Zebra Heliconian: the Barbarian

Most people would not consider butterflies to be hunter. Florida is home to an immense variety of different butterfly species in all shapes and sizes. Even with this diversity you may find it hard to believe that some of these species go on the hunt. Now as scary as attack of the butterflies sounds, there is no need to cause alarm, for what these butterflies are hunting for is pollen.

Normally butterflies will sip nectar from a flower and in the process collect pollen from the flower thus pollinating the next plant. However, the Zebra Heliconian butterfly takes this process one step further. Like a straw, the butterfly sticks their proboscis, the extendable tubular mouth, into the flower to collect pollen and then digests the pollen as it comes in contact with their saliva. This may seem strange for a butterfly to ingest pollen, but scientists have linked the species and this unusual eating behavior to some interesting benefits.

Generally Heliconians who ingest pollen have an extended livelihood allowing adults to survive as long as 3 months. Aside from longevity, the pollen also gives predators a nasty taste when eating the butterflies, giving the predator a second thought before making a meal out of another Zebra Heliconian.

Now if only we could get our Zebra Heliconian friends to eat the pollen off of our cars!