Photographed by Bette Jackson
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Hi, I'm Dr. Jerry Jackson, out with the wild things. If you see a zebra butterfly, you're also likely to find passion flowers nearby. The zebra has formed an intimate and fascinating relationship with passion flowers. Adult butterflies drink nectar from passion flowers and also feed on passion flower pollen. By adding the pollen to its diet, the zebra butterfly lengthens its life to about three months, during which time a female zebra can lay up to 1,000 eggs. She usually only deposits one or two at the tip of each passion flower vine. By spreading them out, the caterpillars are less conspicuous to would-be predators and less likely to do serious harm to the passion flower vine. Passion flowers have a chemical defense that protects them from being eaten by most insects: they produce cyanide compounds in their leaves. Caterpillars of zebra butterflies are able to cope with these plant chemicals and make use of them. They incorporate the chemicals into their own body, making themselves toxic to predators. So what's in it for the plant? In the course of their feeding, the zebra butterfly pollinates the passion flower, assuring future generations of both butterflies and passion flowers.
'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.