Attracting Butterflies to Your Backyard, Schoolyard, Workplace, or Community Wildlife Habitat
The first step in attracting lively and colorful adult butterflies is planting flowers with nutritious nectar. The plants provide enticing food and, in return, are pollinated by visiting butterflies. Native plants are the best choice. Adults searching for nectar are attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink, or purple blossoms that are flat-topped or clustered and have short flower tubes. This allows the butterflies to reach the nectar with their tongues.
Nectar-producing plants should be grown in sunny areas that are protected from strong winds. Butterflies need sun for orientation and to warm their wings for flight. Calm breezes allow them to fly freely.
Flat stones provide butterfly resting and basking areas. Male butterflies congregate near damp areas and shallow puddles to drink water and extract salts. It is important to avoid using herbicides and pesticides, as these will kill butterflies in both their adult and larval phases.
The adult life span averages 6 to 20 days, with the range from a few days to over six months. In temperate regions of the country, various species are active from early spring until late fall, while some butterfly species in the south are active year-round. Butterflies need nectar throughout the adult phase of their life span, so be sure to plant for continuous bloom.
• Over 700 species of butterflies are found in North America but very few are garden pests.
• Adult butterflies range in size from the half-inch Pygmy Blue found in southern California to the giant female Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing of New Guinea, which measures about 10 inches from wing tip to wing tip.
• Butterfly larsi or “feet” possess a sense similar to taste - contact with sweet liquids such as nectar causes the tongue to uncoil.
• Millions of shingle-like, overlapping scales give butterfly wings their colors and patterns. Metallic, iridescent hues come from faceted scales that refract light, and solid colors are from pigmented scales.
• What is the difference between moths and butterflies? – Moths are generally active at night, have a bulky body and drab coloration with cryptic wing patterns, and the caterpillar spins a cocoon for the transformation to the adult stage. Butterflies are generally active during the day, have a slender body and are brightly colored, and the caterpillar creates a chrysalis to transform into an adult.
• During the time from hatching to pupating (forming the pupa or chrysalis), the caterpillar may increase its body size more than 30,000 times.
• The chrysalides or pupae of many common gossamer wings—a group of butterflies that includes the hues, hairstreaks, and elfins—are capable of producing weak sounds. By flexing and rubbing together body segment membranes, sounds are generated which may frighten off small predators and parasites.
Information provided by the National Wildlife Federation’s Butterfly Tip Sheet
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