tips of passion flower vines. When the caterpillars of the zebra butterfly hatch, they're golden and spiny-covered, but only about a tenth of an inch long. They hide by day and feed at night, growing quickly as they munch on the tender leaves. When a zebra caterpillar outgrows its skin, it sheds it, a process repeated about five times as the caterpillar matures. When the golden hatchling molts, it emerges as a striking white caterpillar with long black spines. The spines are harmless, but the caterpillar is not. As the zebra butterfly caterpillar grows, its body absorbs cyanide compounds from the passion flower leaves it eats, making it, and the zebra butterfly, a noxious morsel for would-be predators. The striking pattern of the zebra butterfly and its caterpillar are warnings that predators learn, and a valuable defense for the butterfly.
'With the Wild Things' is produced at the Whitaker Center in the College of Arts and Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University. For 'The Wild Things', I'm Dr. Jerry Jackson.